Students see a quieter TikTok as Universal Music Group pulls songs


     Universal Music Group has pulled all its music from TikTok after the two companies failed to come to an agreement before their licensing contract expired.

     Universal Music Group, one of the largest record industry conglomerates, is home to artists like Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, Ariana Grande, Drake, and others.

     Universal released a letter titled, “An Open Letter to the Artist and Songwriter Community. Why We Must Call Time Out on TikTok.” In this letter, Universal mentions that there are three issues they are negotiating with TikTok. These issues include compensation for their artists and songwriters, online safety for TikTok users, and protecting artists from AI harvesting their material.

     AI has been a controversial issue, especially after last year when a song went viral on TikTok using AI to mimic Bad Bunny’s voice. The Puerto Rican singer was furious that his voice was used without permission. Bad Bunny joins the list of artists, including Drake, who have spoken out about artificial intelligence in music production.

     TikToks that featured any songs from a Universal artist have been permanently muted and show “This sound isn’t available” or “This sound has been removed.”The music section of these artists have also been removed from their personal accounts. TikTok uses and promotes music more than any other app, according to the letter Universal released. Many users are exposed to new music through the app.

     Jackelyn Zamacona, an interior design student, finds most of the music she listens to on TikTok.

     “I find the majority of the songs that I listen to through TikTok, because people use the artist’s song or the artist will make videos to promote the music on the app,” Zamacona said.

     Some of the trending songs Zamacona has found on TikTok include “Happier” by Olivia Rodrigo, “FPS” by Drake featuring J. Cole, and “Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish. Zamacona believes that Universal removing songs will impact herself as well as others.

     “The impact of the music being removed on TikTok will limit my exposure to songs from different artists that are signed to Universal,” Zamacona said. “I think it will also impact other listeners by having a limited amount of music to hear and to add to their TikTok videos.”

     The music scene on TikTok has grown exponentially as streaming services like Spotify have dedicated to creating playlists of top trending songs on the app and Billboard magazine has also created a “TikTok Billboard Top 50” music chart.

     Patrick Conlon, associate director of the Academy of Contemporary Music at UCO, explains how music distribution works and how TikTok has become a major part of the music industry.

     “For TV shows and films, the creators license content to channels and services,” Conlon said. “This creates a bidding war between them, which gets creators paid more.”

     These channels and services can include different streaming services like Netflix, Max, and Amazon, according to Conlon. However, music distribution works a little bit differently.

     “Music distribution has essentially been giving to every service and then trying to negotiate higher streaming service rates with each of them,” Conlon said. “But this creates a ton of downward pressure on how artists get paid.”

     Conlon has read about the issue between Universal and sees how it could be a potential risk.

     “My read on it [without any particular knowledge] is that TikTok or Universal had a ‘take it or leave it’ moment, and Universal decided to ‘leave it,’” Conlon said. “But that’s also a huge risk, because if TikTok still stays the dominant music discovery platform then suddenly Universal artists are locked out of that system.”

     With Universal pulling their artists, there is fear that other music giants could also do the same.

     “If other labels and music companies follow as well [especially if another big company like Warner follows along] then suddenly TikTok is looking at losing their position as the place a generation goes to for music discovery,” Conlon said.

     No updates or new negotiations have been made between TikTok and Universal.

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