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Streaming music: What artists can learn from Kanye West

By Madi Harmon  •  May 2, 2016

Image credit: Brandon Winters

Streaming music: What artists can learn from Kanye West

Posted by: Madi Harmon on May 2, 2016

Kanye West was one of the first artists to release an album exclusively on an online streaming service.

While this move was highly controversial among the music-listening public, other artists are beginning to follow suit.

Let’s see what we can learn from Kanye’s bold move. 

The state of the music industry

The music is always in a constant state of change. Artists are increasingly developing entire brands instead of just music.

Whether it is Kanye’s clothing line, Drake’s OVO festivals or Kendrick’s political activism, one thing is clear, change is the only constant.


Image Sources: Patrick Vernack, Diego QuintanaPeter Hutchins

As more platforms to post and release music become available, digital downloads are becoming a thing of the past, and online streaming services are beginning to dominate the musical landscape.

The Life of Pablo: a history

This February, Kanye released his highly anticipated album, The Life of Pablo, exclusively on Tidal.

The goal was to create a “living” project that could be continuously updated by Kanye for Tidal subscribers.



Since, artists like Rihanna and Drake are also choosing to release their projects solely on streaming services.

Diehard fans will always be diehard fans

Over the last three months, The Life of Pablo was mentioned 3.8 million times, and (believe it or not) the language about the album and its iconoclastic creator is more positive than negative.



However, music-streaming services were discussed with relatively low positivity. When I looked into posts discussing streaming services, I learned that The Life of Pablo’s release on Tidal inspired many exasperated memes and posts.

The standard message being “I can’t believe Kanye did this, but I’ll subscribe to Tidal if I have to.”

Essentially, Kanye proved that if you build it, they will come.

A true showing of how faithful Yeezy fans are is Tidal, a service previously struggling with exposure, skyrocketed to the number one free app in the world a mere eight hours after Kanye tweeted that the service would have exclusive rights to his album. 


 …but that doesn’t mean they won’t pirate the album

Kanye fans proved they wouldn't forsake him, but they also showed that when a paid subscription to a music service is involved, many fans still aren't above pirating.  

According to TorrentFreak, a file-sharing website, The Life of Pablo had been torrented by over half a million people only seven days after its release (Maybe Kanye is the artist of our generation?).

People weren't just pirating the album, they were openly talking about pirating it too.

In fact, though 48% of comments mentioned acquisition or purchase intent, based on the actual comments within these themes, a great deal of these were discussing acquiring the album through pirating.


Ultimately, it was estimated that Kanye lost $10 million in revenue to torrent users.

 Consistency in messaging is key

Kanye West is anything but consistent (just look at his Twitter feed if you don’t believe me).

Usually his manic tendencies are chalked up to creative genius, but his inconsistency with The Life of Pablo release became a breaking point for many outlier fans.

The album went from being released on Tidal exclusively for only a week, to exclusively on Tidal forever, to singles being released on Apple Music and Spotify, to it being available in its entirety on Apple Music and Spotify.

The only promise he hasn’t broken (yet) is that the album won’t ever be available in a physical form.

Reflective of this information is that negative sentiment for The Life of Pablo has increased and positive sentiment has decreased with each of Kanye’s changes to the album release plan.

Sentiment Trend for Life of Pablo on Tidal


What artists can learn from Kanye

Artists are already lining up to follow the precedent Kanye has set with The Life of Pablo.

From his example, artists should be mindful that while the most loyal fans will support album releases on streaming services, they should also expect wide-spread pirating as a result of limiting access.

Further, if artists want to transition their outlier fans into the streaming era of music, consistency in messaging is essential.

Artists should strict to their promises and to not go on Kanye-esque Twitter rants.  

Whether you consider him an icon or a clown, Kanye's exclusive release on Tidal is just another example of him making bold moves and paving new roads for other artists to follow (or not follow).


You might also be interested in: Forbes Top-Earning Celebrities


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