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Three Weeks On: The Impact of UMG Removing their Music from TikTok

Photo available via Flickr (Under License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

3 weeks ago, Universal Music Group pulled all of their music from TikTok. This sent users, creators and artists alike into a frenzy. Since then, scrolling on TikTok has been an adjustment, but only ever so slightly. Viral videos have been silenced, however TikTok has not fallen short of new trends, dances and skits. Why is this?

 Universal Music Group is a large corporation, home to many music labels with some of the biggest musicians today, and having the largest market share of music releases at 37.54% as of 2022. Their music labels include Republic, which has signed American pop stars Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, and  DefJam which is home to UK artist Stormzy. According to Music Business Worldwide, the group made the decision to pull over 3 million of their “recorded music tracks'' for three main reasons, namely “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users”. 

This quick turnaround has evidently displayed the power large music corporations can have over other influential apps. Their licensing agreements have been meticulously crafted over 2 decades, coming to agreements with Spotify in its infancy in 2008 allowing the use of their music on the streaming service at a limited capacity, and also an agreement with Disney Music Group in 2013, and later in 2018 allowing them to control the distribution of releases of their music across the globe. However, 3 weeks on TikTok is still up and running, with various songs being used to steer new trends. 

TikTok has remained the same for a number of reasons, one being the fact that independent artists are the heart of the app. 

Since its creation in 2018, TikTok videos have been made using originally independent or smaller artists, such as PinkPantheress who rose to fame quickly at the age of 19 with her song’s ‘Pain’ and ‘Passion’ and received the BBC’s Sound of 2022 award, now having 18 million monthly streams on Spotify. 

Although now signed to a label, she is the perfect example of a unique sound that was forged on the app, combining multiple genres such as UK garage, drum and bass, and pop. More recently, we are seeing the rise of young artists such as Essosa, whose song ‘Waste My Time’ was a nostalgic mix of 90s RnB, and flooded TikTok foryou pages for weeks on end in 2023. 

Secondly, TikTok has evolved into a hub of creativity, where content ranges from outlandish skits and makeup tutorials, to minute-long vlogs of peoples’ days. While music remains a key part of the app, content has become more than using music simply for dance trends, as it originally was. As soon as you open the app, there are many options as to how you utilise it. You can either scroll on the foryou page, shop on TikTok shop, or make content yourself, without always needing the use of music.

 TikTok itself has extended itself literally beyond the app, as their Out of Phone scheme announced towards the end of 2023 allows businesses to display their TikTok content onto billboards, cinema screens and even certain stores in the US. Content of all types is now reaching all areas of the US, making TikTok an ever present theme and growing in strength.

 Thirdly, and most obviously, Universal is one of many music labels. Sony Music and Warner Music are two dominating labels that still allow their music to be played on TikTok.

 Sony Music has the second largest market share, at 26.87%, signing artists who have dominated the app for some time now, such as Beyonce who’s Renaissance album and world tour became a key highlight of 2023, and Doja Cat whose song ‘Say So’ has over eight million videos tied to the official sound on Tiktok, and ‘Paint the Town Red’ having over eight-hundred million streams on Spotify. 

Warner Music Group holds 19.05% of the market share, having artists such as Bruno Mars, Charli XCX and Don Toliver signed to their label. Therefore, while taking a hit from Universal, TikTok is not short of artists it can use to pioneer sounds on the app. 

3 weeks on, we’ve seen that TikTok can still survive without Universal Music, with the app gaining momentum each day, and its 1 billion monthly users still remaining. It will be interesting to see what the next three weeks, or months will bring.

Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor