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How chasing viral guitar riffs made Will Paquin a TikTok sensation

The Boston University alum has half a million followers, but before he joined the app, he had never even written a song

Weston's Will Paquin found his groove through TikTok, where he began posting guitar riffs during the pandemic. He now writes full-length songs that follow his posts' viral successes.Provided

When Will Paquin first recorded a short video of himself playing guitar, he was stuck at his childhood home in Weston. His Boston University classes were canceled due to the pandemic in March 2020 and he, like the rest of us, didn’t expect for his life plans to change in a matter of months. The volatile and sometimes miraculous nature of TikTok, the popular algorithm-based video-sharing social media platform, makes it easy to fade into the noise of millions of people trying to “make it big” — but the layered, dreamy sounds of Paquin’s guitar video clips cut through the noise.

The now-23-year-old musician casually joined the app in March 2020 out of boredom and to explore his passion for playing guitar. His content was a mixture of funky original music and covers of classic, trending songs, such as riffs loosely based on “One Note Samba,” a jazz and bossa nova standard, and guitar remixes of “The Less I Know The Better” by Tame Impala. Two years, five singles released on major streaming services, 12.5 million likes, and 500,000 followers later, Paquin continues to upload snippets of original music content with his signature “finger-picking” style, a guitar technique where he plucks the strings directly with his fingernails rather than strumming.

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Paquin’s first viral moment happened that August. The 12-second video (with Paquin’s caption “wrote this like 10 mins ago lol hope you like it”) now has 5 million views and pushed the musician to release his first song inspired by the same guitar bit that his fans loved from the original video. The guitar clip, which was not originally intended to be a full song, led to the success of his single, “Chandelier,” that has more than 89 million streams on Spotify at the time of reporting.

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“I made the ‘Chandelier’ guitar part, not expecting to do anything with it,” Paquin says, “but then I had comments and DMs telling me ‘you need to write a song with it’ and we need it tomorrow. I was like, oh [expletive], I’ve never written a song before.”

The guitarist’s account caught fire and fans continued to demand music based on whichever short video of his got the most views. Some of Paquin’s other releases in 2021 built on short guitar riffs he’d teased in TikTok videos, like the songs “21″ and “Now You Know.” While TikTok’s community helped turn his musician dreams into a reality, the app was also molding his sound.

“TikTok shaped my own guitar playing; I just kept doing the things that people liked, which was finger-picking,” Paquin shared, “I built it from there and pursued that weird niche. A year later, that’s pretty much all I do and that’s what I love to play. I can’t even imagine playing any other way.”

In September, on a video deemed “summer loop 4,” followers replied to a call from Paquin to describe his sound with scenarios. One user, @khaliqueeen, commented that it felt like “i’m riding on a bike w friends that i genuinely love & looking back at them & just being happy that i’m there idk.” Another, @llma_00, said Paquin’s riff evoked: “walking thru a forest and slowly coming to realize how much you’re enjoying yourself. speeding up until you’re running through the trees.”

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Currently, Paquin goes between Weston, a cabin in Connecticut, and New York City. Despite TikTok’s early influence on Paquin’s sound, the full-time musician now chooses to be “off the grid” and focus on his sound rather than his follower count, not letting the finicky nature of the algorithm affect his art in the way it did upon his first few viral videos.

“For a while, it was like, oh, this part did well on TikTok. I guess I’ll write a song to it. Then, I would write a song to release it,” Paquin shared. “Relying on something to pop off to strike on it, that’s the worst. I feel like it’s best to write the music that you want to write instead.”

Going viral on TikTok doesn’t guarantee recognition or acclamation within the music world. To this day, Paquin is unsigned and has yet to work with a major label to release his music, despite offers in his early “Chandelier” days. His follower count and solo career continue to grow, most recently with his newest single, “In Two,” which was released on Nov. 18 and features the same sample heard in “summer loop 4.”

“This has been a best case scenario, I never really thought it was possible,” Paquin explained about his career and TikTok fame. “And there’s always going to be BS that you have to deal with no matter what, no matter how good things are. But if I knew that I would be doing this four years ago, I’d be flipping.”

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