Kanye’s Stem Player is Jeen-Yuhs.
Kanye’s stem player is misunderstood by the masses but drives an important conversation around independence for artists.
TL;DR: Kanye’s Stem Player and everything he’s working on now is changing the music industry for the better. People just lack vision. They always do.
Also, if you haven’t read my first piece on Kanye from September 2020, it’s worth checking out before reading this one. Check it out below.
Ok, let’s jump into it…
What is the Stem Player:
I’m lazy so I’m just going to put Newsweek’s explanation below:
Stem Player is both a streaming platform and a physical device that you can purchase.
The product is named after a stem, which is a music term used in audio production. Within a song, a stem is a grouped collection of sounds that are used as one unit. Stems can be removed, edited or changed during a song, which is the basis for the physical Stem Player.
The small device features a cross of four lights across the front, which was the image shared by West on his Instagram. The Stem Player allows you to customize any song, splitting it into stems, and according to the website, it also ships with Donda.
And here’s a video of it so you can see how it works.
Why is it important?
People with no vision are complaining that Kanye is gatekeeping his album and price gouging by forcing people to buy the Stem Player for $200. He isn’t preventing fans from accessing the music at all. The music on the Stem Player is the equivalent of a demo. How often do you get to listen to demos before an album release? Never.
The stems on the player and website are living pieces of art - they are evolving as Kanye produces and works on the album. The version of Donda 2 that dropped on 02/22/22 was just a draft, not a complete product.
My theory is that Kanye will drop Donda 2 on streaming when the album is actually complete. Remember when The Life of Pablo was only going to be available on Tidal?
For now, you can use the stem player to listen to the latest iterations of the album. Owners of the stem player will have a first-hand glimpse into that production process. That is a special and unique experience. This move by Kanye creates a new avenue for artists to reimagine the artist to fan experience.
What if you could be part of the production process for your favorite band and provide feedback as they roll out demos?
Turning down $100 Million from Apple
Kanye turned down a $100M exclusive deal with Apple to pursue the Stem Player. Many people would think that is foolish, but I don’t. Kanye’s album is worth more than $100M. Kanye’s music is so valuable that even he can’t buy his master's back despite being a billionaire.
I firmly believe Kanye will make his $100M on his own without the money of big tech. He’ll earn it using avenues he has significant control over too. Kanye is a marketing mastermind. He knows how to dominate the news cycle to maximize his impact.
Kanye has dominated the news cycle for a full month now with the Stem Player, the Netflix documentary, his texts to Kim, stadium listening parties, and clowning on Skete Davidson.
The term “skete” became a trending word on Google too.
Kanye West was trending on Twitter at the same time as World War 3 just the other week. All of this adds up.
The Stem Player has generated millions of dollars in sales already. I ordered my Stem Player and the order number starts with “60k” - that’s $12M in sales on the unit alone.
In addition to that, he has already launched a 3-way collaboration between Balenciaga x Gap x Yeezy. On top of that, Kanye is selling out entire stadiums for Donda 2 listening parties. He’s already teasing Stemwear on Instagram - could it be a merch collection around the Stem player?
If I had to guess, Kanye has already pulled in $20-25m off these three things alone and he hasn’t even released a single song yet.
The point I’m trying to drive home here is that Kanye doesn’t need Apple or any other streaming service to be successful - he is independent. And don’t get me wrong - it’s largely because he doesn’t need the money that allows him to execute on his magnum opus of disrupting the music industry.
Disrupting the Streaming World
Kanye is challenging the streaming industry and the major label system that both take advantage of artists. “Today artists get just 12% of the money the industry makes,” said West when he announced his album would only be available on his Stem Player. “It’s time to free music from this oppressive system. It’s time to take control and build our own.”
Something I’ve been discussing with friends is if Kanye could be positioning to launch his own DSP (Digital Streaming Platform) but to me, it’s clear that it won’t happen.
While it may make sense to develop an artist-focused DSP where equity is a top priority, the days of streaming are slowly dying down. Streaming isn’t the end game for how music will be consumed by listeners - it’s an intermediary. We are in the most disruptive time in music since the transition from CDs to Napster to streaming services.
In that transition, we watched the value of music plummet to almost nothing. Analog dollars evaporated into digital cents in just a few years. For almost two decades, consumers were unwilling to pay for music anymore because it became devalued.
As with any industry, consumer demand changed. Over the past decade, we’ve seen vinyl records come back from the grave. According to RIAA’s Music Revenue Report, there was a 94% increase in vinyl sales in 2021 alone.
Consumers are starting to value music and art again - the recent rise in vinyl and support of NFTs make a compelling case that music isn’t actually worthless. That some consumers are happy to spend $20-1,000 for an album or experience. I certainly am.
And this all ties back to the 1000 true fans theory from Kevin Kelly that says an artist only needs 1,000 true fans who are willing to spend $100 per year to make a living. At the end of the day, this is what you should be striving for as an artist. Listeners on streaming platforms are great but it’s extremely difficult to make a living depending on those checks. The Stem Player is just a larger-scale test of this theory. Identify your superfans and cater to them!
As I mentioned earlier, streaming isn’t the end game for music, it’s just an intermediary. As consumers get more comfortable with spending more money on music, their demands change too. One of the fastest-growing demands in this space is the demand for high-quality, lossless music.
While Spotify has the lion's share of users for music streaming currently, they lack the high-quality content that their customers are demanding. Spotify was supposed to launch Spotify HiFi in 2021 but they can’t even confirm if it will launch in 2022. As a result, Spotify is scrambling to buy up podcasts to retain users and build out their ad platform (and revenue) because they cannot compete with Apple and Amazon in the high-definition music space. I wouldn’t be surprised if their stock continues to tank.
Last year, I predicted that Amazon would overtake Apple Music for music streaming by 2024. I still stand by that.
Apple has been making big moves in this space as well. Apple has put a lot of emphasis on building out a high definition & lossless catalog of music but their twist is that it’s paired with the Dolby Atmos feature on the AirPod Pros. I’d be curious to see what hardware Amazon rolls out to compete.
Interestingly enough, high quality, lossless quality music was Tidal’s angle from the beginning - they just ended up being way ahead of their time.
I know I spiraled far off from Kanye here but everything I said has merit and is part of the larger conversation of the music business.
Come back and reference this piece in 5 years and tell me I’m right.