TikTok may look (or sound) slightly different as you navigate the app.
Earlier this week, Universal Music Group, which represents famous artists like Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny and Drake, said it would no longer allow their music on TikTok after a licensing deal between the two companies expired on Wednesday.
ByteDance-owned TikTok confirmed in a statement to The Associated Press that the takedown of UMG-related music began overnight. Earlier on Thursday, several popular songs had disappeared from the social media platform’s library.
The complete removal of UMG-licensed music may not be immediate, but it’s likely that avid TikTok users are already seeing the effects. Here’s a summary of where things stand.
Songs from TikTok are songs licensed by UMG, which has a tremendous reach in the music industry and therefore in today’s digital diet.
“Universal Music Group is literally the largest record label in the history of the music industry,” said Andrew Mall, a professor of music at Northeastern University. He added that an “uncountable number of tracks and sounds” on TikTok would be affected, significantly limiting creators’ options.
TikTok users who signed on Thursday will find they can no longer search for popular songs from Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Olivia Rodrigo and more under the “sounds” tab.
Not only will users no longer have the option to add these songs to the next dance craze and other trending content, past videos containing UMG-licensed music will also be deleted. It will be up to TikTok whether existing videos will be muted or removed entirely, according to a UMG spokesperson.
Artists will also not be able to publish the audio of their UMG-licensed songs on TikTok. The spokesperson said that if the music was licensed by UMG, it should be muted and that the company would protect its copyrights.
Complete removal will likely be a process, so it may take a few days for TikTok users to see the full effects.
It’s also important to remember that music licensing is a complex business, and artists often have different songs circulating on different labels. While a singer’s UGM tracks will be removed, songs licensed exclusively with other music giants (such as labels owned by Warner and Sony) should not be affected.
The expiration of the license between UMG and TikTok came after the two companies failed to reach a new agreement and soon exchanged heated exchanges.
In a letter to artists and songwriters on Tuesday, UMG said it was pressing TikTok on three issues: “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of artificial intelligence, and online safety for TikTok users.”
UMG said TikTok proposes to pay its artists and songwriters at a rate well below what other major social platforms pay, accounting for just 1% of TikTok’s total revenue. The music giant also criticized TikTok’s promotion of creating music with artificial intelligence, which UMG said poses risks to artists, and the platform’s records of hate speech, bigotry, bullying and harassment.
TikTok countered UMG’s claims, saying it had “artist first” deals with all other labels and publishers.
“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group would put its own greed ahead of the interests of its artists and songwriters,” TikTok said.
Despite the expiration of the licensing agreement, experts state that we are still in a negotiation phase between UMG and TikTok, and this will probably not last forever.
“We’ve seen this movie before. Ted Cockle, former chairman of UMG’s Virgin EMI Records, now runs the music consultancy Mussel Music Management, he said.
Cockle added that users will likely find ways to adapt in the meantime, but he and others are skeptical such a separation will last long. He pointed out that the partnership between UMG and TikTok is significantly beneficial for both parties. Historically speaking, in the digital age of the 21st century, gaps in other licensing deals often lasted from just a day to several months, Mall said.
There will also likely be additional pressure from TikTok creators, artists, and fans.
“This is a really important platform for artists,” said Alexandra J. Roberts, a professor of law and media at Northeastern University. “This may not affect established artists as much, but some will lose their income stream. And I think we’re going to see some frustrated fans, right? Users who do not understand or are angry about the fact that they cannot use, access, or interact with the works of some artists.”
Representatives for several artists who produce UMG-licensed music, including Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, SZA, Drake, Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Mall emphasized the overall ramifications of pulling music from social media platforms like TikTok, especially for emerging young artists. In this case, UMG’s revenue comes mostly from well-known artists, and it would probably be “fine” if those artists’ music was no longer on TikTok, but “the smaller labels, the smaller artists, couldn’t afford to do something like that,” he said. This.”
Content creators and marketing experts are already preparing to make changes as needed. Jessica Henig, founder and CEO of Unlocked Branding, a music marketing company that works on campaigns featuring UMG-licensed music, said it’s not ideal, but her team is used to working with delays in the social media environment.
Still, Henig, who previously headed influencer marketing at Virgin EMI, said time would tell.
“If this is going to be a long-lasting thing, then we can have a different conversation,” he said.
TikTok’s dispute with Universal isn’t the first time a record label has clashed with a social media company over licensing terms. In late 2008, Warner Music Group pulled all of its music from YouTube, saying the payments it received from the video-sharing site did not fairly compensate the label, its artists, or its songwriters. Warner agreed to return the songs and music videos months after reaching a new deal with YouTube.