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Vocal TikTok Users Navigate a Quieter App

When TikTok users open the app these days, they encounter a platform stripped of music by many of their favorite artists. Dancers bob and sway without a beat drop. People lip-sync to silence.

Because of a licensing rift between the platform and Universal Music Group, which releases music by Playboi Carti, Taylor Swift, Drake, Ariana Grande and others, TikTok confirmed on Thursday that it had deleted music by Universal artists from its library and muted previously published videos that used those songs.

Music from artists affiliated with Sony and Warner remains available on TikTok. But that did not stop some users from declaring they were departing to a rival platform, Instagram Reels, while others have made fun of Universal’s absence by dancing to songs in the public domain. The dominant feeling is frustration: What was the point of TikTok without one’s favorite melodies?

“A lot of trends that have gone viral are of people who have millions of views on a single video because of an audio,” said Myah Elliott, 22, who pointed out that the TikTok logo looks like a musical note. “It’s going to be muted. That’s a scary thought.”

For more than two years, 21-year-old Evan Cronin posted videos on the first of each month that show him going through a morning routine, garnering millions of views. Around midnight on Thursday, he published the latest in the series to the beat of Playboi Carti’s “Sky.”

This time, there were barely any interactions from viewers.

“It was essentially a dead post,” Cronin said.

After TikTok removed Universal’s music, those who use the app to listen to their favorite songs or discover new artists expressed disappointment. Others publicly shared concern about the detrimental effect on emerging Universal artists who rely on TikTok for publicity.

Shawn Desman, a Canadian artist, explained to his followers why his videos had been muted and bemoaned that he no longer had the ability to share his music through TikTok.

“It is such an important tool for us to promote ourselves, our music, our creations,” Desman said in the video. “It’s just really crazy to me that now we’re not going to be able to use our music.”

The sudden silencing of Universal’s music catalog also left TikTok’s content creators worried and exasperated. John Casterline, who has 3.5 million TikTok followers, said that at least 10 percent of his videos had been muted, resulting in a steep drop-off in views. He has contemplated pivoting to YouTube.

“The minute TikTok mutes a video, they’re obviously not going to push it out to the ‘For You’ page,” said Casterline, 20, referencing the app’s algorithm-based recommendation feed. “Everything completely halts. So it’s definitely made my account take a massive hit.”




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