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The Future Of Music: The Effects Of Universal Music Group Leaving TikTok

Updated: Apr 18

An obvious silence has struck TikTok over the past few weeks — and it is far from an accident. 


Universal Music Group made an impactful decision on Jan. 30. An announcement titled “An Open Letter to the Artist and Songwriter Community Why We Must Call Time Out on TikTok” stated that TikTok will no longer have access to any music released by artists signed under UMG’s record labels. 



Friend or Foe of the Music Industry? 


TikTok has had a massive influence on the music industry since its early days, back when it was known as “Musical.ly.” Small artists can effortlessly post their music on the app and go viral, turning into worldwide stars and well-respected artists in no time. This includes notable artists like Doja Cat, GAYLE, PinkPantheress and Megan Thee Stallion. The platform is also heavily used when promoting songs, which changed the way people discover music. 


However, there has been ongoing discourse on whether TikTok plays a positive or negative role in the music industry. 


Despite becoming a powerful promotional platform for artists and music, TikTok has also created a phenomenon known as the “Tiktokification of music.” This describes how its algorithm chooses songs with similar sounds to go viral, in turn creating a homogeneous music taste among users and consumers. 


Many have expressed concern over the authenticity of the music that goes viral, as it tends to reach a saturated audience with short attention spans. Music falls into an endless void, trying to fight for attention amidst the 34 million videos posted on the app daily. This means the artist’s popularity quickly fades and it is difficult for them to form stable long-term careers. 


Behind UMG’s Decision


UMG did not abruptly reach this decision. In the statement, it discussed their contract with TikTok, which was set to expire this Jan. 31. 


The company pushed for multiple contract renewals that would provide “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protect human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and [consider its] online safety for TikTok’s users.” 


It’s important to note how Tiktok compensates artists. The platform pays $0.03 to artists for each TikTok video that uses their song, which UMG says is “a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay.” 


UMG argues that — with music being the core of TikTok — it is unfair that the company still refuses to pay more to artists, especially considering that “TikTok accounts for only about 1% of [UMG’s] total revenue.” 


Artificial intelligence is another point of concern for UMG. The company worries that “TikTok is allowing the platform to be flooded with AI-generated recordings” and that its lack of action in removing those represents “a move that is nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.”


The app’s flawed filtering system was also called into question in the open letter, which said it allows for an abundance of “hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment on the platform.” 


TikTok responded the same day by accusing UMG of being “self-serving” and putting “their own greed above the interests of their artists.” The statement said that UMG was walking away from a massive tool for the promotion and discovery of music, and that Tiktok has been able to reach “'artist-first' agreements with every other label and publisher.” 


Ultimately, the companies failed to reach a contract renewal agreement and have since parted ways.  



What’s Next for the Music Industry? 


The decision to pull the music from UMG artists off TikTok has consequences for both companies, and many worry that these companies need each other to succeed.


UMG is the world’s largest music company and has a market share of 31.8%. Meanwhile, 90% of TikTok users think that sound is a key part of the platform’s experience. With no music from popular artists like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Drake, TikTok might be forced to consider an amended contract that will hopefully cover the requested fair compensation. 


Many are concerned about the advertisement and promotion of music in the future. For instance, singer Noah Kahan said nervously: “I won’t be able to promote my music on TikTok any more… I’ll probably be OK, right? I’ll probably land on my feet, right? Right?.”


Some might turn to alternatives to TikTok including Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts. Many have grown their following and gained exposure on these platforms, but Johnny Cloherty — co-founder of digital marketing company Songfluencer — says TikTok is still the “number one” app for music discovery. 


Tyler Blatchley — co-founder of Black 17, The Orchard’s top label on TikTok — echoed this sentiment. “There’s really no other comparable digital marketing strategy or platform for exposure of new music,” he said. 


But not all is lost for the future of music promotion. 


According to Billboard, artists and their marketing teams are using their usual strategies with simple creative twists. With small changes like sped-up songs or acoustic versions, artists are able to bypass TikTok’s sonic fingerprinting system. 


Most recently, a sneak peak of Post Malone’s collaboration with Luke Combs went viral on the app. This happened just two weeks after UMG and TikTok parted ways. The song was able to remain unmuted, sparking some optimism for the future. 


This change could even make music promotion easier for smaller artists, as it might draw musicians who are currently unsigned to a label. Without the sea of songs from popular artists, UMG’s pull might actually be helping unknown artists have breakthroughs on the app. 


Relationships between artists and their fans seem to be as strong as ever and will continue to remain strong.


By: Tiffany Fang

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