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Music On TikTok: With UMG Gone, Who is Left? 

Feb 15, 2024

Social Media Platforms

Music On TikTok: With UMG Gone, Who is Left? 

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have likely heard about Universal Music Group’s (UMG) decision to remove their music on TikTok. 

At the end of January, the major music company announced that they would not be extending their agreement with TikTok, and immediately began to remove their millions strong song catalogue. 

With their once viral sounds and popular trends suddenly silent, users and artists alike were incredibly taken aback by the move. Now, the question on everyone’s lips is, what now? 

We’ve taken a deep dive into UMG’s decision, as well as which labels are still around on the app. 

MUSIC ON TIKTOK: THE BACK STORY 

On the 31st of January, UMG made public their decision to end their licensing agreement with TikTok and remove their music on TikTok. The move has caused an internet wide discussion to erupt on the future of music on TikTok. 

One of the three major music companies world wide (the other two being Sony and Warner Music Group), UMG’s departure from TikTok has led to millions of videos and trends being silenced on the platform.

By ending its agreement with TikTok, UMG is also removing its music publishing division, Universal Music Publishing Group. This division handles songwriters’ compositions. 

In a statement posted on X, UMG claimed that its decision was driven by TikTok resorting to intimidation and bullying during negotiations, and refusing to budge on pay. UMG stated that TikTok pays it a small fraction of what other platforms do to access its catalogue, and that when questioned on key topics such as AI usage and client safety, TikTok failed to meet the mark. 

In response, TikTok released its own statement, claiming that UMG put its greed above its artists and songwriters. The platform has maintained its position that UMG is making a mistake, stating that music on TikTok is a huge driver of commercial success for UMG’s artists. 

@austintaylorrrr

when UMG has removed all music to dance too on tiktok ?? #fyp #trend #dance #umg

♬ Fluffing a Duck – Kevin MacLeod

Since UMG’s announcement, there has been silence from both sides. Consumers have been quite vocal about their disappointment however, with users flocking to their accounts to express their confusion and fear. Many have taken to putting a funny spin on the situation, by re-recording their own acapella versions of their favourite UMG artist songs, or dancing to wordless copyright free music on TikTok. 

Artists and musicians have also taken to voicing their opinions on the matter, with many expressing their fear. Noah Kahan, a popular UMG musician who found popularity through TikTok, took to his account to speak on his fears for the future of his career; without the ability to promote his music on TikTok. Kahan is unsure how he will achieve the same level of commercial success he has seen in the past. 

Some musicians, however, are staunch supporters of UMG. Many independent artists and labels are overjoyed at UMG’s decision, as the labels departure from TikTok gives these smaller entities far more room to grow. Moreover, many in the industry have a strong distaste for the kind of music that TikTok promotes. There has been a sort of fast fashion effect in the past few years, with many labels driving their artists to create music solely intended for TikTok virality; the result, some believe, is soulless music. 

MUSIC ON TIKTOK: WHO IS LEFT 

So, with UMG gone, what music on TikTok is left? 

TikTok has licensing agreements with a variety of music labels, and up until UMG’s departure, the platform was in cahoots with the entirety of the big three; UMG, Warner Music Group (WMG) and Sony. 

Let’s dive into which notable labels still have music on TikTok, so you can check which of your favourite artists are left. 

Merlin  

Shortly after rising to supreme popularity, TikTok signed a licensing agreement with digital rights agency Merlin. This move was the first major licensing agreement that TikTok signed. It is the deal that led to UMG, WMG and Sony signing with the platform. 

Merlin is one of the most successful global digital rights agencies for small and independent labels. The company licences music to companies such as Spotify, YouTube and Soundcloud. Some of the biggest artists signed with Merlin include Mad Decent, Better Noise and AWAL. Merlin controls 15% of the worldwide recorded music market, from small, indie artists to hugely successful ones.

@awal

laufey’s in her goddess era! #laufey #goddess #grammys #CapCut

♬ original sound – awal

Sony 

TikTok and Sony have had a licensing agreement since 2020, around the same time that the app reached agreements with UMG and WMG as well. 

Major artists signed with Sony include Doja Cat and Lil Nas X; both of which found their start through viral music on TikTok. 

Since 2020, there has been little information available about this partnership. In 2022, Sony joined UMG and WMG in their pursuit to pressure TikTok into paying them high royalties and a bigger share of their revenue. 

Yet, after these talks ended with WMG staying with TikTok and UMG leaving, there has been radio silence on the Sony front. This is causing some to wonder if Sony is on its way out too, as its contract is likely up. 

@lilnasx

♬ LIGHT AGAIN – lil nas x

Warner Music Group 

WMG renewed its contract with TikTok in mid 2023, claiming that the deal was a first of its kind. 

The “fresh, multi-year licensing agreement” saw WMG licence its Warner Recorded Music as well as its Warner Chappell catalogues to TikTok, TikTok music, CapCut and TikTok’s Commercial Music Library. 

The addition of TikTok’s Commercial Music Library is a particularly intriguing addition to this contract. TikTok’s Commercial Music Library is a bank of songs that brands and advertisers are able to use for ad syncs; brands can almost instantaneously licence music for ad sync.

Some of WMG’s most notable artists include Lizzo and Cardi B. WMG includes Atlantic Records as well. 

@lizzo

GRAMMYS FIT ??

♬ original sound – lizzo

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE 

Ultimately, whilst UMG may have made a swift exit from TikTok, the platform is far from music. 

Through its ongoing agreements with Sony, WMG and Merlin, TikTok still has access to the majority of the global recorded music library. UMG’s departure is a large blow, but certainly not a deafening one. 

With TikTok users’ still having access to a wide array of music, it is likely that the only member to feel the sting of UMG’s decision is UMG itself. TikTok has been a crucial springboard for many artists in their music careers, pushing musicians forward to commercial success and record deals. By leaving TikTok, UMG is removing this highly crucial driver of promotion, awareness, and positive fan relationships. 

On the TikTok side of things, it seems that whilst users are upset, they will quickly move on. Of course, the absence of Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo’s songs will be felt on the app; these major pop stars were the beating heart of many dance trends. Yet, TikTok is a place of humour and creation. Users are already showing their ability to quickly adapt to the platform’s new landscape, and fill the void of where their favourite songs used to be. 

At the end of the day, it is not a reach to propose that UMG may go back on its decision. Famously, WMG did just that when it broke its licensing agreement with YouTube in 2020. Just nine months after it left the platform, WMG came crawling back; and users were none the wiser. 

Perhaps, with users moving on and TikTok still being supported by the remaining major labels in the music industry, UMG will soon come to regret its decision. Or, perhaps it will stand strong, and remain solid in its choice to leave TikTok. 

Only time will tell.

Our influencer marketing agency and social agency are located worldwide, with our agency network based in the USA, UK, UAE and China.

If you want to find industry insights, visit our influencer marketing and social media blogs.

@ Socially Powerful

Author

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Ella Proctor

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