The Unexpected Upside of TikTok and Universal’s Feud

TikTok Universal Music headphones

Taylor Swift, Adele, Drake, and Billie Eilish are just a few of the many big-name artists whose music you will no longer hear on TikTok as of 1 February, 2024, thanks to new licensing rules. These are just some of the many artists who are signed with Universal Music Group, a major international music label that was working with TikTok on negotiations for compensation for its artists, as well as safeguards about generative AI usage.

However, the two parties have failed to reach a new agreement on usage rights and, on 30 January, released a statement sharing that it will cease licensing content to TikTok and TikTok Music services. The group’s current agreement with TikTok had been signed in 2021, but was due to end on 31 January.

“As our negotiations continued, TikTok attempted to bully us into accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth,” Universal’s statement read.

“How did it try to intimidate us? By selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars. TikTok’s tactics are obvious: use its platform power to hurt vulnerable artists and try to intimidate us into conceding to a bad deal that undervalues music and shortchanges artists and sonrgwriters as well as their fans.”

TikTok responded with a statement on X saying Universal Media Group was spinning a false narrative and rhetoric and that the platform had been able to reach “artist-first agreements” with every other label and publisher.

“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” it wrote. “[…] Clearly, Universal’s self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans.”

TikTok is known for its sounds and music, with a report finding that 75% of its users say they find new artists via TikTok clips. Universal pulling all its artists’ music will no doubt leave a noticeable gap on the platform. Though, there is potential for the gap to be filled with new, still-undiscovered talent.

“[…] if you are an independent, unsigned artist, now is your time to f***** shine, baby,” says TikTok creator and trend predictor Coco Mocoe in a clip.

“[…] Put out that music you’ve been nervous to put out. Promote it on TikTok like crazy because you are no longer competing with the Taylor Swifts on the algorithm. […] You are no longer competing with the big dogs with the big labels that were able to monetise and monopolise attention on the For You page, when it comes to new music.”

Mocoe says that with Universal artists’ music no longer on TikTok, the platform will revert to how it was in 2019 and 2020. She predicts some of the biggest new artists to come out of this year will attribute their success to the fact they posted to TikTok during this period of what she called “wild west”, when Universal’s music catalogues were removed.

@cocomocoe If you are an unsigned, independent music artist — now is your time to shine baby! You are no longer competing with the big artists to get trending audio onto the FYP. Re: Universal Music Group pulls their audio from TikTok’s music library (this includes Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey & more) #TikTokNews #TikTokAlgorithm #UniversalMusicGroup #UMG #TaylorSwift #MileyCyrus #LanaDelRey #ArianaGrande #PopCulturePrediction ♬ original sound – Coco Mocoe

“I think it’s going to be similar to the way some of the big artists were discovered on Soundcloud in 2014, 2015, 2016,” she says. “That’s how Billie Eilish was discovered,  Soundcloud. This For You page is going to be equivalent to what Soundcloud was back then.”

It’s unclear if TikTok clips that currently use Universal music will suddenly be muted on the app. Or if the Universal and TikTok decision only affects new clips being posted. Either way, unsigned artists, its your move.

Related: Unboxing TikTok Shop in Australia: What the E-Commerce Features Will Mean For You

Related: Why Australia Has Pulled the Pin on a Government TikTok Ban

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