“We haven’t just renewed a TikTok license here,” UMG executive vp digital strategy Michael Nash emphasized in an interview with Billboard. Rather, the new agreement “is fundamentally resetting the partnership” between both companies, including soon-to-be announced artist partnerships.
“Obviously, TikTok has revolutionized how fans are connecting with our artists on their platform and in the social space, and we think that we have the potential to collaborate really deeply with them to develop the kinds of tools that are going to really move the needle for our artists and for the industry,” Nash says. “It's not about signing an agreement. It's about all the things that we're going to do after we execute the agreement, and it was crafted around concepts for new collaboration that we’re really excited about.”
TikTok global head of music Ole Obermann echoed that to Billboard: “Throughout the last year, as TikTok evolved quite a bit as a product and we really started to better understand how users and creators are interacting with music on the platform, we spent a lot of time with Michael and his team talking through that. We had great ideas for what we can do to take full advantage of the UMG and the Universal Publishing roster of artists, and then TikTok as a platform and how that's going to evolve.”
TikTok has emerged as a music hitmaking force over the past several years. Users’ clips and trends on the platform have helped break new songs (like Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” and 24kGoldn’s “Mood”) as well as old ones (like Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”). TikTok claims that more than 70 artists who broke on TikTok have since signed major label deals, including Jawsh 685, Powfu, Sueco, Priscilla Block and, last month, “sea shanty” sensation Nathan Evans to the UMG-owned Polydor Records. Record labels and agencies now regularly include TikTok influencer marketing in new release rollouts, while executives in the space increasingly see user-generated content (UGC) as a valuable future revenue source for the music industry.
While TikTok clashed with the music industry over licensing as recently as 2019, the app now has a dedicated music team and wide-ranging deals in place. TikTok struck a new music licensing agreement with Sony Music Entertainment in November, and had a short-term licensing deal in place with Warner Music as of April.
“This alliance sets an industry-wide example of social media companies acknowledging, respecting and compensating the music creators whose songs are instrumental to their platforms,” UMPG chief operating officer Marc Cimino added in a press release. “We appreciate TikTok’s partnership and look forward to working together to provide support and opportunities to our songwriters.”
UMG’s new pact with TikTok comes after the label group abruptly pulled its catalog from TikTok competitor Triller last week, claiming the app has withheld artist payments and is refusing to negotiate new music licensing deals.