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Universal Music Group Pulls Music from TikTok: African Artists Face Uncertain Future

Universal Music Group withdrew its catalog from TikTok, citing artist compensation and AI concerns, impacting African artists’ visibility.

Universal Music Group
Cottonbro studio | Pexels

This week saw Universal Music Group (UMG) making headlines as it announced the withdrawal of its audio catalogues from TikTok, a widely influential and popular social media platform. The decision came alongside an open letter from UMG, highlighting three key concerns: fair compensation for artists and songwriters, user safety on TikTok, and safeguarding artists from potential negative impacts of artificial intelligence (AI).

In response, TikTok issued a statement expressing disappointment in UMG’s prioritization of financial gain over the welfare of its artists and songwriters.

“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.

Despite Universal’s false narrative and rhetoric, the fact is they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent.

TikTok has been able to reach ‘artist-first’ agreements with every other label and publisher. Clearly, Universal’s self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans.”

TikTok emphasized its role as a platform with over a billion users, serving as a valuable avenue for artist promotion and discovery, and noted its ability to reach artist-friendly agreements with other labels and publishers.

TikTok, boasting more than a billion monthly users and significant revenue streams from advertising and e-commerce, has become a vital space for creators worldwide. However, due to failed negotiations, the licensing contract between UMG and TikTok expired on January 31, leading to the removal of UMG’s music from the platform.

This development raises concerns about the impact on African artists, many of whom are signed to UMG. TikTok has played a crucial role in propelling African musicians to global recognition, providing a platform for promotion, engagement with fans, and breaking into mainstream markets.

Examples abound of African artists whose careers were catapulted by TikTok. Ckay’s “Love Nwantiti” gained international fame after going viral on the platform, leading to chart success and millions of Spotify streams. Similarly, Nimco Happy and Guchi experienced breakthroughs with TikTok-supported singles.

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TikTok has also popularized Afrobeats tracks through viral dance challenges, contributing to the genre’s dominance on Western music charts and its appeal to diverse audiences, including Gen Z.

The uncertainty surrounding renegotiations and potential takedowns underscores the ambiguity facing Nigerian and African artists under UMG’s umbrella. The implications for their visibility and success in the absence of TikTok’s promotional platform remain unclear.

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