Kanye's album leaked today and I don't know how I feel about that…
On the one hand, part of me thinks “It’s a reality of the biz. It happens to everyone.” The other part of me thinks “This dude has given out free music–including many tracks on his album–for the last 9 weeks. Is it too much to ask that he be able to release his album the way he intended?” I must admit, I am EXTREMELY curious about how his album will do. I really wish the Taylor Swift stuff wasn’t there to cloud it. If you take that aspect away, Kanye is the latest experiment in a long line that includes Prince, Nine Inch Nails, Lil Wayne and Radiohead. Each of those legendary acts have given away music for free either as promotions or with the confidence that if you make G.O.O.D. Music, people ultimately will buy it or support you financially in other ways.
With Prince, he’s given away music both on his tours and in a London newspaper. Each promotion drove awareness that he had a new album out (something many people have not cared about with Prince for some time) and provided added value to his legion of fans (at least in the case of the concert giveaway–he got paid by the newspaper in London…). Nine Inch Nails have been extremely experimental, giving away lo fi versions of their music, samples of their music (5 tracks from an album) and driving upsell by offering collector’s editions to those who wanted to buy the music for a premium. And Radiohead created the most famous “tip jar” ever by letting fans decide what, if anything, they wanted to pay for In Rainbows. They never released data on the number of sales or the average price paid, but many speculate that the average price paid was $5 per album download. After the experiment, they released the album in stores 3 months later and it still debuted at #1 on the charts and sold 120,000 in the first week.
While Lil Wayne has not given away any of his commercial music for free, he has given away hundreds of tracks via mixtapes over the last few years. The sheer volume of music he has given away for free is more than most artists could hope to produce in a lifetime. His reward? He was the first hip-hop artist in 3 years to crack 1 million sales of his album in the first week–an incredible feat in today’s music business–and he was indisputably the hottest star in hip-hip for 3 years. Ironically, only Taylor Swift has sold a million albums in 1 week since then and that was last week. That brings us back to Yeezy.
Kanye has broken many conventions with the rollout of this new album. He has released at least 50% of the album as free downloads (how he convinced his label to allow that is a mystery, but the difficulty cannot be overestimated). He has completely destroyed the decades old formula that you release one single, let it get hot, then release another single, let it get hot, then release the album. Instead, he has faithfully released a new song each week (G.O.O.D. Fridays) since the first week in September and has several songs in mainstream and mix show radio rotation. Finally, he released a 34-minute short film/extended music video that had 3-4 additional songs from his album that were not part of his G.O.O.D. Fridays (those songs have now been ripped and a makeshift soundtrack has been created), meaning that people have heard at least 75% of his album weeks before it hits stores.
Now, the album has leaked and people can hear the whole thing (not here but it’s only a Google search away). Clearly, we live in a world where free music is often just one click away (pause). Kanye, like those above, is one of the few to not only not fight against this new reality but embrace it and flip it on its head. I’m thinking his thought process was something like “Tracks from my album are going to leak anyway so f*ck it. I’m going to give muthaf*ckas some new sh*t every godd*mn week. They still gonna buy the sh*t because the sh*t is ridiculous, and I’m going to get their email addresses in the process…” But now, the whole album is out there, something he likely didn’t want based on interviews where he’s said the album will have surprises and he maintained that people have not heard the album. Given how passionate he is about his work and how giving he’s been with his music, that can’t feel G.O.O.D. Will he receive from all the gifts he’s given? We’ll see in about 4 weeks (when first week sales are reported).
P.S., since writing this, I’ve learned Rolling Stone gave Kanye’s album 5 stars out of 5 (props to Rap Radar). That almost NEVER happens. Maybe it will be all G.O.O.D. (now I feel good).