The Day TikTok Went Silent: UMG Removing Songs from TikTok
Feb 09, 2024
In a move not heard around the world, Universal Music Group (UMG) is removing its millions strong catalogue from TikTok.
The powerful music company announced on the 31st of January that they would not be renewing their deal with TikTok, which had allowed the social media platform to use UMG’s songs. Users have largely been shocked at the abrupt decision, with millions of videos on TikTok becoming silent overnight.
Given TikTok’s strong basis in music and sound, and the fact that many of UMG’s most recently signed artists have found their following on the platform, many are waiting with bated breath to see the full impact of the decision.
Will TikTok’s new, silent era be sustainable? How will its advertising revenue and user engagement be impacted as a result? Let’s dive in.
Universal Music Group has decided to pull their artists’ music catalogue from TikTok after being unable to renew a contract with appropriate compensation for their music. TikTok released a statement in response. Thoughts? 💭👀
UMG REMOVING SONGS FROM TIKTOK: THE BACKSTORY
Just last week, UMG announced to the public via a statement on X that it would not be renewing its agreement with TikTok. Up until now, the music company allowed TikTok access to its extensive catalogue, providing users the ability to use any of its songs in their videos.
In its statement, UMG claimed that TikTok resorted to intimidation and bullying tactics in its negotiations. The company believes that TikTok is attempting to build a music-based business without paying proper value to artists and the like. It claimed that the platform offered to pay UMG a small fraction of what other companies currently pay it to use its catalogue; a serious accusation indeed, considering TikTok only contributes 1% to UMG’s total revenue.
TikTok has remained steadfast in its claim that UMG’s decision puts “their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.” The platform declared that it has managed to reach agreements that centre the artist with every other publisher and label. TikTok has made it abundantly clear that it believes UMG removing songs from its platform is a grave mistake, claiming that its platform is a “free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent.”
During negotiations, UMG pushed TikTok on three key issues; adequate compensation for UMG’s artists and songwriters, protection for artists from AI, and online safety for TikTok users. The AI piece struck a particular cord with UMG, who claimed that TikTok has allowed itself to become oversaturated with AI-generated recordings as a result of its creation of tools that promote AI music generation.
The company was wholly unsatisfied with TikTok’s proposed solutions to these issues, thus contributing to UMG removing songs from the platform.
UMG REMOVING SONGS FROM TIKTOK: INTERNET RESPONSE
The announcement of UMG and TikTok’s licensing agreement ending and UMG removing songs from the platform has caused shockwaves across the internet.
Seemingly overnight, millions of videos on TikTok have been muted as a result of UMG removing songs, leaving artists and users alike dumbfounded. Many musicians have taken to TikTok and other social media platforms to voice their concern on the matter. One prominent voice has been Noah Kahan.
A relatively new artist on the scene, Kahan is one of many musicians who have TikTok to thank for their fame. After starting a TikTok account, Kahan quickly garnered quite the following, with several of his songs going viral on the app. This TikTok based popularity led to Kahan being signed by UMG and earning a Grammy nomination for best new artist.
Kahan took to his account last week to express his fear about UMG removing songs. In his video, he jokes about how the move shouldn’t impact him as he is not a TikTok artist. Right?
He is not alone in his opinion either. Cody Fry, another artist signed with UMG, stated in an interview that “the whole reason I am signed by Universal is because of my success on TikTok. I don’t know if they would have approached me otherwise.”
Many up and coming artists have expressed trepidation about how they will advertise their new music, now that they are unable to post their own work. TikTok is a major component of the music industry, and has become a crucial part of how new music is advertised. Many songs have only reached widespread popularity due to going viral on the platform; just take Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”, for example.
Yet, some musicians are thrilled about this new development. Metro Boomin, one of the top rap music producers of the moment, took to X to detail his excitement about UMG’s decision. He claimed that TikTok has created a fast-fashion phenomenon in the music industry. Major labels such as UMG have taken to pushing their artists to create music solely for the purpose of going viral on TikTok. This has led to an influx of what he dubs “lifeless and soulless records.”
For users, UMG removing songs has far less dire implications. Rather than jeopardising the success of their work, it is simply just annoying.
In response to their videos being muted and beloved songs being stripped from the app, TikTok users have created a new trend; embracing the silence. The platform is now filled with creators dancing to copyright free music, recreating their favourite UMG songs via at-home-acapella, and more.
It seems that, so far, consumers aren’t all that worried about UMG removing songs. Of course they are frustrated, but TikTok is, at its core, a place of humour and creativity; users will simply find a new way to engage with music and sound on the app.
Ultimately, music and sound are at the heart of TikTok. Dancing, lip syncing and singing are all essential elements of user experience on the platform. Take the songs from TikTok and you are left with, not much.
As such, many are hypothesising that UMG removing songs will lead to a stark decline in user engagement. This could, in turn, have a major negative impact on TikTok’s advertising revenue model, which relies heavily on user engagement and time spent on the app. TikTok has recently been attempting to boost revenue by coaxing users to spend more time on the platform, by introducing long form, horizontal content.
Alternatively, UMG removing songs could very well have the exact opposite effect that it desires. TikTok has a booming pirate economy, with creators everywhere using illegal copies of songs in their videos. Many users take these songs and adjust them in some way, making them sound ever so slightly different to the original. These new songs often trend on the app; meaning as an artist, your song could be trending yet you are receiving no credit for it.
UMG removing songs is creating an environment where users will be more inclined to find illegal copies of their favourite songs elsewhere. Rather than dancing to copyright free music, users can simply download Taylor Swift’s new song and post it anyway. Of course, there are copyright restrictions and automations that are in place to stop this phenomenon from occurring. But, nothing is 100% effective.
Yet, perhaps creators will surprise the naysayers everywhere. Perhaps, we are teetering on the edge of a period of creativity. There is the possibility that in response to UMG removing songs, users and creators alike could take to creating their own sounds. A demand for unique, original audio could arise, with users desiring branded audio and the promotion of independent artists.
Moreover, there is, as always, the question of AI. As mentioned previously, a major issue UMG highlighted with TikTok is its treatment of AI on its platform. UMG, like many music companies, is fearful of the impact that AI is going to have on the music industry. Many musicians share this fear, believing that AI will eventually lead to the removal of humans from music creation, with consumers everywhere being able to use musicians’ work without their consent.
However, this view may be a touch too apocalyptic for our current situation. Just last year, Grimes shocked the music industry with their software Elf.Tech. The program allows users to sample Grimes’ voice in their own music, without any copyright infringement. Their music must be submitted for approval before it can be publicly released, however, and Grimes receives 50% of royalties.
The move opened up a vibrant discussion online about AI and the music industry, with many artists and producers voicing their fears and disapproval of the move. Yet, they need not worry.
So far, none of the AI songs produced via Elf.Tech have topped the charts; they have barely even made a ripple in the music industry. None of them have done what companies like UMG are so fearful of; replacing real artists.
In the end, it is ultimately still too early to determine how UMG and TikTok’s fallout will impact themselves as well as consumers. One cannot deny, however, that this decision will have major impacts on TikTok, its users, and the brands that inhabit it.
Good or bad, we will definitely be seeing the ramifications of UMG’s absence very soon.
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@ Socially Powerful
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