Simon Cowell teams with TikTok, Universal Music Group to launch music-making online ‘talent show’ – Music Business Worldwide
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Simon Cowell teams with TikTok, Universal Music Group to launch music-making online ‘talent show’ – Music Business Worldwide

We’ve had televised talent shows where contestants sing their favorite songs… and get a record contract at the end.
We’ve had televised talent shows where contestants write and sing their favorite songs… and get a record contract at the end.
Arguably, both formats have been pioneered and globally amplified by one individual more than any other: Simon Cowell.
Yet the popularity of these types of talent shows – as evinced by the self-inflicted axing of Cowell’s X Factor last year – has been on the wane for some time.
While that’s been going on, the record industry has become increasingly addicted to seeking out – and signing – music artists who primarily showcase themselves on TikTok.
So what is Simon Cowell to do?
Launch a ‘talent show’ on TikTok, obviously! But one with a very modern twist.
Thus, we get today’s (October 19) announcement of Cowell and Syco Entertainment’s StemDrop.
StemDrop will see music-makers the world over uploading their creations to (Cowell’s project partner No.1) TikTok… in the hope of being spotted and signed by (Cowell’s project partner No.2) Republic RecordsUniversal Music Group.
That modern twist?
Back in February, you may recall Kanye West launched his ‘Stem Player’ – giving his audience the ability to create their own tracks based on isolated elements of West’s new music (drum tracks, instrumentals, bass lines, vocals etc.).
This was a pioneering acknowledgment of a generational trend that TikTok has accelerated: The desire from today’s young audience to not only listen to new music, but also use it to create their own content – whether that be a simple short-form dance video, or an entirely new piece of music.
With this in mind, StemDrop is launching on October 26 with a 60-second clip of a new single co-composed by global hitmakers Max Martin – yes, actual Max Martin – plus Savan Kotecha and Ali Payami. This clip will drop exclusively on TikTok.
Can you guess Cowell (and StemDrop co-creator, Tim Van Rongen)’s big idea yet?
Yes: When the Max Martin track drops, music-makers from all over the world, via StemDrop, will be able to access its individual ‘stems’ (drums, vocals, guitar parts etc.), and use them as the foundation to create and record their own music.
Beyond that point, we’re back into more traditional talent show territory (albeit on a social video platform with more than a billion monthly users): Universal Music Group will be on the lookout for the hottest talent to upload their recordings to TikTok, with a view to signing them up to a deal with Republic Records.
The StemDrop project is being part-bankrolled by Samsung, who will be promoting the project through advertising that also plugs that company’s own Samsung Galaxy.
In an interview, Cowell noted that he and Max Martin both acknowledged they were “going into the unknown” with the project and had “no idea what’s going to happen”.
“It’s going to give people an opportunity to do something they normally wouldn’t be able to do, which is to write with the most successful songwriter of all time.”
Simon Cowell
Added Cowell: “I think it’s going to create an enormous level of excitement, it’s going to give people an opportunity to do something they normally wouldn’t be able to do, which is to write with the most successful songwriter of all time. And I think it’s going to give a lot of [artists] traction. And that’s what people need right now.
“This is what we always have tried to do with our shows – get [artists] visibility, and then after that, it’s down to you. This is the same kind of process.”
Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman & CEO of Universal Music Group said, “UMG exists at the intersection of innovation and talent discovery, so we’re excited to partner with Simon and the incredible team he’s assembled to launch this new platform, harnessing the scale of TikTok to leverage the artistry of creators worldwide.”
As part of the project there will be a ‘StemDrop Mixer’ on TikTok where, according to a media release, “creators of all levels can experiment with individual effects, harmonies and melodies to create and upload their own unique version of the song”.
That media release also suggests that “new versions of the track from around the world [will be] curated weekly by… individual songwriting teams as well as TikTok, Syco, Republic Records and Universal Music Group”.
“it’s the exact right moment to launch a music project where the creative process is fully in the hands of the creators on TikTok.”
Tim Van Rongen
StemDrop co-creator Tim Van Rongen said: “I’m thrilled to be part of the next step in talent discovery. I feel it’s the exact right moment to launch a music project where the creative process is fully in the hands of the creators on TikTok.
“I can’t wait to see what everyone will come up with and think that the world will be surprised by the enormous creative variety that StemDrop and the TikTok community will deliver.”
Ole Obermann, Global Head of Music at TikTok, said: “We are thrilled to finally announce StemDrop to the world. Some of the biggest names in entertainment, music and technology are coming together to supercharge music discovery in a way never seen before, using the power of TikTok to unearth new talent.
“Every day, brilliant, undiscovered artists and songwriters turn to TikTok to share their music and find a global audience; StemDrop will put a spotlight on this talent and act as a springboard to help them build their careers.”
“Some of the biggest names in entertainment, music and technology are coming together to supercharge music discovery in a way never seen before, using the power of TikTok to unearth new talent.”
Ole Obermann, Tiktok
Paul Hourican, Global Head of Music Operations at TikTok, said: “TikTok’s mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy, and with StemDrop our aim is to provide our creative community, wherever they are, an opportunity to collaborate and create with the world’s most iconic songwriters and their work in a new and original way.
“The breadth and diversity of musical talent emerging on TikTok every day is breathtaking and we’re committed to opening doors for artists and propelling new talent to find sustained success both on and off the platform.
“We can’t wait to see what this collaboration brings so thank you to Max, Savan, Ali, Simon and the teams at Syco, UMG and Republic who have helped bring this to life.”
Monte Lipman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Republic Records, said: “StemDrop provides an unprecedented opportunity, capturing the spirit of experimentation [which] remains the cornerstone of the music community’s creative process.
“We embrace and celebrate the innovation of these extraordinary individuals as they sail into uncharted waters.”
Benjamin Braun, Chief Marketing Officer at Samsung Europe, said: “This partnership with TikTok, Syco Entertainment and Universal Music Group is a ground-breaking new chapter that will redefine music creation.”
There are definitely shades here of the music-creation startup Voisey, which encouraged collaborative music-making by producers, songwriters and artists within a TikTok-like app (although didn’t have any stem-based element to its platform).
Voisey’s music-makers were then encouraged to upload their creations to social media in order to attract both fan and industry attention.
Helpfully for Cowell and TikTok, Voisey was recently confirmed to be shuttering by the company that acquired it, Snap Inc.Music Business Worldwide
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