social media trends for 2021: Sound Up

Over the last few weeks, I have been highlighting what I think are some of the top social media trends to watch for in 2021. Trend No. 1 featured vertical posts, Trend No. 2 was about heartwarming content, and today, I’m going to talk about what I see as another trend to listen for in the year ahead. Enjoy!

Trend #3: Sound Up

A few years ago, if a video popped up in my social media feed that didn’t include subtitles, I would have just kept scrolling. But like many of us, I’m more than happy to turn the sound on now, and we can all thank TikTok. The popularity of this short-looping video app and its focus on audio in every post — such as songs and voiceovers — have caused a ripple effect across all of the social media platforms.

Over the last 12 months, social media companies have been rolling out new ways to add audio and music to social media content, while also offering exclusive content and musical experiences to encourage you to hang out on the platform. And I expect this trend will only get amplified in 2021.

Let’s take a look back at how our audio experience changed in 2020, and what it means for 2021.

Original Audio

Let’s start with creating audio and voiceovers for social media posts. This feature, pioneered by TikTok, offers a number of options when creating audio, including voice effects and voiceovers. And not only can you create your audio for your posts, but other users can download and use your audio for their own posts.

Enter Reels, Instagram’s answer to TikTok. It launched the in-app feature in August 2020, and just like TikTok, you can add music to your videos, or record your own original audio, which can also be used by others in their social media posts (sounds familiar!). Reels also offers soundtracks to set posts to, but unlike TikTok, you have to manually turn the sound on for Reels. Perhaps that will change in the near future.

And not to be outdone, Snapchat launched an in-app feature, called Sounds, in October 2020. Parent company, Snap, is testing the ability for Snapchatters to create their own sounds to add to their posts. This feature is rolling out globally in the coming months, according to a Snapchat blog post. But for now, Sounds allows you to add music to social posts.


I’ll get to TikTok, but first I’m going to talk about Facebook, which actually rolled out Music stickers in 2018. The stickers allow users to add a soundtrack to Facebook and Instagram Stories. The new feature was initially only made available in the U.S. and select countries in Europe. But in 2020, Facebook continued the rollout of the feature — which includes the ability to add song lyrics to posts — to users in Canada, and additional European countries.

Also in 2020, Facebook went a step further and announcing the launch of new ways to discover, watch and share music videos. Currently available to users in the U.S., Facebook announced a “new destination for Music in Facebook Watch where you can explore music videos by genre, artists or mood, as well as themed playlists…”. And it also promised global music premieres.

Facebook is clearly trying to compete with TikTok, which is known for launching songs and careers (for example, Nas X’s Old Town Road first broke out on TikTok). Drake, who is no stranger to the power of social media, chose to use the app earlier this year to help launch Toosie Slide, which went to the top of the Billboard charts. In 2020, TikTok further solidified its brand as a music maker, announcing a partnership with Sony Music Entertainment, and facilitating fan voting for several Billboard Music Awards.

But we can’t forget about YouTube, known as a destination for viewing music videos. In 2020, the Google-owned platform announced a number of updates around how it offers music. It phased out Google Play Music and moved users over to YouTube Music. It also launched features like personalized playlists (like Spotify) and global charts.

And not only are digital platforms starting to feature more musical experiences and options, but social media-like features are popping up on music apps. For example, digital music service Spotify is reportedly testing Instagram-like Stories.

Virtual Concerts

Social distancing makes things like concerts particularly difficult. So no one should be surprised that virtual concerts are becoming more popular — and platforms are responding.

YouTube began promoting virtual concerts on its platform in August. And on Dec. 27th, it will host its first-ever “global livestream concert experience” featuring K-pop sensation BLACKPINK. It’s a ticketed show, and the performance will be based out of Seoul, Korea.

This sounds a bit like TikTok’s live stream of a “first-of-its kind virtual musical experience” featuring The Weeknd and hits from his album, After Hours. The difference is that The Weeknd appeared as an avatar, and offered “immersive XR experiences.” TikTok also hosts a number of listening and interactive sessions with artists, such as Sound Off and Watermarked.

And expect to see even more virtual concerts around the world. Wave Entertainment, which hosted the Weeknd’s augmented reality concert on TikTok, is also partnering with Tencent Music Entertainment to host virtual concerts in China.

This sounds like a trend

Let’s be honest, COVID definitely had an impact on the timing and launch of some of these features. It’s just a reality that we’re all spending more time online, so why wouldn’t these platforms try to grab our attention. But I think we were always headed to a “Sound Up” world, and the pandemic just accelerated it.

So whether it’s social media platforms rolling out new ways to add soundtracks and audio to social content, or digital platforms offering exclusive content and musical experiences, expect to see platforms pump up the volume on this trend in 2021.