Musicians at war with TikTok: Industry claims the Chinese social media giant is short-changing artists

Tik Tok has been accused of short-changing artists and labels for their music – with industry bigwigs warning payouts could get even worse under new plans.

The Chinese video-sharing platform has more than a billion monthly users, having exploded in popularity during the pandemic thanks to catchy songs and fun dance videos.

But estimates suggest Bytedance-owned Tik Tok paid out only £148million in total to labels and artists during the course of 2021 generating revenues of over £3billion for the year.

Hitmaker: Tik Tok exploded in popularity during the pandemic thanks to catchy songs from artists (such as Taylor Swift, pictured) and dance videos

© Provided by This Is Money
Hitmaker: Tik Tok exploded in popularity during the pandemic thanks to catchy songs from artists (such as Taylor Swift, pictured) and dance videos

According to analysis from industry site Music Business Worldwide, this represented less than 5 per cent of Tik Tok revenue. By contrast, rival YouTube forked out over £3billion – or roughly 14 per cent of ad revenues – to music rights holders.

The main argument from labels is that because music plays such a fundamental role, they should get a bigger slice of the Tik Tok pie, like they do with YouTube.

It is understood that TikTok is due to renegotiate its contracts with the major labels in the coming weeks. However, the reality is that the economics of Tik Tok is often shrouded in mystery.

David Martin, chief executive at Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), a trade body representing musicians’ rights, said artists (such as Taylor Swift, pictured) were ‘frustrated by the lack of transparency’.

‘The frustration is that artists are often locked out of those conversations,’ he said.

British songstress Kelli-Leigh, who released her debut single Do You Wanna Be Loved Like This? in 2018 on her own label and has performed with the likes of Adele and Leona Lewis, told the Mail: ‘Ultimately, 

I don’t hear of many artists receiving a fair or decent amount of revenue for their works on Tik Tok. I’m not sure I’ve seen any royalties from usage from music I’ve been involved in being used on the platform.’

Discussing the growth of Tik Tok, Universal Music boss Sir Lucian Grainge recently said: ‘When you look at the billions of views, the rate at which the company has grown, we will fight and determine how our artists get paid and when they get paid, in the same way that we have done throughout the industry for many years.’

Labels and trade bodies are also concerned that a trial by Tik Tok Australia could lead to more radical changes to artist remuneration.

Tik Tok has slashed the number of songs available to 3.5m users Down Under, muting certain artists.

The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), an open and passionate critic of the trial, suggested the Chinese giant could use it as evidence to further slash the amount it pays the industry by downplaying the significance of music for users.

‘After exploiting artists’ content and relationships with fans to build the platform, Tik Tok now seeks to rationalise cutting artists’ compensation by staging a test of music’s role in content discovery,’ ARIA boss Annabelle Herd said.

And it’s not just Australia the industry is worried about.

A leading executive at a major label told the Mail: ‘What’s starting as an isolated case in Australia could quickly spill over to other parts of the world – creating a massive and widening value gap with the music industry, and negatively impacting consumers, creators, culture and other businesses.

‘Tik Tok continues to put its thumb on the scale to drive down costs and favour its own distribution channel.

‘The company is exerting its market power in music to increase the wealth concentration for Bytedance owners at the expense of artists and songwriters.’

This was echoed by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the UK trade body which represents 450 labels, including the three ‘majors’ Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music.

BPI boss Sophie Jones said: ‘Rather than shutting off fans from artists and songwriters, Tik Tok should focus its efforts on addressing how to build a business model that recognises the value of music on the platform.’ 

A Tik Tok spokesman said: ‘We are currently analysing how sounds are accessed and added to videos in Australia, while also looking to improve and enhance the wider Sounds Library.

‘This has meant that some of the community has been unable to access our full Tik Tok Sounds Library. This change will not be in place for long and not all music is affected.’

It said speculation on expanding this test to other markets was ‘baseless’.