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How Kanye West’s Stem Player could change the future of the music industry

Photo courtesy of DES

In the age of ownership and control, Ye’s latest chess moves could turn the music industry upside down…

During his tenure in the game, Kanye West has done more than enough to prove that he’s one of the greatest to ever do it.

Countless stadium tours, GRAMMY awards and many more accolades all prove that he is meant to be here after over two decades in hip-hop. After tons of trials, tribulations and real-life experiences, he has no plans on stopping anytime soon. One thing no one can deny about Kanye is that he has a keen eye for the future, and his business acumen he holds is at a very high level.

While at a certain point in time, specifically the no-phone-Kanye era, it was rare to ever hear from Kanye or get updates on what he’s working on next until it was already here. As of the past few years, Kanye has let all barriers down and has been putting his life on full display. While some may say he has shown a bit too much, what we are seeing here is Kanye in his purest form. From his disputes with the media, his 2020 presidential campaign, and even his divorce from Kim Kardashian, we have seen what it looks like when the odds may not be in his favor.

On the flip side of that, we have also gotten to see many of his greatest successes. His Yeezy brand has become more accessible and profitable, he has collaborated with many brands such as Gap and his most recent commercial collaboration with McDonald’s during the Super Bowl, has seen tons of success from his long-awaited DONDA album and listening parties that preceded — which Billboard reported grossed “in between $1.5 and $2.7 million apiece.”

Kanye West certainly has more sheets in his playbook, as he embarked on one of the biggest moves that the industry has seen as of late. The release of his Stem Player, which is currently priced at $200 on his website, is a music player which puts consumers in control of the song. According to the Stem Player website, fans can “Control vocals, drums, bass, and samples.” Shipping preloaded with DONDA, owners of the Stem Player can also upload their own tracks to the device via and have some more fun there.

Less than a year after his previous release, Kanye announced that DONDA 2 would release exclusively on the Stem Player device, and not on other streaming platforms. But what could this mean for music consumption going forward? Let’s take a look at what could be the root of this statement, and what this could mean for the future of music consumption.

Kanye’s Departure from Def Jam Records

Amidst all that has occurred in Kanye’s life as of late, one of the more shocking stories was learning about his record deal that he had in place with Def Jam. After exposing some pretty interesting details about his contracts with Def Jam and Roc-A-fella Records on Twitter, Ye took a stand for himself and the future of artists and preached for ownership, demanding that Universal Music Group release his masters to him. During an interview on Drink Champs back in November of 2021, Kanye revealed that after the release of DONDA, he will no longer be signed to Def Jam going forward.

The success of DONDA Listening Parties

With traditional listening parties in the industry taking place at clubs or smaller capacity venues, Kanye’s vision took it to the maximum as he held the DONDA listening party at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, not once, but twice. The third and final listening party took place in his hometown of Chicago at Soldier Field. Doing the unthinkable is what led Kanye to the realization that he can take matters into his own hands and plan these one-off events at his own will, putting him in control of the outcome and overall experience.

The first DONDA 2 listening party was held at LoanDepot Park in Miami on February 22nd which sported appearances from acts such as Alicia Keys, Fivio Foreign, Migos, Playboi Carti and Jack Harlow. Aside from some audio issues, the party has deemed a success, and the album as it stands now has been rolled out to owners of the Stem Player via an update on the website.

Stem Player Sales Bring In Huge Numbers

In a now-deleted Instagram post, Kanye revealed how much revenue the Stem Player brought in only 24 hours after the announcement that the album would be exclusive to Stem Player owners.

“To earn the $2.2 million we made on the first day on the stem player the album would have had to stream 500 million times. We did more revenue on stemplayer, without the album even being out, than we would have done with the album being out on streaming.”

Kanye West via Instagram

The battle for ownership and proper royalties has been going on for years, and still seems to be an ongoing issue amongst artists of all magnitudes. By making his new album direct-to-consumer and eliminating the middlemen, Kanye was able to bring in much more revenue by selling the Stem Player and offering the album in that fashion, than to release it under a label and then release it to streaming services who also take their percentages as well.

What This Could Mean Going Forward

Artists and labels have been going head-to-head for a long time now, and more artists are starting to seek the independent route when it comes to their projects. While the idea of direct-to-consumer is not new, it’s still something that not many artists have tried to accomplish, at least not with the heavyweights of the game. Back in 2013, Nipsey Hussle sold his Crenshaw mixtape for $100 apiece, selling one thousand copies, and bringing in $100k in revenue. Other artists such as Tory Lanez have toyed with the idea of dropping music as NFTs, which also is considered direct-to-consumer.

It was rumored before Drake released his highly-anticipated Certified Lover Boy album back in September of 2021 that he would soon be independent, but that was debunked when the album was released under his label OVO and parent company Universal. While Kanye and Drake have now made up after their feud, Kanye seemingly is aiming to take the upper hand here in his journey to being independent, and it appears to be working in his favor.

Kanye West’s Stem Player currently gives fans access to his latest three albums, that being DONDA, DONDA 2, and Jesus Is King. It’s safe to assume that the rest of his back catalog could be uploaded at a later date. While it is still uncertain if this is the final version of DONDA 2, for now, this is what we have. It’s also unknown whether or not Kanye will be putting the album up for digital purchase outside of the Stem Player, which is still beneficial to his ownership of his music and being able to earn bigger percentages and avoid streaming services.

One thing about Kanye is that you never know what he has next up his sleeve. These next few months will get very interesting to witness, but nonetheless, we are here for the ride.