In a major blow to TikTok users and fans of Jamaican music, Universal Music Group (UMG) is poised to pull the plug on its artists’ tracks, including iconic names like Bob Marley, Buju Banton, and rising stars like Shenseea and Sean Paul. The move comes as licensing negotiations between UMG and TikTok reach an impasse, leading to a breakdown in talks over payment.
Universal Music, a powerhouse in the global music industry, alleges that TikTok engaged in unfair negotiation practices, accusing the platform of attempting to pay significantly below the industry standard for music catalog access. Labeling TikTok’s approach as “bullying,” UMG claims that the platform sought to pay only a fraction of what other social media platforms pay for similar access to music catalogs.
The decision by Universal to cease licensing content to TikTok is set to take effect on January 31, impacting the availability of music from Jamaican artists under subsidiary labels. Buju Banton and Masicka, signed to Def Jam, Shenseea under Interscope through a partnership with Rich Immigrants, and Stefflon Don with her own imprint Island 54 under Universal Music, are all expected to be affected.
TikTok has played a pivotal role in the exposure and global reach of Dancehall music, according to artists like Stefflon Don. In an interview from a year ago, she emphasized the platform’s significant contribution to promoting Jamaican songs worldwide, transcending geographical boundaries.
Universal Music Group alleges that TikTok’s tactics involve leveraging its platform influence to disadvantage artists and force the label into accepting unfavorable deals. Despite TikTok contributing only 1% to Universal’s revenue, this move reflects the music industry’s collective resistance against undervalued agreements. As of now, TikTok has not responded to requests for comment on the dispute.
In contrast, Warner Music, the third-largest record company, announced a new deal with TikTok last year. Among the Dancehall artists signed to Warner Records, such as Popcaan through OVO Sounds and Teejay, the platform has proven instrumental in propelling songs like “Drift” to massive success, amassing over a billion views on TikTok.