Home Lifestyle The Day the Music Died (on TikTok)

The Day the Music Died (on TikTok)

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The Day the Music Died (on TikTok)

Things were going well for Cody Fry, a singer-songwriter and producer known for his lush pop songs. He was looking forward to a pair of concerts with Ben Rector and the Colorado Symphony at the Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver. And on Monday his management team called him with exciting news: One of his songs, “Things You Said,” a romantic duet with Abby Cates, was gaining TikTok traction in China.

More than 750,000 videos were created with that song in a single day, Mr. Fry said in a TikTok video. It was the kind of organic viral moment that artists and marketers dream of, the kind that can’t be forced.

But by Thursday, many of the fan-made videos featuring “Things You Said” went mute. The sudden TikTok silence came about after Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company, pulled its catalog from TikTok after its contract with the platform expired.

In addition to Mr. Fry, who is signed to Decca Records, one of the company’s many labels, Universal artists whose videos went silent include SZA, Taylor Swift and Ice Spice.

Picture a TikTok video of somebody dancing to a snippet of Ms. Swift’s “Bejeweled.” Now picture that person dancing in complete silence.

“Help, this is so awkward with no music,” a comment read on a recent TikTok posted by Ice Spice, a rapper whose music regularly sparks a big reaction on the platform.

“This sound isn’t available,” reads the caption where a video’s music information would typically go.

TikTok trends can account for millions of views, which can help make or break a career.

“It’s everything you hope for as an artist,” Mr. Fry said by phone on Thursday during an intermission in his first Denver show. “To have it cut short just as it was ramping up in its infancy is just — it’s pretty devastating.”

On Tuesday, Universal Music sent an open letter in advance of the expiration of its contract with TikTok. The letter criticized the social media giant for its mishandling of the rise in A.I.-generated music on the platform. It also said that TikTok had been unwilling to agree to royalty rates that Universal deemed acceptable.

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

TikTok disagreed with that view in a statement posted on Tuesday. “Despite Universal’s false narrative and rhetoric,” the statement said, “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.”

The company added that it had reached “‘artist-first’ agreements with every other label and publisher” and accused Universal of “self-serving actions.”

Mr. Fry said that he was fully supportive of artists’ being paid fairly for their work. But he couldn’t help feeling as if he were caught in the middle of a battle between two corporate giants.

“The people who are going to be affected are artists like me,” Mr. Fry said. Referring to TikTok and Universal, he added, “They’re going to be fine.”

“For me,” he continued, “this is career-making stuff. For other artists that have songs that are going viral, those moments fade and they don’t come back when the negotiations are finally resolved.”

TikTok has become a driving force in the music industry, a way for up-and-coming artists to score record deals and for established artists to increase their audiences. If you want to make it in music in 2024, it is all but a requirement that you have a social media strategy. Several artists, including Halsey and Florence Welch, have discussed the pressure to have a strong TikTok presence.

“It’s true all record labels ask for are TikToks and I got told off today for not making enough effort,” FKA twigs wrote in a video in 2022.

Mr. Fry said his record deal with Decca resulted in part from his TikTok success, when another one of his songs went viral in 2021. At the time, he didn’t have an account, he said, and his brother had to show him the app.

Noah Kahan, who has recorded for Republic Records, a Universal label, since 2017, addressed his fans in a TikTok video on Thursday.

“So, like you, I have read the news about the UMG catalog being taken off TikTok,” he said. “Some of my songs aren’t going to be on there anymore. I won’t be able to promote my music on TikTok anymore.”

Then, with a slight grin, he added: “But, luckily, I’m not a TikTok artist, right?”

Mr. Kahan, whose album “Stick Season” has provided the soundtracks for countless TikTok videos, has 2.3 million followers on the platform.

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