TikTok must face the (lack of) music

Finding the perfect banger to soundtrack your next TikTok vid just got a lot harder.

What happened: Universal Music Group (UMG) — the world’s biggest music company — is pulling its entire catalogue from TikTok after the app failed to extend its licensing agreement. These deals allow TikTok to use copyrighted music in exchange for lump sums of royalty payments.

Why it’s happening: The two aren’t going out on good terms. In a (very snarky) open letter, UMG claimed TikTok tried to “bully” its way into an unfair deal that would have underpaid artists. It also raised concerns about, what else, the problematic use of AI on the platform.

  • UMG accused TikTok of “sponsoring artist replacement by AI” and letting copyright infringement run rampant by allowing AI recordings to populate the app.

Why it matters: TikTok depends on music for its creators to soundtrack addictive videos and to drive viral trends. The disappearance of UMG’s catalogue will cause a seismic disruption to the app experience, with users losing access to literally (okay, figuratively) every musician. 

  • UMG’s roster of bands and artists is unmatched. Just look at these freakin’ names: Drake, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Elton John, Adele, Justin Bieber, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, *gasps for air* Coldplay, SZA, Olivia Rodrigo, BTS, and hundreds more.

Yes, but: Music is increasingly dependent on TikTok, too. The app has become the primary way Gen Z discovers music, and it has the power to launch entire careers (think Lil Nas X) or bring old jams back to life (like what’s happening now with “Murder on the Dance Floor”). 

  • It’s at the point that the average length of hit pop songs is the shortest since the 1960s, partly because artists are trying to make music optimized for TikTok content.

What’s next: TikTok Music, a streaming service meant to compete with Spotify, launched in select countries last year; the company is also testing an AI song generator. Without UMG though, these initiatives could be DOA, especially if other music majors share UMG’s concerns.—QH