Why has so much music been removed off of TikTok?

Yasmine Medjdoub 

Universal Music Group’s (UMG) decision to pull its vast library from TikTok sent shockwaves through the social media. But beyond the initial buzz, a critical question emerges: What does this mean for the future of the app and its creators? Join Impact’s Yasmine Medjdoub for an insightful discussion about UMG’s decision and what it holds for the future of TikTok and its creators.

UMG consists of artists such as Beyoncé, Drake, BTS, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift and many more. These artists’ music was the soundtrack to countless viral trends, dance challenges, and fan edits. UMG’s absence has now muted millions of videos, creating a deafening silence with an inevitable content shift. Without these familiar tunes, creators might struggle to replicate past successes, potentially leading to a decline in user engagement, stifling the platform’s growth and dampening the creative spirit that thrives on trending sounds.

However, one potential silver lining lies in the rise of independent artists. With less competition from established giants, talented independent creators could find their spotlight. This shift might even enhance content diversity, leading to the discovery of unique sounds and voices. But this will not affect everyone equally. Dance accounts and edit-heavy creators, who heavily relied on UMG’s licensed music, face the brunt of the impact. Their content, built around specific songs and trends, might become obsolete, forcing them to adapt or risk losing their audience. Conan Gray, a famous singer whose songs such as Heather have trended on TikTok, joked, ‘My career is over for sure; I’m never going to have a hit song again at this rate.’ While UMG’s music absence presents significant challenges, it also opens doors for creativity and innovation.

The music industry in flux:

‘In our contract renewal discussions, we have been pressing them on three critical issues – appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.’

The UMG’s retreat from TikTok highlights the tension between music rights holders and digital platforms. At the heart of the dispute lies the age-old question: fair compensation vs exposure and discovery.

UMG argues that despite generating massive engagement for artists, TikTok doesn’t share enough revenue. They believe artists deserve a fairer cut, considering the platform’s undeniable role in launching careers and propelling tracks to viral fame. On the other hand, TikTok emphasises its role as a discovery tool, arguing that the platform’s immense reach offers artists invaluable exposure, potentially leading to lucrative streaming deals and future success. In the statement they released in response to Universal Music group, they stated, ‘Despite Universal’s false narrative and rhetoric, the fact is they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent.’ This ‘exposure vs compensation’ debate is far from new, and the TikTok situation adds another layer of complexity.

Take rising rapper Ice Spice, for instance. Her breakout hit Munch (Feelin’ U) achieved immense popularity on TikTok, catapulting her to a music sensation. With its tremendous reach and viral potential, this platform became her launchpad, propelling her music to millions and securing her a record deal. However, under the current model, Ice Spice, like many other emerging artists, may not see direct financial benefits from the massive engagements she generates on the platform, highlighting UMG’s argument for fairer compensation.  However, if it weren’t for TikTok and her exposure from the platform, she would have never gotten that level of fame as quickly as she did.

This situation also highlights the evolving power dynamics between rights holders and platforms

UMG’s move could trigger a domino effect, with other music giants potentially following suit. This fragmentation across platforms could significantly impact user experience. The coming months will be crucial in determining the future of music on TikTok. Negotiations between UMG and TikTok are likely to be intense, with the outcome impacting the broader music industry landscape. This situation also highlights the evolving power dynamics between rights holders and platforms. As platforms like TikTok gain influence, the traditional power balance shifts, forcing both sides to adapt and find mutually beneficial solutions.

UMG has also raised concerns about TikTok’s promotion of AI music creation, arguing it poses several risks to human artists. They are concerned that the platform is becoming flooded with AI-generated recordings, which could stifle the visibility and opportunities for real artists. Additionally, they worry that TikTok is developing tools to encourage and facilitate AI music creation on the platform itself, further marginalising human creators. This issue adds another layer of complexity to the already heated debate between artists, rights holders, and platforms like TikTok.

Only time will tell. However, one thing is sure: the music industry’s relationship with digital platforms is entering a new and complex chapter, and the outcome of this TikTok saga will have far-reaching consequences for creators, listeners, and the industry.


The future sounds of TikTok:

The initial impact will undoubtedly be jarring. Creators who rely heavily on UMG music will need help finding new ideas for their routines and edits. This initial disruption is inevitable. But the disruption is not final. Creators, ever-resourceful, will adapt. Expect a surge in original music creation within the platform, fostering new voices and genres. Music reviewers could delve into the vast world of independent music, unearthing hidden gems and amplifying diverse sounds.

TikTok could become a platform for more niche genres, leading to a more diverse soundscape

This disruption holds the potential to level the playing field. Underrepresented artists and musical styles, often overshadowed by mainstream hits, might finally find their moment. TikTok could become a platform for more niche genres, leading to a more diverse soundscape. TikTok will likely adapt, exploring new partnerships with independent labels and arts. The music industry may need to re-evaluate its approach to digital distribution. Fairer compensation models, innovative licensing agreements, and deeper platform integration could pave the way for a more symbiotic relationship.

The future of TikTok’s soundscape remains unwritten. The silence may be unsettling, but it is also an opportunity for a fresh start. With creativity, collaboration, and a willingness to adapt, the platform can emerge stronger, more diverse, and more impactful. This could create a new era of musical expression on TikTok.

Yasmine Medjdoub

Featured image courtesy of @helloimnik via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article image courtesy of @genius via instagram.com. No changes made to this image.

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