Tuning Out: Universal Music Ends Licensing Deal with TikTok – What’s Next?
Words: Mike Mode
January 31, 2024

In a surprising move, Universal Music Group (UMG), a major player in the music industry, has decided to cease licensing its songs to TikTok, effective Wednesday. The decision stems from various issues, including disagreements over compensation and concerns about the increasing use of AI-generated sounds on the platform, according to UMG.

Key Insights

  • UMG’s licensing agreement with TikTok is set to expire, resulting in the removal of all its songs from the platform.
  • TikTok’s proposed payouts for UMG artists were deemed a “fraction” of what other major social media platforms offer, with TikTok accounting for only 1% of UMG’s total revenue, according to UMG’s statement.
  • The label expressed concerns about the growing prevalence of AI-generated sounds on TikTok, citing potential harm to its artists as a contributing factor to the decision.
  • TikTok responded, dismissing UMG’s arguments as false and labeling the decision as “self-serving,” considering TikTok’s substantial user base.

What Happens to Users’ Videos?

TikTok stores songs in its music library, allowing users to incorporate them into their videos. With UMG pulling its song catalog, millions of videos will be affected. Viral trends, such as those driven by UMG artists like Taylor Swift and The Weeknd, will face muted videos, not deletion. Users’ videos will remain on their accounts but without sound.

Background Insights

  • The music industry is grappling with concerns about AI-generated songs, notably highlighted by a viral TikTok video last year that used voices of major artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Ye (formerly Kanye West) to create an AI-generated song, raising questions about authenticity.
  • UMG artists’ songs, including hits like Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” and The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” have significantly influenced popular TikTok trends, amassing millions of uses in videos.
  • Instances of AI-generated songs gaining massive popularity on platforms like TikTok are evident, as seen in a video featuring Drake and The Weeknd singing a fake song called “Heart on My Sleeve,” which garnered millions of views on various streaming platforms before removal.
  • UMG reportedly took proactive steps to address the use of its songs in AI training models by sending letters to streaming services, urging them to prevent AI platforms from utilizing their songs.
  • Despite industry concerns, TikTok has ventured into AI-generated music through a feature called “AI Songs,” enabling users to input text prompts for generating songs using Bloom, a large language model. Users can choose the genre for the AI-generated songs.

As the tension between UMG and TikTok unfolds, it underscores the broader industry challenges surrounding compensation, technology, and the evolving role of AI in shaping the music landscape.