What Atlanta artists are saying about Universal Music Group leaving TikTok

The music label and publishing giant started pulling music from the platform’s library in response to licensing dispute.
A dispute between TikTok and Universal Music Group had music disappearing from posts by may TikTok creators this week.

A dispute between TikTok and Universal Music Group had music disappearing from posts by may TikTok creators this week.

News this week that TikTok is losing its library of songs from artists on Universal Music Group has musicians, executives and other artists with Atlanta ties to the industry talking.

The music giant and social media platform could not reach an agreement on a licensing deal that expired on Jan. 31, 2024. After tracks slowly started disappearing from TikTok on Thursday, the online conversations ramped up about what a standoff between two companies means for both established and independent artists.

Artists with local connections hopped on — you guessed it — TikTok and Instagram to voice their concerns.

Singer, songwriter and sometime Atlanta resident Muni Long warned her fans that time was running out to play her viral hit, “Hrs and Hrs,” while admonishing UMG for its decision.

@munilong

My therapist not answering again 😵‍💫

♬ original sound - jay

Indie rocker Noah Kahan — who is set to headline the first night of Shaky Knees Music Festival in May — leveraged TikTok to promote his viral hit single “Stick Season.” Kahan shared his tongue-in-cheek response via the app.

Albany pop artist Mazie shared their thoughts in an Instagram post, calling UMG’s actions a “total abandonment of developing artists in your system.”

In a statement, UMG said it was committed to a deal that offered fair compensation, protection from AI and online safety for TikTok users. The letter alleges that TikTok was not concerned with the well being of artists by “selectively removing” from developing acts before, but holding on to bigger names and holding onto an already unfair profit share.

“Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music,” the letter said.

In response to UMG, TikTok said they had been able to reach “artist-first” agreements with ever other label and publisher. “Clearly, Universal’s self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans,” TikTok said.

On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, one of the more vocal local critics of the industry ego checking is Barry “Hefner” Johnson.

Johnson, the co-founder and president of the management, label and publishing company Since the 80s, has helped guide the careers of local Grammy-nominated acts J.I.D and EarthGang. J.I.D is signed with UMG, and saw his already-platinum single “Surround Sound” find a new audience a year after its release thanks to a NSFW viral challenge.

He doesn’t deny that the platform helps give an already established artist a boost. “Did it bring more visibility and more brand recognition? 1000%. I would never take that away from TikTok,” Johnson said. “It made our record go crazy.”

It’s not that J.I.D needs the help to move his song, but Johnson said a move such as pulling songs from lesser-known acts building their audience through the platform may not be in the best interest of artists, as UMG has stated. “Is it the app’s job to prioritize the emerging acts or is it the label who signs them, that is developing them. It’s your job to prioritize your developing acts, your upcoming acts, so that they want to prioritize them on their platforms,” he said.

The money for most labels, according to Johnson, is in turning catalogues belonging to bigger acts like Ariana Grande, Drake and Taylor Swift into a profit. Because it’s the safest bet for the label, the gambles that are paying off for the other artists building their fanbase one song snippet and dance move at time are being overlooked.

“The problem with these companies are they don’t have to sit in front of the camera and build themselves on these platforms,” he said. “When artists do buy into them and you snatch the platform away from them, you’re low-key (expletive) on their hard work that they did to put themselves in front of an audience to get moving, to take care of their families and themselves.”

For Johnson, he sees younger artists building social media followings taking the biggest hit. “Think about what it’s going to do to a Ken Carson and other artists in the the UMG system. That’s where their audience is. You just basically told their audience they can’t use their music,” he said.

There’s been no word on whether UMG and TikTok might eventually reach a deal. Johnson hopes that this showdown can stand as reminder about the importance of putting independent, developing artists first when thinking about how labels should leverage social media platforms going forward.

“You just have to be cautious and you have to be considerate when you’re making deals,” he said.” Your decision affects a whole and the bottom half of that whole will never, ever be able to compete with the top of that,”

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