Rochelle, you’re the Music Content & Community Specialist at TikTok in Sydney. Please tell us your story! How did you get to where you are today?

As a teen growing up in regional Victoria, music (especially live music) was so fascinating to me, but quite hard to access. I spent a lot of time listening to triple j and scouring Tumblr, but whatever opportunity I had to see music, I ran with. It was that which led me to picking up a camera for the first time and starting a music blog documenting what was happening in my hometown. As an anxious teen, I didn’t want to put my name to it, instead posting under an alias Casual Band Blogger.

Over time, the site evolved into a space where young people nationwide (often with limited industry experience) were welcomed as contributors. CBB was, and remains, pivotal to my career. It fostered important relationships with artists, publicists and the wider industry, as well as teaching valuable lessons that shaped how I operate in this industry.

For a number of years I ran the blog, pulled mid-dawn shifts on community radio and photographed live music while working at Bunnings on the side. Excited to get stuck into my first full time role in the music industry, in 2017 I hung up the apron and joined Ditto Music.

Starting out in customer support, I eventually took a keen interest in metadata and product management. As a style guide stickler, I was responsible for the entire rollout of a release — from planning, scheduling and delivery, to liaison with DSPs and data analysis.

Unashamedly fascinated by rights, licensing and how platforms like YouTube enforce ownership (I know, I’m a huge nerd), I joined VA Media in 2020 where my role pivoted to production and rights management. I became YouTube certified and I tell you what, my dorky ass loved sitting an exam for the first time in eight years.

That takes me to today, as Music Content & Community Specialist at TikTok. It’s a role that fits like a glove — a perfect amalgamation of all the random jobs and niche skill sets I’ve acquired over the years.

Tell us about your role with TikTok, what does your day-to-day entail?

My role consists of lots of little things that fall under the umbrella of operations and editorial. Essentially, I’m at the coalface of how music works on TikTok.

Some days I’m more ‘tech’ focused, spending time on data, spreadsheets, CMS, metadata — all that fun stuff. Other days I’m working on the editorial side, updating playlists in the Sounds page or keeping up to speed with new releases and trending tracks.

Then there’s the stuff that doesn’t quite fall into either category. Like going down the rabbithole researching why a 1981 track from Earth, Wind & Fire is trending (because it’s a total banger, obv).

TLDR; email, eat snack, pat dog, email.

What has been your proudest career achievement so far?

Being a founding member of TikTok AU/NZ’s music team. It’s an immense pleasure and challenge building TikTok locally. There is no blueprint to a role like this, each day comes with a new learning experience.

I also got to vote in my very first ARIA Awards this year. That was a very cool milestone.

It’s really exciting to be at a company where innovation is central to what we do each day.

Who are your role models in the industry, be they international or Australian?

Endless respect to Mardi Caught, a powerhouse woman who champions artists and is immensely giving of her time and knowledge.

I take inspiration from so many incredible folks in the industry. I’ve also been lucky to have had some incredible mentors and peers who’ve helped nudge me onto my path when it wasn’t all that clear.

What’s your favourite thing about working with TikTok?

Aside from my ability to clock niche pop culture references in milliseconds, working for TikTok feels like building something really special. It’s really exciting to be at a company where innovation is central to what we do each day.

Who are your top three ‘artists to watch’?

Staying on brand, here are some artists on TikTok who are doing really cool things.

Autosuggest // @autosggst

In addition to showcasing his band’s music, Alec has established himself as a top recommender. A really great example of linking back to interests and influences on the music itself.

Ūla // @ulaulaula
If you’re a local or a TikTok lurker, you may have seen Ula busking (either virtually or IRL) in Sydney’s CBD prior to lockdown. With Sydneysiders staying at home, she’s pivoted to posting covers, many of which requested by her growing fanbase.

Sarah Saint James // @sarahsaintjames
Unafraid to be vulnerable, Sarah Saint James has built a brilliant community by sharing her stories and authentic self. Her breakthrough track, mad at god, tackling the experience of growing up queer in a religious household, with a post featuring the hook making its way into the FYP of many people with shared experiences.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in music who would like to pursue a career like yours?

We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and that to an extent is true when it comes to the music industry. Developing yourself, your achievements and ‘profile’ (for lack of a better word) is good — but my advice is that it’s even more satisfying when those around you build too.

Taking a community mindset and using your skills and resources to lift others means a healthier industry across the board. I haven’t always taken this approach — especially in the earlier years of my career, but it’s my focus more than ever now.

There is no blueprint to a role like this, each day comes with a new learning experience.

Why should artists use TikTok and what advice do you have for them?

TikTok can be a really powerful way to reach new audiences. The nature of the For You page means posts aren’t just beaming out to an existing follower base — it’s seeding out to others who may very well be interested in the things you have to say.

TikTok is a unique way to engage with others and build community. You get the best out of the app when actively involved and participating. The informal and ‘everyday life’ nature of TikTok means an artist doesn’t necessarily have to only post when on cycle for the sake of ticking a box on a digital marketing strategy. They can genuinely share their hobbies and interests, participating in whatever way they find meaningful!

What is your big picture career goal?

I’ve always been fascinated by how music, technology and community intersect. This is the space I want to continue working in. Whether that be in a product, rights and licensing or editorial role I’m not sure — but I am pretty excited to see how my career will evolve alongside technology itself.

What is the best piece of life advice you’ve ever received?

The success of others isn’t your failure.

Taking a community mindset and using your skills and resources to lift others means a healthier industry across the board.

What does the rest of 2021 hold for you? Anything exciting you can tell us about?

Personally, it’s hard to put plans in place when we’re faced with so much uncertainty. I honestly don’t have any lofty plans or ambitions to take me through to the end of 2021. Making the move from Melbourne to Sydney at the start of 2021 has meant that I’ve unfortunately been caught in three extended lockdowns totalling 260-something days. In the interests of having an open discourse about mental health, things have been difficult.

My main objective is taking it day by day, treating myself and others with kindness. Trying to do what I can for our struggling industry from my position — whether that be encouraging vaccination, helping artists build community or powering live streams.

What is your go-to karaoke song?

Anything by Fleetwood Mac. Who doesn’t love to embrace their inner Stevie Nicks?