If there’s one thing that could be said to be absolutely central to TikTok’s identity as a platform, it’s music. The app got its start as a lip-syncing platform where people could mime along to their favourite songs, and indeed, that’s still one of the most popular types of video you’re likely to see on TikTok. Content creators still make videos soundtracked by the hottest songs around right now, and TikTok is even a tastemaker when it comes to the chart; many chart hits got their start on TikTok.
With that in mind, then, reports that TikTok is limiting the songs that users are able to use in their content might come as a surprise. Since music is one of the central pillars of TikTok’s identity as a social media app, surely ByteDance would want to expand music’s involvement in TikTok, not reduce it? Well, there may be method in ByteDance’s madness. Let’s take a look at the reason TikTok is apparently reducing music options and what that might mean for you.
Why is TikTok supposedly reducing music options?
According to a report by Bloomberg, TikTok is experimenting with how much its users value music as part of their content creation process. In essence, the reason comes down to money; TikTok apparently wants to pay music rights holders, i.e. record labels, less for their music. TikTok’s argument is that music isn’t actually a core part of the app’s experience, and that users would be just as creative and engaged with the platform if there were fewer music options available.
In a statement to Bloomberg, TikTok said that this decision would “only affect certain music” and that ByteDance is looking to “improve and enhance the wider Sounds Library”. It’s not clear what music this will affect, nor is it clear how the initiative is actually intended to “improve and enhance” TikTok’s sound choices. Still, this appears to be the core rationale behind the decision; TikTok is looking to reduce its expenses when it comes to music, and reducing the amount of music is an experimental way to determine whether users actually care how much music is available through the app.
How do record labels feel about this?
As you’d imagine, this decision isn’t likely to go down particularly well among big record labels. In late 2022, labels like Universal Music Group and Warner apparently asked TikTok to pay more for the rights to their music; TikTok doesn’t share ad revenue, and it seems that those labels believe they were owed more than they were getting. It’s fair to say that the charts are pretty much dependent on TikTok these days, so arguing that music is a big part of TikTok’s appeal is likely a sensible approach for the labels.
According to Bloomberg’s reporting, music labels also want TikTok to be linked to the music streaming service Resso, which is apparently more lucrative for the labels than TikTok currently is. Right now, TikTok pays a flat fee to music companies to licence music, but the labels want TikTok to share some of its ad revenue with them. It’s not clear what kind of integration the labels want, but it’s likely that they’d want some sort of link with paid subscriptions to Resso Premium.
What will this mean for you?
Right now, this experiment is not likely to mean too much for you as a TikTok user. As TikTok says, it’s experimenting with removing “certain music” from the service, so you should still be able to find the songs you want, and if you can’t, you’ll almost certainly be able to find replacements. At the moment, it seems like ByteDance and TikTok are very much in the testing stages for this initiative while they figure out just how linked music and TikTok are in users’ minds.
In the future, however, this could have wide-ranging ramifications. If TikTok finds that users don’t really care about licenced music that much, then there’s every likelihood that TikTok could break off with the big labels, perhaps even offering a bespoke sound library of its own instead of licenced fare. If that happens, then you won’t be able to find any popular music through TikTok anymore, likely unless artists strike deals directly with TikTok themselves.
How likely is TikTok to break off with the major labels?
At the moment, the answer to this question is a resounding “it depends”. We don’t have any way of knowing what TikTok will find during this experiment. Our hunch is that music is probably more important to TikTok than ByteDance thinks, but less important than the labels think; users won’t want to survive entirely without licenced music on the platform, but similarly, they won’t cry too much if everything they want isn’t readily available from the TikTok sound library.
As such, we’ll have to wait and see what happens at ByteDance in order to get a definitive answer. The chances are that TikTok may reduce its involvement with the labels, but the labels themselves might not be happy with that; they might demand that TikTok ups its payments or risk breaking off with them entirely. If that happens, then ByteDance will have to make a decision. Until then, though, you should be able to keep creating content on TikTok pretty much as you always have been. Just be ready to drop the licenced music from that content if and when the time comes.