TikTok Global Head of Music Operations Paul Hourican Exits Company Amid Universal Music Licensing Showdown

paul hourican
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paul hourican
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TikTok global head of music operations Paul Hourican is exiting the company. Photo Credit: Franck

Amid TikTok’s high-stakes licensing standoff with Universal Music Group (UMG), Paul Hourican, the short-form app’s global head of music operations, is stepping down.

Hourican just recently announced his exit in a LinkedIn post, though at the time of this writing, TikTok itself didn’t appear to have commented publicly on the matter. According to the former YouTube head of international artist marketing Hourican, who signed on with TikTok in late 2019 and became its global music operations head in June of 2022, he “made the decision to move on.”

While the former MTV exec didn’t elaborate upon exactly what brought about this decision, it has, of course, arrived as the aforementioned TikTok-Universal Music dispute is in full swing. With the latter company’s catalog still absent from the platform – and with the possibility of a wider industry confrontation taking shape – TikTok is continuing to plow ahead with ambitious expansion initiatives on the music side.

Most recently, the expansion effort has seen the ByteDance subsidiary aggressively enhance the reach of its Add to Music App feature, through which users can save songs found on TikTok to Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music playlists.

Notwithstanding the lack of concrete information about the circumstances surrounding Hourican’s departure – other outlets don’t appear to have pinpointed a reason or a comment from TikTok – the development raises far-reaching questions about the entity’s music strategy moving forward.

Per his own description, Hourican helped to take TikTok’s SoundOn distribution and marketing offering “from a sketch on a whiteboard to full product launch” and organized December’s “In the Mix” event. Featuring shows from Cardi B, Anitta, and others, In the Mix, which took place in Arizona and welcomed in-person attendees as well, is said to have attracted a substantial number of viewers on TikTok.

It’s unclear precisely what this new music strategy could look like. What is apparent, however, is the important role played by songs on TikTok and the corresponding significance of Universal Music’s continued absence from the service. And as the showdown has the potential to affect TikTok’s rightsholder relationships throughout the broader industry, as mentioned, the app’s 2024 music objectives have presumably shifted as a result.

Especially given the stiff competition put up by YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels, which aren’t grappling with the unavailability of many of today’s biggest songs, losing other catalogs yet would, needless to say, prove extremely problematic for TikTok. As it stands, the decidedly controversial app is continuing to demonstrate its capabilities as a promotional tool for music.