We sat down with TikTokker Rocky Paterra from New York City, who knows a thing or two about having a song go viral on TikTok! Alongside the creator of the smash hit I’m An Accountant, join us as we explore what makes a TikTok hit, plus trends and advice for songwriters from this writer, musician and actor.
Hi Rocky! Thanks so much for speaking with us today about what makes a TikTok hit. Why don’t you kick off by telling us about yourself, what you do and how you found yourself in (*jazz hands here*) Show Business?
Hi Amy – of course! I am an actor and musician from Pittsburgh, PA, and I’ve lived in New York City for five years now. I started performing professionally at eleven, traveling the country with the late composer Marvin Hamlisch and singing with symphony orchestras. I developed a love for singing and live performance during that time. After continuing to perform in musical theater through school, I moved to New York shortly after graduating college.
I’ve performed Off Broadway, in regional theater and on the NYC cabaret scene, and for the last couple of years I have been immersing myself in both comedy writing and songwriting for myself and other artists. I recorded my first EP in Nashville, and since then I’ve released an original holiday pop album as well as multiple singles.
How did you first get started on TikTok? Did you resist it as long as we did??
I did resist for a while after hearing about it from several of my fellow millennials who expressed that it’s the hot new thing. But I mostly resisted because I didn’t know what it meant or how I would fit into it. I tragically missed the era of Vine (but I have watched tons of Vine compilations on YouTube), and TikTok felt similar in style to Vine. I tried posting a couple videos, got intimidated by how massive the platform was, and then became a scroller.
It wasn’t until about a month into the pandemic that I started posting again just for fun. Shortly after, I realized that even though the platform’s mainstream purpose didn’t seem to be for a late 20s theater & comedy guy like me, it was actually a great home for the kinds of comedic sketch videos that I enjoy making. So I started putting original material on my profile, and came across so many other actors, comedians, and artists who were using the app for creative expression during 2020. That made it feel like this very supportive community.
What trends are you currently seeing in TikTok sounds and music that is going viral on the platform?
It seems that the kinds of sounds/music that become popular are ones that have a surprising or unexpected “switch-up” moment that can correlate to a fun transition or eye-catching moment in the video. Whether it be a song or spoken audio, what brings people together on TikTok is joining forces to “meme” something. This is how I started to notice how TikTok differs from something like Vine. A singular audio clip or song can be repurposed almost endlessly!
You created the viral smash ‘I’m An Accountant’ TikTok track. How did that come about and why do you think it took off on the platform?
The I’m an Accountant song was honestly no different from the other videos I was making at the time, and so no one was more surprised than me by how it took off! I was trying to think of a way to use the joke of saying you’re an accountant when you don’t want to talk about your job, so I whipped up that beat and the song/video came about shortly after. I wasn’t thinking strategically about how the song might have any viral potential. That’s never how I tend to approach my music or comedy. Once I saw the first several people use the sound, I thought, “Oh, this doesn’t have to apply to just actors! Fun!” Then it REALLY started to take off, and I was delighted. I think it was a combination of hindsight and good timing that allowed me to unknowingly create a “meme-able” element to the song that could be used in a fun way. I’m incredibly grateful for everything that has come from the success of the song.
On your TikTok, you do a lot of creative skits and impressions. How do you come up with content ideas?
Music and comedy is what I love, so my brain approaches the world from that perspective. I do tons of satire around the theater and music world because I am immersed in that community, so the material usually comes naturally. I listen to Taylor Swift endlessly, so my Taylor Swift parody songs are a labor of love. Same with my Lin-Manuel Miranda parody raps. In the past few years, writing has become the main passion in my life. For me, writing is both natural and a challenge, and I think that combination makes for an ideal work scenario. Having a career as a comedy writer or songwriter (or both) is something I am really working towards!
In your opinion, what elements do you think form a TikTok hit?
I think what “I’m an Accountant” has made me realize is that what can really take off on TikTok are moments where people can take something and put their own spin on it. So if we’re applying “TikTok hit” to any trending sound or audio or song, I’ve observed that people enjoy taking something and embedding their unique perspective or personality into it.
What advice would you give songwriters when it comes to crafting songs specifically for TikTok?
What brings me the most personal and artistic satisfaction is just focusing on the work that you want to make and letting the rest fall into place. But it depends on what your goals for the music are. If you are making your music with the specific intention of trying to get it trending on TikTok, then try to find a balance between your artistic vision and the community aspect of what can make something engaging on TikTok.
It’s an interesting time right now where emerging music is so closely linked to social media presence, and it can create an incredible amount of pressure for new artists who are trying to be seen and heard. But it can also create a tremendous amount of opportunity, too! I would encourage making authenticity the primary focus – don’t think so much about where you fit into an imaginary algorithm.
What’s your favorite TikTok trend or challenge so far?
There was this one recent trend where the audio was from a song that Gia Giudice from The Real Housewives of New Jersey wrote. The lyrics are basically “Waking up in the morning, thinking about so many things, I just wish things would get better…” and people on TikTok are using it to share embarrassing or cringe worthy moments from their past. I think trends like this have a way of bringing people together and creating a sense of community. I always find myself laughing when I see somebody using this sound, and I think that a little self-deprecating humor can go a long way!
Are you working on any music (for TikTok or in general) at the moment? If for TikTok, are there any current trends or elements you’re looking to use?
I’m collaborating with a large brand right now where I am able to make my music comedy specifically for their social platforms, and I’m really excited about that! I also have a new single coming out at the end of the month for NYC pop/rock artist Dan Kiernan. I wrote this song before the pandemic, and I am so happy that it is going to have a release soon! I’m currently trying to develop a game plan for releasing a comedy EP of some Taylor Swift parody songs that I’ve written. I think that this would be fun and creatively fulfilling, as a lot of people ask if my Taylor parodies songs are available for streaming.
Lastly, who are your favorite TikTokkers and why?
I love following musicians and comedians who create original work. Shuba (@tiktokbrownchick) is a musician who has incredible and versatile vocal stylings/musical impressions. Drew Talbert (@drew_talbert) is a comedian whose hilarious sketch comedy videos on TikTok center around restaurant/waiter culture. Broadway Barbara (@broadwaybarbaraofficial) is a brilliant fictional character created by Leah Sprecher that embodies all the satirical zing, wit and anecdotal goodness that you imagine when you picture a seasoned Broadway diva. There are so many more. The talent and originality of the artist community on TikTok blows my mind, and it’s been wonderful to see so much of this talent take off.
A big thanks to Rocky for chatting with us about what makes a TikTok hit! You can get to know him better and keep up with his awesome tracks, sketches and more here:
If you enjoyed this post and want to hear more about TikTok hits, check out our interview with music producer, sound designer and composer Wylie on TikTok music!