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TikTok And Universal Expand Their Musical Alliance

Universal Music Group (UMG) has entered into a landmark agreement with TikTok that will continue its transformation of the way music is marketed and sold.

As earlier reported in The Licensing Letter, TikTok has entered into a number of music licensing agreements with publishers that allow its users to combine popular song tracks with their short videos on the social media platform. TikTok even offers a way to purchase music, creating a new and lucrative sector for the music industry that has already seen a number of songs climbing the charts because of their exposure on the popular platform.

A stunning example of the power of TikTok to promote music can be seen in the experience of actress Olivia Rodrigo (pictured above), whose debut hit Driver’s License inspired countless videos on TikTok, which in turn propelled the song almost instantly to Number 1 on Spotify, Billboard, Apple Music and other platforms. Rodrigo signed with Geffen Records and Interscope in 2020, both of which are owned by Universal.

And it’s not just new music that can see a boost from TikTok exposure. Another prime example came from a short TikTok video in which Idaho man Nathan Apodaca (better known as ‘Doggface’) filmed himself on a skateboard, drinking cranberry juice out of a jug, and then suddenly bursting into a joyous lip sync version of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit Dreams.

The video exploded across the Internet, garnering millions of views, and turning Doggface into a much sought after commodity in the social influencer space. It also boosted the sales of the Fleetwood Mac album and of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice, not to mention inspiring a legion of imitators. Dreams saw a 374% jump in sales and an 89% jump in streams, and even made it back onto the Billboard top charts at #21 after a 43 year absence. Dreams hit the Top 10 on Spotify and #1 on Apple Music.

Shortly afterward, Fleetwood Mac songwriter Stevie Nicks sold her music catalog for a cool $100 million. It’s expected the TikTok agreement will continue to drive the value of music catalogs even higher.

Driven by these successes, UMG and TikTok announced this week a global agreement that delivers equitable compensation for recording artists and songwriters and significantly expands and enhances the companies’ existing relationship. The two companies say in a joint statement that the agreement is key to “promoting the development of new innovative experiences and the ability to forge deeper bonds between fans and the artists and music they love.”

“UMG and TikTok will now work more closely than ever to promote ambitious experimentation, innovation and collaboration—with the shared objective of developing new music experiences and features,” said Michael Nash, Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy at UMG. “Driving new and deeper connections with fans, this agreement delivers equitable compensation to our recording artists and songwriters, as well as a commitment to develop industry-leading tools, A&R insights and models necessary to advance their careers.”

The agreement covers all recorded music from artists at UMG’s labels and songwriters with Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG). TikTok users now have an ironclad right to express themselves through music, to soundtrack their video creations with their favorite songs, and perhaps even to build communities around their favorite artists or musical genres. The companies have additionally pledged to experiment with exciting new features. For example, TikTok users will now be able to incorporate clips from UMG’s full catalog of music, spanning the company’s iconic labels, songwriters and global territories.

“We are excited to enter this new era with UMG and UMPG to continue supporting artists and songwriters, by working together to help reach music fans on TikTok,” said Ole Obermann, Global Head of Music for TikTok. “Our platform has been a driver in creating chart hits and licensing the world’s biggest catalog of tracks will continue to inspire our community. In turn, we are proud to partner with UMG and UMPG to be a source to help new talent emerge and to re-introduce legacy acts to a new audience.”

At the same time Universal has embraced its deepening relationship with TikTok, it has also cut ties with rival platform Triller, claiming the short video platform is withholding licensing payments to artists and refusing to negotiate going forward.

Triller has come under fire before, such as last summer when the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) criticized the platform last summer for not properly licensing songs. This week, almost simultaneously with its TikTok announcement, UMG echoed that sentiment.

“We will not work with platforms that do not value artists,” the record label told Music Business Worldwide in a statement. “Triller has shamefully withheld payments owed to our artists and refuses to negotiate a license going forward. We have no alternative except to remove our music from Triller, effective immediately.”

However, the CEO of Triller, Mike Lurejected those criticisms.

“This has to be a bad Punk’d episode. I’m waiting for Ashton (Kutcher) to jump out of my closet,” Lu said. “Our relationship with UMG is solid. Its biggest artists are investors and partners in Triller and Universal owns part of Triller. We find it hard to believe UMG wouldn’t give us any warning or notice but just tell us via press.”

But UMG is making it clear that it will hold accountable any social media platform that does not adhere to its licensing standards, while rewarding those who do.

“This alliance sets an industrywide example of social media companies acknowledging, respecting and compensating the music creators whose songs are instrumental to their platforms,” said Marc Cimino, Chief Operating Officer of UMPG. “We appreciate Tik Tok’s partnership and look forward to working together to provide support and opportunities to our songwriters.”

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