If you want to listen to Kanye West’s new album — you’ll need to buy a $200 Stem Player.
Last week, West announced that ‘Donda 2’ would not be available on traditional music streaming services like Spotify (SPOT) or Apple Music (AAPL), despite the latter reportedly offering the rapper a $100 million deal that he rejected.
Instead, the album will exclusively stream on Ye’s new pocket-sized device, the latest evolution in a music industry where payment and distribution models are being rapidly transformed by powerful digital trends like non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
“Today artists get 12% of the money the industry makes. It’s time to free music from this suppressive system. It’s time to take control and build our own,” West said in a statement.
The Stem Player, which West created in collaboration with Kano Computing, allows users to manipulate music tracks through touch-sensitive controls.
Alex Klein, the CEO of Kano Computing and a close friend to the rapper, told Yahoo Finance that the product creates a “deeper and more immersive” experience for consumers. It also opens the door for other artists to form stronger relationships with fans, but without relying on big tech.
Klein and West “both have a desire to redesign the world,” he added.
“The current paradigm in consumer electronics and software is damaging our mental health…we wanted to create a way of interacting with one another through music,” he continued.
‘This is the future’
Stem Player sales have skyrocketed amid the recent release of ‘Donda 2.’ Klein stated that “in just one day of sales, Ye was able to generate more revenue — $2.2 million — than 500 million streams would have generated on conventional streaming platforms.”
The executive reiterated that any early concerns surrounding the product have been “blown away,” adding that the company was “moving over $100,000 of Stem Players an hour” during the ‘Donda 2’ listening party in Miami earlier this week.
Consumers “want to support their favorite artists” and “get the work in the way the artists want to present it, rather than the way these tech conglomerates want to present it,” according to Klein.
“This is the future. This is 2032 level of stuff,” the CEO continued.
In addition to pocketing the majority of the revenue, selling these products direct-to-consumer lets the rap star own the customer data outright— something virtually every tech and media company is focused on.
The device also creates a new path for other artists, who can use the Stem Player to launch their own exclusive album releases. If successful, it’s likely that this product would force the industry to redefine how it measures success — beyond just album sales and streaming downloads.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), status is measured within specific tiers of at least 500,000 units moved (Gold) or Platinum (over 10 million). For certification, one album sale (or 10 permanent track downloads or 1,500 audio or video streams) count as a unit.
Consequently, it’s unclear at this point how the RIAA would define West’s Stem Player, and whether or not the device would count as an eligible unit for artists to submit in a Gold & Platinum certification application.
Still, it’s quite possible that the device could revolutionize the status quo, and force the RIAA to recognize the model, especially if sales continue to climb.
West is “so ambitious and goes after any opportunity,” Kano Computing’s Klein told Yahoo Finance.
“It’s a great privilege to partner with him and work with him, because he just says, ‘Why not?’ We need more of that…that boldness to break through barriers and smash through walls. It takes guts,” the CEO continued.
“Together, no estimation will be too great for what we do next,” he concluded.
Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193
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