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Instagram Reels vs. TikTok: Why Their Music Libraries are so Different

What is the difference between Instagram Reels and TikTok’s music libraries and why do they have different restrictions when it comes to using trending sounds and songs? Read on for more info to demystify Music Libraries and hopefully get some clarity on staying the right side of copyright law on social media.

Every time we pick up our phones we seem to be inundated with the same trending sounds or songs no matter which way we turn. It’s a well-documented social media strategy by now to jump on trending sounds to make our own video content with in order to maximise the number of people who see our content and to reach new audiences. Instagram and TikTok both have searchable libraries to help us find the sounds and add them to our Reels and TikToks to sync along to, so on the surface of it, all is good…

As we’re constantly seeing content with the same audio time and time again in our ‘For You’ feeds, we expect to have these sounds readily available to us when we come to making our own video content, whether that’s on Instagram or TikTok.

However, if you’ve found yourself trying to make an Instagram Reel, you might have found, like us, that it’s not as easy as you first thought – particularly if you own an Instagram business account. TikTok, on the other hand, has made it much easier to jump onto trending sounds. This then begs the question: why are the music libraries on Instagram and TikTok so different?

In our latest Instagram Reels vs. TikTok blog, we look at the difference between the two’s music libraries and why their restrictions are so different.


Why Can’t Businesses Use Trending Popular Songs on Instagram?

If you keep on top of current social media trends, you’ll know that they tend to start off on TikTok before they make their way over to Instagram. So, if you favour Instagram, you’ll have found that it’s difficult to keep up with the trends as the platform is always one step behind its main competitor.

Unlike TikTok, Instagram did not start off as a music and sounds-based platform and so Reels were introduced as a way for Instagram to try and keep up with TikTok and retain their userbase. However, as explained in our previous blog Let’s Get Reel: Can Instagram Reels Work for Business Accounts, Instagram have tight copyright restrictions in place when it comes to sharing audio, particularly for business accounts, whereas TikTok have a number of agreements in place meaning that you are freer to use more sounds (which we’ll get onto later).

If you have a business account on Instagram, you’ll have found yourself limited to using a royalty-free music library that is in extremely short supply of any trending sound or song, making it difficult for you to jump on the latest bandwagon and get any sort of visibility for your brand. The music library is also really hard to search, where you are presented with dozens and dozens of sounds if you put in a search term like ‘winter’ or ‘the weekend’ or any other ‘concept’ for which you are looking for the perfect sound to fit what you had in mind for your Reel.  The list of sounds presented to you are so jumbled in style, that you also end up clicking on each one to listen to it to figure out if it suits the mood you were going for.

As a business ourselves, we’ve found ourselves getting frustrated at the lack of access to trending audio on Instagram. With the platform’s algorithm favouring Reels over image posts, we are all being pushed into creating video content if we want to get more reach, but this only works well if you’re able to tap into the trending sounds that everyone is using. This isn’t a challenge you want to come up against when you’re trying to build up a presence for yourself on social media, particularly if you’re a small business who can’t afford to spend money on ads like the big brands do.

Apparently, Instagram is working on its music library functionality, but for now, it’s still miles behind TikTok, so we’ll just have to accept our fate and hope they pull something out of the bag soon.


Are There Any Hacks for Using Trending Audio on Instagram Business?

Yes there are! But not all of them will keep you on the right side of copyright law.

One trick – that is more than just wasting time going down a rabbit hole on Instagram – is to spend time surfing Reels on your ‘For You’ feed and then clicking ‘Save’ on the ones that catch your eye in terms of the music used, or the concept that someone else put out. From using Instagram Reel templates to the save audio option, there are a few simple hacks for attaching trending sounds and music to your Reels when you own an Instagram business account, all of which we explain in our blog Everything You Need to Know About How to Make an Instagram Reel.

It’s a shame that Instagram doesn’t allow you to ‘save template’ when you find a perfectly synched Reel, but you can always save the Reel itself, then access the template that way later down the line to make your own video content from.

