Why The Universal Music Group / Tik Tok Battle is Shaking Up the Industry

by | Feb 10, 2024

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An ongoing battle between Universal Music Group and Tik Tok has a lot of people in the industry holding their breaths, and we’re here to explain why. 

Even if you don’t keep up with music industry news, you’ve probably noticed a number of Tik Toks that suddenly have no sound. Universal Music Group represents a lot of major artists, including Taylor Swift, Drake, and Harry Styles. On the 31st of January, a licensing agreement expired between Tik Tok and UMG. This led to UMG removing its catalogue from the app. The battle between these two industry giants has been brewing for a while. Still, their failure to reach a new deal came as a surprise to many.

Universal Music Group has accused Tik Tok of trying to pressure them into a deal worth less than their previous agreement. Part of the disagreement is over the amount Tik Tok pays UMG’s artists and songwriters. UMG also voiced concerns over Tik Tok’s allowance of AI-generated music in an open letter addressed to its own artists.

“You saw that, right? Universal has just pulled all of their artists off TikTok … And you know what, TikTok? Shame on you! Shame on you for ripping off all of these artists, yeah! … How dare you do that? That’s Spotify’s job.” – Trevor Noah

The Fall Out Could Continue

As a result of this disagreement, Tik Tok videos that contain music licensed to Universal have been muted. Also, Universal Music Group’s catalogue has been removed from Tik Tok’s General Music Library. So far, this affects three million songs that make up UMG’s catalogue. But without a deal, another four million songs could be impacted. This is because Universal Music Publishing Group’s catalog is also set to become unlicensed by the end of February. Presently, about a third of Tik Tok’s most popular songs are no longer on the app. Universal Music Publishing Group artists include Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, Steve Lacy, Ariana Grande, and many more of the world’s most famous musicians.

@charisssechua

SMALL compilation of when we’ve sung 🌻. we r mourning. @Post Malone @Swae Lee @urine lol #sunflower #spiderman #spiderverse #postmalone #swaelee #spidermanintothespiderverse #umg

♬ original sound – Charisse

So far, a number of smaller music publishers and indie record labels have since publicly backed UMG’s decision. On the other hand, Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl expressed his feeling that Warner had reached a fair deal with Tik Tok for their artists. Warner’s artists include Lizzo, Bruno Mars, and Coldplay. 

What This Means for Independent Artists

Despite the drama this debacle is causing in the industry, this situation could be good for independent artists. The catalogue of songs by mainstream artists available to Tik Tok users has been significantly diminished. Yet, the demand for music remains the same. Some brands are already rethinking licensing songs from Universal. Tik Tok is an integral part of many major brands marketing campaigns, so this hesitation is understandable. Meanwhile, users of the app are turning to songs by indie artists to replace the music that has been removed from their previous posts. 

@preciousheartspopmusic

this is my song “outside” which is already out everywhere 💖

♬ Outside – Precious

Caught in the crossfires of this conflict are content creators and Universal artists who can no longer promote their own music using Tik Tok. Speaking to Slate, music history Tik Toker Patrick Hicks explained; “… there’s newer Universal artists that are not that famous, and there were people whose songs were literally in the middle of going viral, and now their videos are muted. And it’s possible that they get dropped from their label. They did what they were supposed to do, but the label messed up their promotion.”

This situation reinforces how easy it is to become a cog in the machine when you’re a smaller artist signed to a major label or a major publisher. Though its a milestone that many dream of, we personally think that independent music publishers are the way to go. If you’re in need of a music publisher for your own music, consider our sister company BE Music. We proudly maintain a small roster so as to maintain a personalized relationship with our clients. We talk more about music publishing in this article if you’re interested in learning more about the differences between independent and major music publishers. 

BE Music Publishing artists collage

What This Means for the Industry

Will the current battle between Universal Music Group and Tik Tok have lasting consequences for the industry? We think it’s largely going to depend on how long this takes to be resolved. There is the potential for major brands and Tik Tok creators to turn to independent artists when they would have defaulted to major artists. Some of Universal’s artists are probably feeling frustrated at the moment. However, Universal does seem to be voicing common concerns. The impact of AI in the music industry and the minuscule payments artists get from social media and streaming apps are causing ever growing resentment. Ultimately, we hate to see artists get caught in the crossfires of these battles between industry giants. So, here’s to hoping this gets resolved sooner rather than later. 

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