The Guy Behind TikTok’s Biggest Song Has Earned Precisely Zilch from 18 Million Videos

Jacob Feldman’s success is bittersweet — but he has the secret to viral tracks on TikTok, so he’s going to make them himself

Chris Stokel-Walker
Jan 9, 2020 · 4 min read
Image: Jacob Feldman/Chris Stokel-Walker

What did you do on Christmas Day? 1,048,863 people woke up, opened TikTok, and recorded a video set to the tune of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ which — without warning — slips into Soulja Boy’s 2007 cult classic, ‘Crank That’.

The song is a social media phenomenon, playing a role in catapulting Carey to the top of the Billboard charts for Christmas (as we’ve previously reported) and capturing the zeitgeist on TikTok, the trendy new app you showed your parents and grandparents while you were home for the holidays. The top 10 most-liked videos on the app using the track have been praised 48 million times. Those million Christmas Day creators weren’t alone, either. They’ve helped contribute to a treasure trove of 18.2 million videos that have used the smash-cut song, seven times more than used Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’, despite the fact that the Christmas decorations have long since come down. Even this week, more than 250,000 videos using the song were uploaded to TikTok.

It’s all good news for 23-year-old Jacob Feldman, who is one of the most popular creators on TikTok. He’s the man behind Plot Twist, the musician who mashed together Mariah Carey and Soulja Boy. The Los Angeles-based music producer, who is studying for a double-major in music business and music production has some qualms though. He hasn’t made a penny.

“From every one of my streams and sources of Plot Twist stuff and music, it only makes like $100 a month,” says Feldman. “From that mashup I made nothing, even though it has like 18 million uses. It still doesn’t get anything.”

Feldman started posting mashups of different tracks under the Plot Twist name on Vine, the original shortform video app, releasing a new track every day. The name was an obvious one to pick: Feldman specialized in picking a song that would unexpectedly segue into another — ideal background music for snackable video content. (Leaked advice from TikTok on how to make a successful video suggests creators “have a twist/unique ending to encourage viewers to share your video”.)

By the time Vine had closed down, tracks created by Feldman had been viewed (looped) more than 500 million times; he had 600,000 followers on the app. But he had prepared to jump ship before Vine’s closure to Musical.ly, which eventually merged into TikTok. He also had a YouTube account where he posted full versions of the songs he mashed up, but found that copyright issues made it not worth his time trying to upload.

Among the videos Feldman made five years ago was one mixing Carey with Soulja Boy. “I actually mixed the Soulja Boy with other songs too that were popular, like ‘Drag Me Down’ by One Direction,” he says. It was a near-industrial process. “Since I was making it every day, I had to think of a new one every single day, and I was combining anything I could think of.” He had a huge catalogue on my computer with the BPM [beats per minute] and the key of every popular song, so he could easily match up songs that would potentially fit well together.

“People don’t realize that making one six-second clip for Vine or Musical.ly or TikTok takes like two hours,” he says. And when one of those two-hour sessions is rewarded with virality, Feldman goes unnoticed, and uncompensated. “People know that it’s Mariah Carey and Soulja Boy and they don’t realize I made that mashup. If it was original music, everyone would know, but since it’s a mashup, less people know.”

The problem is original music takes longer, and people don’t want to listen ot it when there’s an entire back catalog of the world’s best pop music out there to listen to. Feldman has even tried re-recording pop songs in cover versions, complete with an entire band and vocals, spending 50 hours on the endeavor, just to mash them up — but they don’t do as well. And given the amount of effort involved, it’s impractical.

So the musician wants to pivot. Given the copyright complications, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be able to make money from the Plot Twist music mashups he makes. But years of experience, and a canny knack of knowing what will go viral on TikTok, means he has a plan. “I’m going to try and release music that’s good for TikTok — so it can be easily choreographed and stuff, and has imagery that people can come up with some dances to,” he says. He’s even going to work with dancers to develop dances to go with his original songs, reverse-engineering the process of TikTok virality.

“Right now the goal is original music, unless I was able to get the connections to make mashups,” he says. “It’ll be original music and try and make a trend through TikTok.”

He’s working with vocalists and songwriters, passing on the knowledge of how to produce a TikTok-worthy tune. Rather than a hastily-thrown together mashup, he’ll try and produce an original, TikTok-tuned song a month. “I always think there’s enough time as long as you stay on track,” he says. “And I also like to stay up really, really late.”

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

Chris Stokel-Walker

Written by

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com

FFWD

FFWD

Getting you up to speed with the world of online video

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