TikTok quickly became a music discovery platform, with viral songs on the app becoming fan favorites and topping the charts. According to MRC Data research, 75% of TikTok users say they discover new artists via TikTok, with 63% of them hearing new music they never heard before on the app. That might soon change.
As you may have noticed, in the last 24 hours, some of your favorite music has been muted from existing TikTok videos. If you try to shoot a TikTok video, you'll also see that the most viral and popular songs are no longer available. Here's why and what you can expect.
The background: Universal Music Group's and TikTok's failed contract renewal
On Tuesday, Universal Music Group (UMG) published an open letter explaining it would be removing its music from TikTok due to failure in reaching a partnership with the social media app that would fairly compensate the artists and songwriters signed to the label.
The terms of the contract between UMG and TikTok expired on January 31, 2024. Ahead of the expiration, there were contract renewal discussions in which UMG pushed for three points: Appropriate compensation for the artists and songwriters, protection for artists from AI, and online safety for TikTok users, according to the open letter.
A favorable resolution was not met. UMG stated in the open letter that TikTok's proposal included a compensation rate that was "a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay" and did not put proper protections regarding AI-generated music on the app.
Furthermore, UMG shared that TikTok attempted to "bully" them into accepting the deal by "electively removing the music of certain of our developing artists while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars."
TikTok responded in its own letter, which shared that UMG is at fault for not reaching the agreement, putting "their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters." The social media app also denounced UMG's claims, calling it "false narrative and rhetoric."
What does this mean for you?
In communications with ZDNET, TikTok confirmed that music from Universal Music Group has now been removed from the app. This means that videos that used music from UMG artists in the past will now be muted, which you may have noticed on your For You Page already, and no new content with that music can be made.
UMG has some of the biggest artists right now signed to their label, including Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, SZA, The Weeknd, Drake, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, Harry Styles, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and Adele, to name a few.
As a result, the absence of its artists' music on the app is already being felt by users since they are responsible for some of the highest charting songs of our time. Both artists and fans are sharing their disappointment on the app, with the removal surprising many, even the artists themselves.
I had to check for myself and was crushed when I saw that all of Taylor Swift's music catalog was removed, with videos she made on her own account featuring her music being muted.
In the open letter, UMG referred to its time off the app as a "time out" period, so it is unlikely to be permanent. Rather, both parties will likely be forced to reach favorable terms due to pressure from fans and artists who mutually benefit from having UMG's music on the app.