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ITNTW: What UMG failed to recognise by calling ‘time out’ on TikTok

Since the 2016  launch of popular social media app, TikTok, users have been freely able to film dance videos, create montages and film funny skits using sounds from their favourite artists. Recent contract changes between the app and Universal Music Group (UMG) has now tampered this feature. 

The music studio giant has announced that upon the end of their licensing with TikTok, they would not seek to have it renewed, meaning millions of popular songs would be wiped from the app. UMG owns music from artists such as Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and The Weeknd, all who have had songs become extremely popular on the app. Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” has been used close to 2.5 million times on TikTok and The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” is just shy of 1.8 million videos.

But why is this happening? 

UMG claims their decision is “for the benefit of the artists”, stating currently artists aren’t making beneficial revenue from the app, despite many songs being used immensely. UMG also believes that TikTok has become dependent on the work of these artists to remain successful, yet they have been unable to form a mutually beneficial relationship. 

But was this the right move for UMG to make? 

Users were quick to head to the app to express their confusion with songs being muted on the app, demonstrating that perhaps the decision was not effectively communicated by UMG. Even popular TikTok creator, Jojo Siwa, who holds over 45 million followers on the app expressed in a video she was completely unaware her own music was being removed. 

Many influencers, including Aussie Sophadopha, have expressed annoyance around the decision, due to the high amount of content they are now unable to post due to the videos being muted. 

Away from influencers however, businesses are feeling a similar effect. Many small businesses use TikTok as a key platform in promoting their products and use popular songs to help their videos be seen by wider audiences. 

So it seems pretty clear the decision will have adverse effects on TikTok users, but if UMG claim their decision was for the benefit of the artists, are they really going to be better off without a presence on the app? 

TikTok has been used immensely by artists to promote their songs, both intentionally and unintentionally. Recent years have seen songs that have become popular sounds on the app, sky rocket on the charts. 

Take Olivia Rodrigo (currently signed to UMG) for example. Her breakout hit “Driver’s License” was first released on TikTok, in which she posted the song and the story behind it. The video went viral and caused the song to debut at number one on the Billboard charts and maintain its position there for over 8 weeks. Many of Rodrigo’s following songs such as “Deja Vu” and “Get Him Back” also found virality on the app. Although Rodrigo’s career has only continued to grow, TikTok may have been partially responsible for her immediate mass success. 

And it’s not just her. 

Folk-pop singer, Noah Kahan (also signed to UMG), also found immense popularity from TikTok. Kahan posted a snippet of his song “Stick Season” to TikTok, followed by thousands of fans, new and old, encouraging him to release the song. After he did, it became a viral sensation and again was able to find fame outside of the app, reaching number one in Australia and over four other countries. Kahan himself has reflected on TikTok’s effect on his success in a recent video on the app, in which he expressed how grateful he was to have posted his first snippet of “Stick Season” on the app. 

With so many of UMG’s artists’ songs reaching popularity from TikTok, it’s clear how the app has been beneficial to both the corporation and the artists. Perhaps UMG got too caught up in the direct income they were receiving from the app and failed to recognise the success the publicity from the app was also giving them. 


Written by Victoria Guest – PR & Influencer Coordinator 

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