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TikTok teams up with UnitedMasters for first distribution deal


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TikTok has already shown its potential as a talent pool of young musicians, who can show off their skills, build an audience and then parlay this into label deals – as a growing number are doing. But TikTok’s latest move offers an alternative to such deals: it’s a partnership with distributor UnitedMasters that “enables TikTok users to distribute the music directly to other music streaming platforms”.

The deal will also see that music from TikTokers added to the app’s own commercial music library, so that other users can put it in their videos, with plans to also “partner with UnitedMasters in promoting key artists on the platform”. The announcement notes that a number of independent artists already use TikTok to preview their original music and/or works in progress.

Cue Steve Stoute quote: “By combining the two, we create the platform for tomorrow’s stars who will be famous, fiercely independent and wealthy,” claimed UnitedMasters’ CEO. “TikTok artists who are creating music in their bedrooms today will be featured in the Billboard charts tomorrow,” added TikTok’s music boss Ole Obermann.

What’s interesting here is that alongside its licensing deals with major and independent labels (and now publishers too, at least in the US) TikTok is also making moves to grow its role in the independent ecosystem that’s offering an alternative to the traditional labels structure. Its description of UnitedMasters as “the first music distribution company to be integrated into TikTok” suggests that there are more such deals to come.

It should make for some interesting moments when those (reportedly short-term) label deals are up for renewal. As with traditional streaming services, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see data – specifically access to data that could help labels spot emerging musicians on TikTok as early as possible, and compete with the likes of UnitedMasters to sign them – playing a part in those negotiations.

Talking of interesting moments, there are some more developments in TikTok’s fight to keep itself alive (or at least unbanned) in the US. A new suitor appears to have entered the race to acquire TikTok: tech giant Oracle, which according to the Financial Times has held initial talks with ByteDance, and is working with VC firms including General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital to put together a rival to Microsoft.

Meanwhile, TikTok is also fighting back against what it sees as “rumours and misinformation” about its platform, launching a new website offering its rebuttals to all this (titled ‘The Last Sunny Corner of the Internet’). “TikTok is not available in China. Its US user data is stored in Virginia with a back-up in Singapore and strict controls on employee access. TikTok has never provided any US user data to the Chinese government, nor would it do so if asked. Any insinuation to the contrary is unfounded and blatantly false,” is its opening salvo. The tone is more frosty than it is sunny, if we’re honest…

Stuart Dredge

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