Ye’s loyal and massive fanbase will have to front $200 to hear the rapper and producer’s latest album Donda 2, via his stem player. While the stem splitting tool was released in August of 2021, this is the first time Kanye West is exclusively releasing a completed project on the device. Currently, four of the album’s new tracks are available on the stem splitter.
Fans and music lovers alike understandably have mixed feelings about the anticipated album’s high pricetag. However, if we look to music history, we’ll find that Ye isn’t the first to go against the status quo and transact with his fans directly.
Below, we’ll share a couple of other artists who paved their own financial path and discuss why Kanye West’s Donda 2 earmarks an important shift of power in the music industry.
The Transfer of Power From Platforms To Artist
Perhaps Ye said it best in his Instagram post announcing Donda 2: “Donda 2 will only be available on my own platform, the Stem Player. Not on Apple Amazon, Spotify, or YouTube. Today artists get just 12% of the money the industry makes. It’s time to free music from this oppressive system. It’s time to take control and build our own.”
While Ye certainly isn’t a struggling artist by any means, it’s true that the shift to a streaming-platform dominated industry has come with some huge consequences for artists. The average musician made $35,000 a year in 2018, with about $14,000 of that money coming from sources outside of the music itself (merch, touring, etc.)
Factor in the median income of American artist hubs like New York and Los Angeles (which sit at $69,668 and $62,823 respectively) musicians are obviously stretched thin. This is due, in part, to streaming platforms like Spotify, having incredibly low-streaming payout rates while dominating the main market for listeners.
Thankfully, there is a lot of hope for artists with the advent of Web3 and the cultural shift of artists working to profit directly from their fanbases via NFTs and crowdfunding sites like Pateron. It’s clear that Ye doesn’t necessarily need to make this move to hold his hallowed ground as a profitable artist, but the symbolic shift away from streaming platforms as the only option for artists might lead to an important transition in the music industry as a whole.
Other Artists Who Profitted Directly From Their Fanbases
Kanye West isn't the first artist to profit directly from his fanbase. Let’s take a look at other artists who were able to “break the mold” throughout the past two decades:
In 2013, rapper Nipsey Hussle sold his mixtape on exclusively physical copies, for $100 a pop. Hussle notably sold 1000 copies,100 reportedly to Jay-Z. The following year, Hussle released Mailbox Mixtape for $1000 dollars each, launching a hashtag #Proud2Pay. The package included the LP along with an exclusive listening experience with rapper himself and a secret item.
Amanda Palmer isn’t a household name by any means – Her 250K monthly listeners would only earn her about $1000 a month, according to Music Gateway’s streaming royalties calculator. However, this artist exemplifies that quality can be more powerful than quantity if you play your cards right.
The artist was the first musician to raise over a million dollars via Kickstarter campaign by offering unique fan experiences like custom painted turntables, private parties, and makeovers by her band for top backers. As Palmer says,“People fundamentally like supporting artists.”
Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper hasn’t put out a critically-acclaimed work in a couple of years, perhaps because he doesn’t have to. The famed independent musician built his fanbase off of Soundcloud and honest, thought-provoking lyrics. He invested in his Chicago community, holding open mics at local high schools and working with a long-time friend and manager Pat Corcoran as his sole team member.
While Chance’s experience is certainly an outlier, the fact that he’s been able to retain his fanbase and take time off for his emerging family proves that with the right combination of skill, community-driven outreach, and luck, retaining control over your audience certainly pays.
Lauv is an incredibly popular artist, standing within the top 200 musicians on Spotify alone. What most people don’t know is that he’s also independent. While he has a publishing and distribution team at AWAL (otherwise known as Artists Without A Label), he retains full creative direction and ownership of his masters.
Most importantly, the artist has been able to secure a top 40 hit through "I Like Me Better", which was previously unheard of as an independent artist.
American DJ 3LAU was an early adopter of NFTs as a musician, and it certainly paid off. The artist otherwise known as Justin Blau sold an auctioned online collection for $11.6 million, leading many other artists to follow suit. As an early adopter in the crypto space, the artist has positioned himself to comfortably work on has craft and support other artists through his new platform, Royal.
It goes without saying that many of these artists are still largely anomalies within the label-dominated music industry. However, with huge artists like Kanye West laying the blueprint for future musicians, there’s a lot of hope for up and coming creators within the industry.