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Merlin Inks Global Licensing Deal With TikTok

Merlin has signed a global licensing deal with TikTok, the massively popular video-sharing app.

LONDON — Merlin has signed a global licensing deal with TikTok, the massively popular video-sharing app. Terms were not disclosed for the deal, which will see music from Merlin’s almost 900 members, including more than 20,000 independent labels and distributors in over 60 countries, representing over 15% of the global market, licensed for use on TikTok on a worldwide basis.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is known to be in talks with all three major labels around license deals for a new music subscription service it is planning to launch.

Merlin’s announcement that it has closed a licensing deal with the Beijing-based technology company contains no mention of a new service, although newly-installed CEO Jeremy Sirota called the partnership “very significant” for the London-based digital rights agency.  

“We are seeing a new generation of music services and a new era of music-related consumption, much of it driven by the global demand for independent music,” said Sirota in a statement announcing the deal.


Merlin artists who have recently used TikTok in marketing campaigns include Cosmo Sheldrake (AWAL), Major Lazer (mtheory), Sampa The Great (Ninja Tune) and Valentino Khan (Mad Decent). Sirota said today’s partnership ensures that all of the company’s members and artists can “also build new and incremental revenue streams.”

“Independent artists and labels are such a crucial part of music creation and consumption on TikTok,” added Ole Obermann, the service’s global head of music. Obermann said the “breadth and diversity” of Merlin’s members catalogs and artists “presents our users with an even larger canvas from which to create, while giving independent artists the opportunity to connect with TikTok’s diverse community.”

Until recently, TikTok used license deals that were grandfathered in when it acquired the start-up Musical.ly in late 2017, but according to industry sources those deals have all now expired and the company is using music under short-term extensions.

TikTok, which launched in 2016 in China as Douyin and then under its current name in Japan and South Korea the following year, has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times on the App Store, according to analytics company Sensor Tower.


Although it is not billed as a music service, the free-to-use app has quickly become a powerful promotional vehicle for artists and labels with many of its most popular videos involving singing, lip-syncing or dancing to popular songs.

TikTok is credited with helping propel Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 via a series of viral dance challenges and memes. Other artists that have embraced the platform include Miley Cyrus, Lizzo, Kesha and The Chainsmokers, to name just a few.

The deal follows the appointment of Tracy Gardner as head of label licensing at TikTok parent company ByteDance last month.