Universal Music Disappears from TikTok Amid Licensing Row—Is Content Featuring UMPG Songs Being Deprioritized?

Universal Music licensing
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Universal Music licensing
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Photo Credit: Coolcaesar / CC by 3.0

Following UMPG’s open letter to its artists and songwriters about its lack of licensing deal with TikTok, Universal Music songs have disappeared from the platform.

That means many songs by stars like Taylor Swift, Drake, Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, Adele, Elton John, and many more artists is no longer available to use for videos on the platform. While Digital Music News hasn’t confirmed it—TikTok may be de-prioritizing past content featuring the now-muted music. Anyone who made a video using a UMG-published song will now have the audio of that video muted.

What does that mean for Universal Music artists? It means the loss of the ‘it’ spot online for music discovery in the modern era. Here’s UMG signed artist Noah Kahan speaking directly about it on the platform.

“So like you I’ve read the news about the UMG catalog being taken off TikTok,” he begins in a short video posted to the platform. “Some of my songs aren’t gonna be on there anymore, I won’t be able to promote my music on TikTok anymore, but luckily I’m not a TikTok artist, right?” he asks the camera facetiously.

“Anyway, you’re gonna have to pre-save Forever now if you want to listen to it,” he continues. “Because I can’t stick it down your throats anymore on this app.”

TikTok began the process of removing UMPG music from its platform on January 31. A quick scroll through the discovery queue will showcase plenty of musical videos—but none of them with UMPG-published songs.

Universal Music and its publishing sub-division control an enormous percentage of popular music. Of the Big Three (Universal, Sony, Warner) it is by far the biggest. Digital Music News did a deep-dive on the Spotify Billions Club playlist to determine the ownership percentage breakdown of some of the most-streamed popular songs.

Universal Music owns 39.5% of the music appearing there as of November 2023. That’s a rough estimate, but 40% the most-streamed songs playlist on Spotify is no longer available for streaming on TikTok.