Canadian Artists React to TikTok vs. Universal

Arkells, the Beaches, Shawn Desman, Rêve and more respond to the removal of UMG's catalogue from the platform

Photo: Arkells by Nathan Nash (left), the Beaches by Becca Hamel

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Feb 5, 2024

While everything might feel Grammys-centric today, the biggest news story of the last week is still Universal Music Group (UMG) removing its mammoth catalogue from TikTok after the two companies were unable to come to an agreement in their licensing dispute. UMG — the world's largest record label — called the short-form video platform's views on artist compensation "woefully outdated."

Not only does this mean that you possibly can't use your fave's song clip as the audio for your take on a viral dance or a 'fit check, but musicians have to contend with the fact that, in an economy when promoting their music on TikTok is a huge part of the game, their tracks can't aspire to potentially get that coveted clock app boost.

Arkells frontman Max Kerman quickly sprung into action upon hearing the news, and has taken it upon himself to re-create some fan-favourite moments of the band's songs (e.g., importantly, the "That's me!" from "Knocking at the Door") while walking around his neighbourhood. This almost immediately snowballed into Kerman offering to re-do Universal's catalogue in its entirety. It really is the world the folks at the JUNOs want.

Meanwhile, the Beaches — who have become something of TikTok darlings with "Blame Brett" — enjoyed a moment of karmic retribution. As they told Exclaim! last year, the quartet were dropped from their major label deal with Universal earlier in the pandemic. Their latest album, 2023's Blame My Ex, is their first independent release.

It has been a joy to watch Shawn Desman's comeback season. And, if you hadn't noticed, he's been putting a lot of time and effort into his short-form video content, doing things like charmingly dancing like a guy (himself) in a 2000s music video. He expressed his frustration with the situation, while also acknowledging that he already had an existent fanbase, and his heart goes out to new artists with major deals trying to promote their work.

In addition to having a laugh replacing some of the removed audio from her most emotional TikToks with "The 7th Element" by Vitas, dance-pop maven Rêve likened the situation to being locked inside a shower.

Country singer-songwriter Jess Moskaluke explained part of the situation that is key for people to realize: it's not just the big-name musicians or the up-and-comers with 360 deals listed on Universal's artist roster affected by the catalogue removal. Like many, Moskaluke is an indirect signing, represented by MDM Recordings, which is a branch of UMG. She expressed the disheartening feeling of having her songs — which are her stories, her voice, her life — muted on her own channel on the platform, but offered suggestions for other ways fans can support artists.

bbno$ is in a similar boat, signed to Republic Records — a subsidiary of Universal. He responded to finding out that his song "edamame" had been removed from TikTok by sarcastically thanking Universal. The Vancouver rapper proceeded to "remix" the song in a way that may be familiar to some listeners...

Artist-on-the-rise Lauren Spencer Smith released her debut album Mirror under Republic Records and Island Records (again, owned by UMG) last year. She made light of the situation, joking that she was blocking anyone who reminded her that her music was now muted on TikTok.

These are just a handful of the Canadian artists contending with their songs being removed from TikTok, with the likes of the Weeknd, Drake, Justin Bieber, PUP, Alessia Cara, Jessie Reyez, Feist, Rush, Broken Social Scene, Leith Ross, Shania Twain, Rezz, TALK and Nav also being affected.

Of course, it wasn't too long ago that TikTok wasn't even a thing musicians had to consider, but now it's become an industry standard. The social media platform is undeniably a career-maker — look no further than Tate McRae's meteoric rise with "greedy" last year, or even Mitski finally getting on the Billboard charts with the viral popularity of "My Love Mine All Mine." 

UMG is thus far the only label and publisher the short-form video app hasn't been able to make a licensing deal with. There will inevitably be more to follow, as well as reverberations to be expected across other social platforms like Instagram.

See some artists' reactions to the situation below. 

@revemtl Love u babe but its cold outside #umg #musictok ♬ Im famous - 24kUmbi

thank god UMG has my back!!!

♬ original sound - bbno$

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