These Teens Make 6 Figures By Lip-Synching For Their Summer Job

Instead of bagging groceries, these teens shoot 15-second videos and make more cash than most of us do in ayear.

These Teens Make 6 Figures By Lip-Synching For Their Summer Job

K. Thor Jensen

Instead of bagging groceries, these teens shoot 15-second videos and make more cash than most of us do in a year.

What was your first summer job? Was it flipping burgers at a fast food joint, or watching people’s pets when they went on vacation? Mine was cleaning out houses that people died in for a real estate company. No matter what it was, chances are your teenage summer job wasn’t fun and didn’t pay very well.

But today’s teens are smarter than we were. They’re finding new ways to make money that don’t require minimum wage servitude. And with the help of a weird little app called musical.ly, some are making a lot more cash on their summer jobs than we make with our real ones.

Baby Ariel

Welcome to the cutthroat world of online lip-synching, where the competition is stiff and the audience is willing to shell out real cash to be recognized by their favorite “singers.”

Here’s a little rundown on musical.ly. Business partners Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang originally built a video sharing app that let people make short instructional clips around their areas of expertise.

Problem was, nobody used that app. And pretty soon they were only left with 8 percent of their original investment left and needed to make it count. So they selected the teen market as their new target and in August of 2014, musical.ly’s first version hit the App Store. It let users record 15-second videos, filter them and overlay audio.

By July of 2015, it was the top download in the App Store, and it’s stayed comfortably in the top 40 since then, jostling with Facebook and Snapchat for the #1 spot. The company has carefully built out infrastructure in response to user needs, including a live streaming counterpart called live.ly. More on that later.

Musical.ly has 200 million registered users uploading a whopping 13 million videos every day. It’s a powerful platform that directly reaches teens with social capital and money to spend. And it’s making stars.

The company calls its top users “musers,” and they’re the unlikely new influencers of the digital age. Primarily teenagers, they upload multiple videos a day both lip-synching and creating short comedic content like what was on Twitter’s now-shuttered Vine.

Ariel Martin was 15 years old when she made her first musical.ly video, lipsynching to Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid Hoe.” She wasn’t on any other social media at the time — not even Facebook. But there was something compelling about the clip.

After a few days, Ariel’s “Stupid Hoe” video hit musical.ly’s homepage. And then she made more videos, and they hit the homepage too. Within a year, she had 15 million followers. Now she has promotional contracts with Nordstrom, Burger King and Sour Patch Kids. She also has her own merchandise line and has signed with CAA to start a singing career.

In some ways, performing on musical.ly is like busking for tips in the subway station with your acoustic guitar…but instead of being dependent on foot traffic, the app opens up the entire world to you.

Other top musers on musical.ly include Jacob Sartorius, a 14-year-old Oklahoman who used it to escape bullying. There’s also German twins Lisa and Lena Mantler, who now have their own clothing line and recently announced a European tour. And Nicaraguan teen nail polish entrepreneur Ariana Renee. They all have millions of followers and incredibly active channels.

So where does the money come in? Unlike most other social platforms, which don’t offer monetization tools outside of advertising, live.ly lets users spend real money on virtual emoji “stickers” that they can place on the streams that they’re watching. The muser gets 50 percent of the purchase of any emoji used on their stream, and musical.ly splits the other half with Apple.

There’s already a thriving economy in place where musers give shoutouts and recognition to the biggest spenders, and a recent survey from Shimmur showed that a whopping 32 percent of fans were willing to drop over $50 for that kind of treatment. If you’ve got 10 million fans, that’s a sizable chunk of money. And that’s just the big spenders — the kids who only have a dollar to spend on an emoji also add up.

In some ways, performing on musical.ly is like busking for tips in the subway station with your acoustic guitar. You’re performing for people, and it’s their choice whether to reward you for it. But instead of being dependent on foot traffic, the app opens up the entire world to you. All a teenager needs to do is catch that viral wave in front of enough eyeballs to make it pay off.

Unlike a normal job, though, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever get paid. The vast majority of musical.ly users don’t make a dime from their uploads, and probably never will. That’s kind of a downside for teens looking to make a career out of the app.

The rise of kids making money on musical.ly might seem strange, but when you look at the greater job market, it makes sense. Fewer and fewer high schoolers are looking for summer jobs. In 1978, 60 percent of teens were working summer jobs or looking for them. In 2016, that number was down to 35 percent.

Why is the teen labor market collapsing? Before you blame lazy millennials, it’s important to note that the number of teenagers in summer school and other off-season academic programs has skyrocketed. Three times as many students are in summer classes than there were 20 years ago, as the pressure to go to college continues to increase.

Throw in the rise of unpaid internships and a decrease in low-skill positions suitable for new workers and you have a job market that just doesn’t have time for high school students anymore — and vice versa.

That’s why the de facto freelancing of the app economy makes sense to modern teens. They don’t have six straight hours to work a shift bagging groceries anymore. But they can squeeze in 15 seconds after dinner to record a video, or an hour to stream live in between classes. And if the end result of that is more money than they’d make at minimum wage, it’s win-win.