Since music industry giant Universal Music Group (UMG) failed to strike a new licensing deal with TikTok last week, thousands of videos using music from UMG have suddenly been muted as the company began removing its audio from TikTok’s library , including likes from Drake, Bad Bunny, and Taylor Swift.
Artists from UMG-owned labels, including Tyla, Jack Antonoff and J Balvin posted their reactions to the news, sharing feelings of disagreement and highlighting the importance of social media in promoting their careers. “Yeah, I mean, my career is definitely over,” said Conan Gray, who gained followers through TikTokkers by turning his songs into viral audio. Rolling stone about the subject. “At this rate I’ll never have another hit. No, no, it’s fine.”
TikTok itself has reflected artists’ concerns and frustrations. In a statement published on January 30, the company wrote: “TikTok has managed to reach artist-first agreements with every other label and publisher. It is clear that Universal’s selfish actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans.” TikTok declined to comment further when The everyday beast reached out.
UMG came up with a counterargument. In a statement to The Daily Beast, the company wrote: “As I’m sure you understand, we must fight to protect our artists and songwriters. TikTok would have you think that since they give artists “free promotion” for which artists should be grateful, they have no obligation to pay them fairly. What they don’t tell you is that they generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue from artists’ work and are building the largest and most valuable social media platform in the world through their music.
The statement ends with an apology for the “frustrating” situation this has created for users, before concluding: “Imagine how frustrating it is for the thousands of artists and songwriters that TikTok refuses to pay fairly while raking in tens of billions of dollars.” ”
But the impact has spread beyond artists and songwriters looking to further their careers; it has also sent deep shockwaves through the various niches of the creative economy. Fangirls have filmed themselves dropping to their knees or standing in silent salute after realizing many of their beloved fancams were muted. Others have posted in shock that songs from their favorite artists have disappeared. “They officially deleted all lana del rey audio 😭 this umg thing is not a joke,” one user wrote. “POV: I opened tiktok this morning and saw that the audio of all my favorite edits had been deleted,” BookTok creator @cassiesbooktok posted, alongside a video of her face falling as she looks at her phone, realizing what happened to the platform has happened.
Mikael Arellano, creator of the popular dance set to Taylor Swift’s “Bejeweled,” made a TikTok on February 1 in response to the song’s disappearance. In the video, he sings an a cappella cover of the song while dancing. “I now that all my bejeweled videos are about to be muted,” Arellano captioned the post. The official account of band OneRepublic responded below. “Can you help us too,” they said.
Dancer and content creator Lars Gummer, who choreographed the viral dance to Kaliiii’s “Area Codes,” saw his videos muted the day after the announcement. He told The Daily Beast that his initial reaction was one of shock, which quickly turned to disappointment. “Most of my friends in LA are content creators, especially dance creators,” he said. “So we were all immediately angry about the decision between UMG and TikTok. But ultimately it’s our job. So we’re going to make it work one way or another.”
Creators are an important link in the music industry’s promotional landscape. Gummer has worked with UMG in the past to promote specific songs, in a partnership he called Song Promos. He said that within the music industry landscape, he doesn’t know how music promotion will proceed without this established publicity pillar. ‘I don’t see how [artists] will be able to promote their music in such a casual, organic way, and it’s a loss for both of us,” he said.
Beauty maker Sharon Wu, known as @sourandnasty on TikTok, said the impact is also being felt in various areas of content creation. She often uses popular music to reach new viewers and inspire makeup looks for her channel. “Music is a good way to increase discoverability and find common ground with your audience,” she says. “At first I wasn’t too worried about it because there are other artists from other labels on the platform, but a lot of big artists like Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo were affected, and I realized that [removing their music] can influence many creators.”
Swift’s music in particular plays a major role in Wu’s own videos. One of Wu’s viral series last year was a collection of TikToks in which she created makeup looks based on songs from Taylor Swift’s Midnights album. The series has been viewed more than 5.7 million times, but some videos have been muted due to the exodus. “Many people use official audio to reach a wider audience and now it feels like we have to come up with another method to make up for this,” she said. “I’m sure creators in less related niches will focus on using music from non-UMG artists or unofficial audio, but this will certainly impact creators in the music industry who talk about music and make music.”
Dancer and content creator Jake Craig (@jakeluvsgaga) said he felt the removal was not only a disservice to fellow creators, but also to the artists themselves. “Everyone knows that TikTok is the fastest way to go viral and reach the most people these days,” he said. “It will be difficult for makers to be successful because it is all one chain. As artists release their music on TIkTok, it inspires content creators to make dance moves, which in turn helps grow their accounts.”
Craig emphasized that the impact also extends beyond the business side of things. “A lot of the videos I’ve made were with my best friends, and those were really memorable times, and now it’s hard to look back at those videos without sound,” he said. “It’s not really about the views at that point because a lot of the videos that are muted are from a long time ago. It’s just more about the memories associated with those videos.”
Users have already started creating memes that speculate about what will happen next. Some joke about replacing all the audio with cheerfulness covers or performed the songs they would normally sync to themselves. But even some of these options won’t work. “I was going to make a joke saying that now that all the artists’ music is gone, I have to use Kidz Bop covers,” one person said. “But all their songs are also from this app.”
And the affected artists themselves also come up with ideas to circumvent the removal. Singer Beabadoobee posted a video on February 3 in response to the news. “umg took my music off so i guess it’s 2x,” she wrote in the caption. Rapper bbno$ has released a new satirical remix of his TikTok viral song ‘edamame’ especially for the app.
“People are so creative here,” Craig added. It won’t stop anyone from doing what they love.”
Many creators are looking forward to the potential this era brings. Gummer says he’s curious about the creative shifts that creating dance content can bring. “I see the landscape of dance content creation moving towards creating dances to songs that the creators really love,” he said. “In a way, this takes out the whole ‘trending audio’ aspect, and gives creators more opportunities to dance to songs because they want to, not because they’re viral.”
“I’m not nervous about creating content in the future,” he said. “There are so many smaller, independent artists who deserve so much recognition and praise for their craft. If there was ever a time to support smaller artists, it’s now.”