In an effort to save its artists from exploiting their music on TikTok, Universal Music Group (UMG) has made a decision that is likely to have massive negative impacts on its artists’ ability to promote their music and ultimately harm the artist and the label. While this initially seemed like the wrong choice, and while I maintain that the announcement should have been made earlier, the choice may just be the right one for its artists after reading the statements from UMG and TikTok.
UMG released a public statement on January 30 titled “An Open Letter to the Artist and Songwriter Community: Why We Need to Call Time Out on TikTok.” Just two days before the end of their contract, the label announced that on February 1, they will remove all of their artists’ music from TikTok.
UMG is a huge label, including many of the biggest names of the past and present. On the pop front, UMG signed Taylor Swift (“Midnights”), Bad Bunny (“Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana”), Ariana Grande (“yeah, and?”), Adele (“30”), SZA ( “SOS”), Billie Eilish (“What Was I Made For?”) and Harry Styles (“Harry’s House”). Beyond pop, UMG also has U2 (“Atomic City”), Sting (“The Bridge”), Coldplay (“Music of the Spheres”), Irving Berlin (“White Christmas”) and Danny Elfman (“Big Mess”), for example.
TikTok has exploded with reactions from fans and artists alike. Some joke about the decision, while others take a more serious tone.
“Yeah, I mean my career is over for sure,” Conan Gray (“Superache”) said in an interview with Rolling Stone at the Grammys. “I’ll never have another hit song at this rate.”
Although Gray’s initial statement may not be completely wrong, the decision could be a career-impacting choice for many of the artists under the label.
“Since UMG removed all of Taylor Swift’s music from this platform, I guess the Glee Cast version of ‘Mean’ is all we’re left with!” joked @notolsennchris on TikTok.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of interesting a capella covers from UMG artists until this is resolved,” Gray said similarly.
While the implications of future videos are obvious, what isn’t is the fact that by removing all of UMG’s music, TikTok has disabled videos posted before the music is removed, affecting past videos as well.
For artists with such big names, some of their songs have been part of specific TikTok trends. This will basically delete these trends from the TikTok archives.
“In our discussions about renewing the contract, we have been in a hurry [TikTok] on three critical issues: proper compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok users,” UMG said in the initial press release. The label explores these three points throughout the statement. .
“Regarding the issue of artist and songwriter compensation, TikTok proposed that our artists and songwriters be paid at a rate that is a fraction of what similarly established major social platforms charge,” UMG said.
UMG’s removal of music looks more like a platform boycott aimed at provoking change from TikTok executives. While this sounds like a great idea in theory, TikTok isn’t likely to make any difference unless they see either a massive drop in users or more record labels make a similar decision to let their contracts expire. As powerful as they are, UMG alone is not enough to drive this change.
Social media is a creative space. TikTokers have always found a way to achieve what they want to do. Truth be told, there is such a huge amount of music that is still available for TikTokers. They probably won’t feel much pain. Users have already used “Glee” audio to comically address the decision.
Even artists joke about it. OneRepublic (“Mirage”) posted a concert video dubbing a terrible cover of “Counting Stars” with the caption “all our videos now because our music is gone.”
“Is it bad that I didn’t even know my music was deleted from TikTok today?” JoJo Siwa (“Nonstop”) asked in a TikTok video.
In my arguably forgettable years of spinning TikTok, barring the writer’s strike, this is the first time I can recall so many artists commenting and joking about the same topic. Many artists will probably feel the same way about this topic – especially after seeing the potential negative impacts on their marketing techniques.
TikTok’s response to UMG’s statement was short and blunt.
“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their greed over the interests of their artists and songwriters,” the company said. “Despite Universal’s false narrative and rhetoric, the fact is that they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery tool for their talent.”
UMG justified the decision by citing the controversy over artificial intelligence.
“TikTok is allowing the platform to be flooded with AI-generated recordings – as well as developing tools to enable, promote and encourage AI music creation on the platform itself – and then seeking a contractual right that would allow this content to massively dilute the property. pool for human artists, in a move that is nothing short of sponsoring the replacement of the artist by AI,” UMG said.
While TikTok may not be doing a perfect job of handling AI as a whole, they have added content notices at the bottom of every video that includes AI-generated content. Artificial intelligence is relatively new territory in social media, especially since it has become so accessible to anyone with internet access.
From my experience, TikTok has actually done a better job of tagging their AI-generated content than other platforms. While UMG makes a good point financially, and what they describe is unethical, I’ve never had trouble identifying AI content. As someone who appreciates human expression, I swipe right nine times out of ten.
“TikTok tried to force us to accept a deal worth less than the previous deal, well below fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth,” UMG explained later in the article. “How did he try to scare us? By selectively removing the music of some of our emerging artists, keeping our audience-driven global stars on the platform. TikTok’s tactics are obvious: use the power of its platform to hurt vulnerable artists and try to scare us into accepting a bad deal that devalues music and shortchanges artists and songwriters as well as their fans. We will never do that.”
TikTok representatives disagreed with that sentiment.
“TikTok has been able to reach ‘artist first’ deals with every other label and publisher,” their statement reads. “It is clear that Universal’s selfish actions are not in the best interest of artists, composers and fans.”
Both of these companies are absolutely massive corporations that generate their revenue through artists and creators. The companies are not as different as they may seem when reading their statements. Until we start hearing from the artists in a more serious way or until other record companies join UMG in removing their music, we as outsiders have no way of knowing who is right.
I will always stick with what the artists believe is best. If this is to get music back on TikTok, great. If they believe this has exposed a real ethical issue with their compensation, then I will stand by UMG’s decision. UMG is a powerful tool to force change, with many of the biggest names of today and the past. If anyone can force this change, it’s them.
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