The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Muting music: TikTok is getting greedy, UMG is fighting back

Muting music: TikTok is getting greedy, UMG is fighting back

Recently, the world’s biggest music company Universal Music Group (UMG) pulled their expansive catalog off one of the largest social media platforms, TikTok. The removal of UMG owned music comes after the label and social media giant were unable to come to an agreement regarding new contractual terms on extending the license. 

UMG represents several huge names in the music industry, including Taylor Swift, SZA, Bad Bunny, Harry Styles and Noah Kahan, amongst other popular artists. 

We are disappointed in the removal of these artists’ music and countless others that we enjoy. We think TikTok “sounds” are a key piece of the social media app, and feel let down by UMG for removing sound from countless users’ videos and severely limiting the potential for future content. Part of the social media app’s appeal is the connection users have to unique sound bites and snippets of their favorite songs. TikTok without music and sounds challenges the basis of the app itself. The music licensing feature differentiates TikTok from other social medias’ short-form content.

Removing sounds from TikTok, which originally began as a soundtrack-oriented Vine reincarnate called, defeats much of the purpose TikTok was originally created for.

According to The Guardian, when users try to play videos containing music from UMG’s catalog that were uploaded before the license’s expiration, the user now sees “a variety of messages such as ‘this sound isn’t available’ or ‘this music is currently unavailable.’” 

This means that any creator that wishes to use music from UMG’s extensive catalog is unable to. This limits the creative freedom content creators have and makes a central use of the app limited. Some creators cite that the lack of variety in the sounds left over on the app is stifling to their creative freedom. User Savannah Delullo said that “them (Delullo’s TikTok’s) being muted is pretty sad, because we put in all of that work.”

This also means that “UMG artists who use TikTok to promote their work and interact with fans can no longer post their own music,” reported The Guardian. This limits the advertising artists can do for their own music, as well as the content they can create using their own materials. 

Universal Music’s recording artists aren’t the only ones being affected by the licensing deadlock. According to Billboard, UMG songwriters that contributed to music from outside of the UMG domain will see their work removed from TikTok, impacting notable artists such as Harry Styles, Bad Bunny and SZA. Additionally, producers like Metro Boomin that collaborate with artists under the UMG label will potentially have their work removed as well. 

We think this could seriously challenge the structure of TikTok and why so many people (including us) love it. Popular music across all genres is the backbone of several long-standing trends like viral TikTok dances, music reviews, reactions and repurposing song lyrics in a satirical or humorous context. TikTok without the sound library, we think, is like the equivalent of a talking mime. It kind of defeats the whole purpose for us.

TikTok responded to the overwhelming backlash, issuing a statement that criticizes the music label for acting out of self-interest with their decision to let the license expire. The statement notes that “TikTok has been able to reach ‘artist-first’ agreements with every other label and publisher.

“TikTok proposed paying our artists and songwriters at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay,” UMG said in the open letter. 

It is unfair for TikTok to underpay the artists that have helped to build up and populate their app.

The letter also stated, “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.” 

After discussions, the music brand and TikTok were unable to come to an agreement that UMG felt was fair to their artists. We feel let down by both companies, but more so by TikTok, who can’t seem to put aside their own agenda to make sure the artists that helped to build their platform are adequately compensated.

It is no surprise that the partnership between UMG and TikTok is mutually beneficial, but we believe that TikTok does have a moral responsibility to fairly compensate the artists’ music that they use for free. Of course artists can promote their music on the platform and we have seen this several times with the emergence of “TikTok songs” or songs that have blown up on the platform. However this concept does not excuse the social media platform’s responsibility to make the right choice in paying the artists that help bring millions of users to their app. 

It is interesting to note that during negotiations, UMG’s open letter said TikTok offered the brand an even lower payment than the previous deal and took to selectively removing the music of certain developing artists, while keeping audience-driving global stars’ music on the platform.

“Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music,” stated UMG.

We urge TikTok to reevaluate their stance on negotiations with UMG, not only to restore the music that we all love in the app but to create a fairer world for the artists we love too. TikTok has given users a platform to interact with music in ways that many artists never could have predicted.

One incredible example of this is the homemade bracelets that have circulated throughout Taylor Swift’s The Era’s Tour, after a viral TikTok using the lyrics of a specific song mentioned making friendship bracelets. The trend took off, and hundreds of thousands of fans made and swapped homemade friendship bracelets at concerts and other Taylor Swift-themed events. 

Returning our favorite sounds to the sound library on TikTok would bring creative freedom back to the platform and allow all users to enjoy artists’ music in a collaborative and unique way. We urge TikTok and UMG to reevaluate working together again, and come to a fair agreement in terms of artist compensation so they can both mutually benefit from the partnership.

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