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Harry Styles, Bad Bunny and SZA Don’t Record for Universal Music — But Their Songs Will Get Pulled From TikTok, Too

Mr. Nimbus | 02/02/2024

The greatest impact of Universal Music Group and TikTok’s licensing stalemate will likely not come from UMG’s superstar artists leaving the platform, it will come from the loss of its songwriters.


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Losing music from record label signees like Taylor Swift, Drake, Morgan Wallen, BTS, Olivia Rodrigo and more on TikTok is seismic on its own, but media coverage of the now-expired license that lapsed on Jan. 31 has largely ignored that the world’s largest music company’s songwriters are leaving, too. That means that any record that was touched by a Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) songwriter, will also be subject to removal from the platform — even if it was released on a non-UMG label. Artist-songwriters like Harry Styles, Bad Bunny and SZA are three of many notable examples of UMPG writers that release music under non-UMG labels that will be affected. Artists who work with UMPG hitmakers like Metro Boomin, Jack Antonoff or Fred again.. could also face this.

In today’s pop and rap markets, writing rooms are considered to be bigger than ever, crediting anywhere from one to 30 contributors in extreme cases like cases like Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” A typical pop song on the radio likely has at least three or four people receiving publishing. This, mixed with the fact that UMPG is one of the largest music publishers in the world with 4 million copyrights to its name, means that removing all songs with UMPG interests will impact just about every other record label and music publisher in some way.

In the third quarter of 2023, it was calculated that UMPG held a fifth of the market share on the Billboard’s Pop Airplay and Hot 100 charts. For Country Airplay, UMPG represented a tenth of the chart.

There’s also a chance of this standoff spreading to other publishers this spring. On Thursday (Feb. 1), at the Association of Independent Music Publishers event in Beverly Hills, National Music Publishers Association president and CEO David Israelite revealed during a speech that his organization’s TikTok model license is up for renewal in April. This license is negotiated by the trade association and adopted by most of the country’s independent publishers.

The NMPA has been known for its aggressive approach to licensing negotiations with other social media sites, games and apps in recent years, including an ongoing $250 million lawsuit against X (formerly Twitter) for alleged copyright infringement, and it would not be surprising if the trade organization considered following suit with UMG. If that happened, all indie publishers would be on their own to decide whether they wanted to negotiate with TikTok directly or leave the platform.

Already 21 of the 50 tracks on the TikTok Billboard Top 50 chart have been removed due to their UMG affiliation, but so far those take downs have focused on the company’s recordings, not publishing. Removing UMPG songs will be a far more arduous and complicated task than removing UMG records, given there are sometimes multiple recordings by multiple artists for the same underlying song. Publishing metadata — which keeps track of who wrote what song — is also notoriously incomplete or incorrect. In some cases, the metadata is often not even finalized and input until weeks or months after a song is released, making matters even more complicated.

It is widely believed that the process of taking down publishing interests will likely take a while and will be piecemeal and spotty, potentially forcing the UMPG team to police the platform and to issue takedown notices.

In the interim, UMG and TikTok are showing no signs of backing down. TikTok said the music company had “put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters” after the letter was released. UMG fired back with another statement Thursday, calling TikTok’s view on compensating artists and songwriters “woefully outdated.” Amidst all the finger pointing, TikTok users are attempting to fill the gaps with non-UMG songs or covers of UMG records, while at least one UMPG writer, Metro Boomin, took to the internet to show his support: “It’s about damn time,” he posted to X.

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus

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