On Thursday (February 1), TikTok users found that the app had just gotten much more... quiet.
As you scroll through your specially curated For You Page, the odds are that you're no longer hearing tracks from your favorite artists or a large swath of today's most popular songs. Where you could once find your favorite nostalgia-dipped Taylor Swift hit or feed your craving for the newest Noah Kahan teaser, users are now met with deafening silence and a soul-shattering message that your favorite music "is not available".
This sudden change comes practically overnight as Universal Music Group (UMG) decided to take all its music off the platform following failed negotiations with TikTok regarding a new licensing agreement. Their prior contract expired on January 31.
In an open letter shared on January 30, titled Why We Must Call Time Out On TikTok, UMG explained that the two parties were unable to agree on a variety of key issues, including the threat of AI, online safety, and most importantly, the payment of royalties.
Referring to TikTok as an "increasingly influential platform with powerful technology and a massive worldwide user base", the letter opens by saying that the platform has essentially been built and earned its success, at least in part, through the use of UMG's artists and songwriters.
Commenting on how little the app compensates music creators despite its unrivaled user base, UMG explains that TikTok revenue only accounts for roughly 1% of the label's total earnings, adding that the platform is "trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music".
Regarding the contractual negotiations between the parties, UMG says that TikTok responded to their requests with "indifference, and then with intimidation", offering a further unsatisfactory deal and allegedly removing music from some of the company's smaller, developing artists from the platform.
Noting that it will "always fight for our artists and songwriters and stand up for the creative and commercial value of music", UMG stressed that it understands the ramifications this decision will have on both artists and their fans. However, the label understates it has an "overriding responsibility" to go to bat for its creators and ensure they're appropriately compensated for their craft.
UMG is the largest music corporation on the planet, with labels from all across the musical landscape coming under its umbrella, including Capitol Records, Republic Records, Interscope Records, Def Jam Recordings, Abbey Road Studios, Virgin Music Group, Motown, Dreamville, Geffen, Island and others.
What that translates to is that a sizable amount of your favorite artists also belong to the UMG family, among them being Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen, Noah Kahan, Post Malone, BTS, Drake, Ariana Grande, Bad Bunny, Billie Eilish, Adele, Olivia Rodrigo and Harry Styles, to name just a few.
Beyond just its recording artists, the dispute also extends to Universal's publishing division – the second largest publishing company in the world – which claims an extensive roster of songwriters whose music has also been taken off the app.
All in all that means that it could tally millions of videos affected by this dispute.
In response, TikTok issued its own statement, which underpinned how "sad and disappointing" it was that UMG were more concerned with "their own greed" than the "interests of their artists and songwriters."
Claiming that the label was promoting "false narrative and rhetoric" regarding their negotiations, TikTok went on to say that UMG "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. TikTok has been able to reach 'artist-first' agreements with every other label and publisher."
A cherry on top, the platform added: "Clearly, Universal's self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans."
The immensely popular video-sharing app, which first emerged as a major social media platform in 2019, has become an integral component of a modern-day artist's toolkit.
From teasing new releases, resurrecting old hits and forging new, trending songs and fans, TikTok has held a critical space in the music business for the last several years. Boasting somewhere upwards of 1.5 billion monthly users, TikTok has launched songs and careers at a staggering rate.
Still, this rub between tech companies and the music industry isn't all that new.
Fair compensation has been a wedge issue throughout the music landscape for much of recent memory, with companies like Napster, YouTube and Pandora all filling the role of the "bad guy" at one point or another. And while it's important to applaud UMG for attempting to serve its artists and writers, it's equally as crucial to understand that the longer this stalemate lasts, the more it'll hurt those very same creators.
Right, wrong or otherwise, TikTok is king in the current music marketplace, providing prime promotional real estate for artists and a breeding ground for music discovery for an entire generation.
While artists will undoubtedly agree that they should be better compensated across TikTok and streaming platforms at large, you'll be hard-pressed to find that same sentiment shared for having their primary means of promotion and fan connection stripped away with the click of a button.
It remains to be seen when or if the two parties will reach an agreement. This story is still developing.