Happily, most trending sounds in recent months are re-mixed tracks, usually with people either DJ-mixing sounds together to create a whole new sound, or people uploading audios they have originated themselves.  If you can find a few sounds by a publisher that you like the style of, you can click on their profile to access more and this is a really good way of finding more up-and-coming sounds as they are published.

Another workaround people have figured out is to copy down a video found on Instagram or TikTok to their phone as a video clip. You are then able to manually load the audio from that video clip within Instagram and add it to your Reel.  This is a hack that allows you to use the latest Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Adele, Lizzo or another trending pop tune to your video, even if it is a Business account. You can also use the audio off pretty much any other video source that you have been able to load onto your phone as well. So a film or a TV show clip, for instance. This also might be useful if you recorded something on your phone – at a conference or public event for instance, or something cute your kid said that makes the perfect soundbite.  You might want to put a different video in synch with that audio and so this is how you would do that from your phone.

If you go down this route though, we ask you to exercise caution.  If loading a pop tune or a clip from a film, this is subject to copyright law, and as a business account, you have no rights to these kinds of music and sounds.

Back in the early noughties when BitTorrent became popular there was a huge problem with piracy, where people were sharing their own copies of films, albums and games with others through peer-to-peer sharing. The response at that time – most particularly by the big film companies – was to hunt down and make an example of people who’d stolen their copyrighted materials. Consequently, there were rafts of lawsuits suing both peer-to-peer services, as well as hunting down individuals who’d obtained copies in this way.

If you upload copyright material, Instagram will seek it out by AI and will usually end up finding it. Normal reprisals on Instagram include removing the audio from your Reel, leaving it soundless, or the Reel itself could be removed from your profile. It is possible that the music company could take particular issue with your use of Miley Cyrus’ Flowers on your Business account and come after you, but the chances are that Instagram will remove the sound from your account before this happens.

So avoid the hassle by reading up on what you are and are not allowed to use. Nobody needs to be in a fight with Warner Bros or Atlantic Records!

Why Does TikTok Have More Songs and Audio than Instagram?

If you regularly switch between using TikTok and Instagram for your content, you’ll know TikTok has a much broader music library, even for business accounts. This is because TikTok has a number of short-term agreements with major music labels, such as Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. These agreements give TikTok the right to let its end-users use artists’ music and other trending audio for their content without the worry of being caught out by copyright laws.

Having these kind of agreements in place works for everyone as TikTokers can use trending sounds to their heart’s content, and the artists not only receive royalties every time their song is used or played, but can even find themselves in the top 10 in the charts. So the agreement has become a form of marketing for the music companies to help them promote their artistes at a grassroots level. Pretty clever really.

This agreement is particularly great for unknown artists, who could find themselves busking on the streets one day and a worldwide sensation the next. Last year, it was reported that over 70 musicians received major record label deals as a result of their songs going viral on TikTok. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why labels are now encouraging their artists to ‘make songs for TikTok’ (although Adele came out publicly to say she was refusing to bend to this kind of pressure by her music label).

Having these agreements in place is a smart move by TikTok. Not only does it mean the platform is up and fully functioning, but it also means it has an advantage over Instagram and other social media platforms when it comes to being at the forefront of viral social media trends.

All in all, we think it’s fair to say that TikTok beats Instagram right now, but that’s not to say that this time next year things won’t look different.


Do I Have To Get Into All This Video & Audio Marketing? It Seems Quite Complicated.

With the recent backlash on Instagram regarding the lack of image-based content in people’s For You feeds, and complaints about being overwhelmed with Reels from accounts people don’t follow, Instagram has recently started to favour carousels again. It may even make a smart decision to lay down its sword in this fight and go back to its roots.

For now, video is a big feature on Instagram, but photos are making a comeback (yay!). Instagram will likely continue to shapeshift to do battle with other social apps – just as it has tried to take on BeReal with dual camera posts, and Twitter with short-form text-only updates in DMs. So we would advise that you engage with what suits you in terms of the skills you have in-house, or what you are prepared to pay for others to do (hey! 👋 always for hire!)

In the meantime, if you’re thinking of creating video content for your brand, there’s no harm in posting on Instagram as well as TikTok. After all, the more exposure, the better!

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We hope that you found this article useful. Take a look at the other social media help articles we’ve put together:

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