TikTok: UMG’s catalog, including publishing, only makes up ‘approximately 30% of popular music on our platform’

In four days, the TikTok vs. UMG stand-off could tumble over another cliff edge.

On that date, March 1, according to sources, Universal’s publishing catalog – via which Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) represents over 4 million songs – will become unlicensed for use on TikTok. (That is, without a renewed licensing deal between the two parties being signed before then.)

UMG’s distributed recordings catalog (comprised of around 3 million songs) became unlicensed for use on TikTok earlier this month, on February 1.

(The difference between the two sets of rights in this case: UMG’s publishing catalog agreement with TikTok, we’re told, has a ~30-day ‘grace’ period baked in, giving the ByteDance platform an additional month of use vs. the recordings catalog.)

Over the past few weeks, Music Business Worldwide has heard from multiple sources across the music business giving their estimates as to how large an impact the removal of UMPG’s catalog from TikTok will have on the service and its users.

All of these sources have agreed… it’s going to be a big deal.

That’s because of one reason more than any other: the ‘split copyrights’ that mean even if a UMPG songwriter only contributed a tiny slice of a recording, that entire recording will – in theory, if unlicensed – have to come down from TikTok.


Earlier today (February 26), in an emailed ‘Monthly Review’ column for MBW+ subscribers, I cited senior industry sources who’ve estimated that “up to 80% of relevant repertoire” on TikTok – i.e. current and proven hits – would be affected by UMG’s publishing and recorded music repertoire (combined) being removed from the service.

(Said ‘Monthly Review’ column will be published on the MBW site later this week.)

For context: The “up to 80%” stat was sent to me directly by a senior figure working for a large music rights company (I guess it’s important to tell you: not Universal Music Group), who had consulted said company’s data researchers.

Those researchers suggested that, when UMG’s administered publishing repertoire plus UMG’s distributed recorded music repertoire are combined, the coverage touches between 70% and 80% of “relevant repertoire” on TikTok today.

Other senior music rights figures have backed up this “up to 80%” estimate in conversations with MBW – including, it’s worth stating, a multi-decade veteran of the music publishing business.

Elsewhere, some senior music industry figures I’ve spoken to have been a little more conservative. One suggested that UMG’s combined publishing-plus-recordings catalog represents “somewhere around 60-65%” of hit songs; another went with “70%”.

To be clear: every single one of MBW’s informed industry sources on this matter has suggested that a majority of hit repertoire on TikTok would have to be removed if the entire UMG catalog (again, recordings plus publishing copyrights – including split copyrights) becomes unlicensed.

Not so, claims TikTok.

Following the publication of the MBW+ ‘Monthly Review’ column earlier, a TikTok spokesperson contacted us to firmly challenge the “up to 80%” claim from our source.

And when we say challenge, we mean… really challenge.

According to TikTok’s spokesperson: “TikTok can confirm that in the US and UK, UMG and UMPG combined is approximately 30% of popular music on the platform, and even less everywhere else.”

Did you get that? “UMG and UMPG combined is approximately 30% of popular music on [TikTok]”.

i.e. More than two-thirds of “popular music” on TikTok today, says TikTok, is neither distributed by UMG, nor contains any songwriting credits from a UMPG-repped writer.

This is… surprising for a number of reasons. Here are just some of them:

    1. When UMG-distributed recordings started coming down from TikTok earlier this month, some 17 tracks contained in that week’s ‘TikTok Billboard Top 50 Chart’ disappeared from the platform’s public library. That in itself represented ~35% of the 50 most popular songs on TikTok that week… without the removal of UMPG’s catalog;
    2. Let’s for a second look at Kobalt, which these days only represents publishing rights (as opposed to recorded music). Earlier this month, as it has for years, Kobalt claimed: “On average, Kobalt represents over 40% of the top 100 songs and albums in the US and the UK.” Sorry to labor the point, but Kobalt can make that “over 40%” claim because of split copyrights – i.e. Kobalt writers may (or may not) have a minority share of a given hit in the weekly Hot 100, but even if they have as little as 1% or 5%, Kobalt can justifiably claim it “represents” that song. Now consider this: Kobalt represents around 700,000 songs. That’s around a sixth of the size of UMPG’s represented catalog (4 million-plus songs);
    3. Another handy data source: Each quarter, Billboard looks at the Top 100 tracks of that period in the US, and calculates how many of them contain a songwriting “cut” administered by each publisher. (Billboard does this for both the Top 100 radio songs of each period, and the Top 100 streamed/purchased songs of each period.) Let’s take a look at a recent example: Q3 2023. In that quarter, according to Billboard, Universal Music Publishing Group repped songwriters with cuts on 52% of the 100 biggest hits on US radio. (In some previous quarters, UMPG has claimed shares in more than 60% of the Top 100.) Again, these are just UMPG-affiliated songs – that 52% stat for UMPG’s share of Q3 2023’s Top 100 doesn’t include additional tracks in the chart that were released/distributed as a recording by UMG, but didn’t contain a cut by a UMPG songwriter;
    4. Speaking of UMG recordings… According to Billboard/Luminate, Universal Music Group’s distribution market share of all record consumption (across catalog and ‘frontline’) in the US in 2023 was 38.46%. Sorry… but again… to be clear… that figure doesn’t take into account publishing cuts. (UMG’s 2023 US market share by label ownership was 29.35%, lower than the indies’ combined 35.74% – but when it comes to the matter of the TikTok takedown, it’s the distributed market share that counts.);
    5. A line from that MBW+ ‘Monthly Review’ column earlier: The IFPI just announced its list of 2023’s Top 10 biggest revenue-generating global recording artists. Nine of them are distributed by UMG: Taylor Swift (1); SEVENTEEN (2); Stray Kids (3); Drake (4); The Weeknd (5); Morgan Wallen (6); TOMORROW X TOGETHER (7); New Jeans (8); and Lana Del Rey (10). The only artist not signed to a recordings deal with UMG? Bad Bunny (9)… who’s repped by UMPG for publishing.”

The counter-argument here is that TikTok is a place where independent, unsigned, and classic music can thrive together.

That music doesn’t always follow the market-share patterns of ‘hit’ music on other digital or social platforms.

This may be where semantics come into play – i.e. how much the “relevant repertoire” cited by MBW’s sources overlaps with the “popular music on TikTok” cited by the TikTok spokesperson.

Regardless, in terms of estimated market share, there’s a big statistical gap between the two.

Right now, the most popular track on TikTok, according to the TikTok Billboard Top 50, is Bobby Caldwell’s 1978 release What You Won’t Do For Love. 

At No.2 is Dance You Outta My Head by Cat Janice – an independent Washington DC singer/songwriter and terminal cancer patient.

The third biggest track on TikTok right now is Yeah! by Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris, originally released in 2004.

According to the ASCAP/BMI Songview search service, Yeah! is exclusively repped for publishing by BMG and Sony Music Publishing.Music Business Worldwide