It’s nearly impossible to discount the role that TikTok has played in the modern music scene, for better or for worse. From artists being forced to churn out TikTok hits to classics from the 60’s getting a breath of fresh air, TikTok isn’t leaving the music industry any time soon. Now, it would appear that the social media platform’s parent company ByteDance is piloting exclusive distribution deals with musicians.
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A report from The Information details ByteDance’s plans for these new deals. According to the outlet, the company has been pursuing deals with dozens of musicians to distribute their music through ByteDance’s new service called SoundOn. SoundOn promises artists overwhelming control of their music, with distribution directly to TikTok and streaming services, 100% of ownership and royalties being paid directly to the musician, and promotional tools. TikTok’s global head of music business development and intellectual property rights Ole Obermann confirmed to The Information that the company had secured some distribution deals, but that these were operating more as test runs.
TikTok did not immediately return Gizmodo’s request for comment on whether these deals targeted artists that were signed to labels, artists who operated independently, or both.
Sources told The Information that senior managers at TikTok have flirted with starting a record label, but the company as a whole is distancing itself from that plan. Distribution deals like this are probably as close as ByteDance is comfortable getting in encroaching on record labels, which TikTok has a symbiotic relationship with. Artists that blow up on TikTok can enter binding recording contracts with labels, while those labels can strike deals with the platform for exclusive song releases, remixes, appearances, or even promotions from artists. Young artists are also increasingly likely to use TikTok in the hopes that their music will blow up on the app, driving traffic to the platform.
“Being a music label is a big, complicated, expensive endeavor and it just doesn’t fit into our strategy,” Obermann told The Information.
For now, TikTok is probably less worried about pissing off record labels and more worried about pissing off the U.S. government. In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress over the government’s growing concerns that the platform poses a risk to national security. Whether or not a national TikTok ban occurs, it’s nothing more than a bandaid on a bullet wound. In early March, Gizmodo found evidence of 28,000 apps that are sending data to TikTok, and something tells me Congress isn’t interested in banning all of those too.