It’s been an interesting time to be Kanye West so far in 2016.
In early Feb, he teased TLOP, the initials for his upcoming album, and the interwebs went wild trying to guess. The idea that it was called The Life of Pablo…I’m sure there’s a subtext in there.
Then he went on a world bending set of Twitter rants, ranging from saying that he was $53million in debt then asking Mark Zuckerberg for money,
to claiming his album will never be on Apple…
to not-so-subtle digs about Taylor Swift,
to being called out for allegedly downloading pirated software (edit: it was music editing software, not music) then having a Twitter fight with elctromusician Deadmau5
to ‘allegedly’ tweeting on behalf of Kim Kardashian…
well, who really knows what the fuck he was on about by this time.
But in the middle of it all, he released The Life of Pablo on Tidal in Feb after a few delays.
It’s largely gotten positive reviews, and the album has since evolved, with Kanye West changing beats, lyrics to a variety of tracks to the point where Techcrunch labelled the album the first SAAS album. It’s a fascinating concept – that Kanye has delivered a MVP (minimum viable product) – that has not only encouraged a flood (pun time, geddit?) of free trial and subscriber signups to Tidal, but also given ongoing marketing ammunition, with Tidal announcing an extension to the trial when Kanye dropped his first update.
And it sounds like it was incredibly successful, with Tidal subscribers jumping to 3 million from a pre-TLOP base of 540,000. Almost 1.5million of those are paying $19.99 a month now.
Not only that, but they claim that TLOP was streamed 250million times in the first 10 days which isn’t shabby. It’s pretty good. Billboard use a technique that extrapolates this to about 167,000 album sales. Let’s be honest, that doesn’t compare to the 860,000 that Late Registration did on release, or the 1.3million or so that Taylor Swift’s 1989 sold in its first week.
But this isn’t the same game as Taylor Swift. The music business has just hit a transformation milestone. And it isn’t about streaming, or albums. It’s about brand value.
This is the moment that has driven home for me that Kanye West might actually be a mad genius.
We’ve all been suckered into the conversion funnel that Kanye West has devised to entrench his brand from pre-launch. No need to ‘making of’ videos, or song teases. This is cutting edge brand marketing, using social media to build hype about his brand – Kanye West has managed to increase obsessive attention on his Twitter feed, album release, his wife, his friend’s business, his bank account and his ego all in the space of 2 months. This has always been about his brand. The fact that he has an album in there is just a conversion metric. A revenue driver disguised as a raison d’etre.
To drive that home, TLOP is artistic innovation at its best – by proudly dropping album updates, it’s an album that could never be ‘finished’, and encourages continual re-engagement and returns to see what the next updates bring. It’s competing with social media and software releases. Hell, from an ego point of view, you could argue he’s maintained a huge degree of artistic integrity by never being ‘perfect’. I wonder how responsive he will be to feedback? (hint: none, unless Kim Kardashian hates something?)
I wonder how far he could go with this, with multiple versions for different levels of users. He could even gamify listening – with points distributed for listening/sharing patterns, and exclusive updates unlocked after 100 streams of the album…the mind boggles.
West even recently released Famous, the most well known and controversial track from TLOP, onto Apple Music – another great marketing move just controversial enough to garner attention but not break his ‘artistic promise’ of being on Tidal.
If he did end up releasing it on Apple Music, I don’t think it would matter anymore, to be honest. Kanye West has already won this round and proven his brand/marketing genius at taking it to another level. Not only that, but from a basic business return point of view, it has overdelivered for Tidal. The Life of Pablo is an artistic and music business exercise unlike any other.