Skip to content

Universal Versus Tiktok: Why the Sibling Rivalry?

  • Culture

By Melina Tavakoli Moghaddam, BA Politics and International Relations

Headline: Universal Versus Tiktok: Why the Sibling Rivalry? 

Since one random September day in 2016, TikTok launched itself headfirst into the music industry. As an application designed around the 15-second ‘Get Ready With Me’ and ten-minute-long rants about the political climate of the world, it is almost always accompanied by music. The act of solely scrolling through the influential algorithm has transformed the market for artists, generating higher sales for labels from catalogue to newer music. On January 31st 2024, however, the music corporation Universal Music Group (UMG) completely flipped this dynamic on its head. UMG is the company that provides TikTok with its music content and is dependent on TikTok for exposure, so why are they currently in the middle of a catfight?

In an open letter to the public, UMG claims to be the victim of intimidation from TikTok due to the latter apparently capitalising on the unfair pay of artists and songwriters: “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 songwriters as well as their fans. We will never do that.”

UMG presents AI as an additional justification for the end of their licensing agreement, claiming that “TikTok is allowing the platform to be flooded with AI-generated recordings.” Their main concern here is that the app is “sponsoring artist replacement,” artists whom UMG are dedicated advocates. 

The real question here is, where is the say of the artists and songwriters themselves? UMG holds approximately 38% of the music market, with labels and sub-companies underneath such as Capitol Music Group which represents popular singers such as Katy Perry and Ice Spice. Considering this, one can see that even the smallest of artists are affected by UMG’s decision to end their partnership with TikTok. Unfortunately for the smaller labels who represent said artists, they are overdubbed by a corporate elite presence and cannot gain back control.

On the platform itself, individuals have been welcoming the result of this dispute with humour. Due to all music under UMG being silenced because of ‘copyright restrictions’, editors have been venturing to the use of BBC News background music and the EastEnders theme for ‘thirst traps’ of trending male celebrities. One instance of the latter was by creator @mvlanchqly, captioning their romanticised work of Jacob Elordi with “UMG bringing out the British bangers.”

Within this corporate chaos, individuals have found comfort in uplifting new talent and embracing the new circumstances’

Despite the censoring of the majority of songs, TikTok is a sanctuary for sped-up or slowed-down tracks, which prevents the latter’s erasure on the platform. Alongside this, many trending audios stem from unreleased songs of popular artists such as Lana Del Rey. Thus, aside from harming the promotion of new music from songwriters, TikTok users have not found navigating the licensing dispute difficult. In fact, creativity on the app has flourished as underground artists have begun to remix viral videos into audios one can use. This not only helps in the promotion of less recognised work, but it also adds to the element of unity amongst TikTok. Within this corporate chaos, individuals have found comfort in uplifting new talent and embracing the current circumstances. Evidently, the app is used as a refuge and people will continue to adapt, no matter the number of surprising shifts, in order to enjoy an escape from their world of disarray. It is the gluttony present in businesses such as UMG and TikTok which drives disagreements such as these to the extreme. 

Indeed, it is cruel that UMG has concealed their desire to maximise its profit as an attempt to “increase protection” for its artists. The rise of AI is inevitable and musicians understand the difficulty of their career path due to a lack of exposure. However, by taking away the platform which allows people that very exposure, UMG is discrediting all of their overlooked creators. On a positive note, TikTok users are trying to find some light amidst the dark of the situation. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *