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How Kanye West is Building ‘Donda’ in Public

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Kanye West at his Donda listening party (via Getty/Kevin Mazur)

by Dan Runcie

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Last week Thursday, Kanye West hosted a ‘Donda’ album listening party for 40,000+ fans at the Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. He hasn’t dropped the album yet and has reportedly rented out space in the football stadium until the album is done. The new release date is August 6.

The irony of influence. Kanye sold 40,000+ tickets for this event on three days’ notice. Tickets were $20 or $50. He gave away around 5,000 seats, but still, he likely made at least $1 million from paid tickets. Plus merch sales. Plus the record-breaking Apple Music livestream. And all he did was press play and walk around the stadium. Only a handful of artists can pull this off.

Despite the impressive numbers, Kanye likely lost money or broke even at best. It probably costs around $1.5 million to rent Mercedes-Benz Stadium, plus any production and event costs. But this is the same guy who went into $53 million of debt to bring his visions to life. He never lets money compromise art.

Plus, Kanye has to pay for space he rented in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium until the album is done. His line “last week I was in my other other Benz,” has a whole new meaning.

The business model of Kanye West. Donda’s release, rollout, and delay feel similar to past releases. 2016’s The Life of Pablo’s rollout is remembered for both its epic Yeezy Season 3 fashion show listening party at Madison Square Garden and its botched release on Tidal. Kanye could have earned much more money had he stuck to his original release plan to sell it as a download. But his focus on the Yeezy collab helped fuel an apparel brand that made him a billionaire.

Similarly, Kanye’s Hawai’i recording sessions for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy weren’t cheap. Hawai’i is expensive AF. But the end product is widely considered the greatest album of the 2010s, and the footage from those Hawai’i sessions likely helped Kanye sell a documentary to Netflix for $30 million.

Music is a loss leader for many superstar artists but Kanye is on another level.

Building in public. Over the weekend, Jermaine Dupri defended Kanye’s delays with a reminder of how listening parties work. “you play the music and [gauge] what you got by the reactions, then prioritize by the best reaction and fix where the response was weak.”

Kanye shared songs he finished hours before the event. He had lyrics referencing Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who just won the NBA title last week Tuesday.

This isn’t his first time doing this. Three weeks after The Life of Pablo was released, he continued to tweak the album and add new tracks. He turned his album into a SaaS product. I still think about his tweet “Ima fix wolves” tweet whenever I hear the song.

He builds in public, like a writer who tests out ideas for a future article in a Twitter post, or an indie artist who invites Twitch subscribers to a private livestream. The only difference is that Kanye builds in public at a much larger scale. He rents out the biggest venue possible in hip-hop’s most influential city. That’s the Kanye West experience.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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