To most Kanye West fans, the prolonged rollout for his 10th solo album, Donda, is yet another example of how the artist’s legendary perfectionism can complicate his career. As West continues to tinker in the studio, however, the ticketed in-person and livestreamed listening parties he has been hosting have been raking in the dough.
On July 22, West filled Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium with 42,000 fans who paid between $25 to $100 a ticket for a Donda listening party, supervised by Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia. (Days before, a new Beats by Dre commercial that aired during the NBA Finals had teased the Donda track “No Child Left Behind.”) The party was livestreamed for free by Apple Music with the idea that West’s album would drop the next day — which it didn’t. Instead, two weeks later, West held another event that featured an updated version of the album, broke Apple Music livestream records with 5.4 million viewers and drove about $7 million in in-person merchandise sales, sources close to West say. Still no album. Now, West is planning to hold what he says is the last listening party on Aug. 26 at Chicago’s Soldier Field, after which he says the album will finally be released.
It’s hard to say for sure when Donda will come out, or how different it will be from the music West played at these parties. In the meantime, however, West’s decisions — or rather his indecisions — are paying off. The listening parties in Atlanta grossed between $1.5 million and $2.7 million apiece for the rapper, Billboard estimates. (The shows did not report sales to Billboard Boxscore.) Meanwhile, all of the attention has driven interest in West’s catalog: In the 22-day period between July 19 and Aug. 9, on-demand U.S. streams of his music rose 37% over the previous 22-day period, according to MRC Data, generating an additional $350,000 in income on top of what the prior period had brought in, Billboard estimates.
West also has a deal with Apple Music that will let the company stream the listening events again once Donda comes out, a source close to the situation says, one of several elements that seem to stem from the agreement to livestream the listening parties and include the Beats By Dre ad. Apple has a history of investing in partnerships with artists, including a reported $25 million deal that included the rights to a documentary about Billie Eilish and a reported $19 million deal for Drake that included commercials and a film project.
But in West’s case, it’s possible that a significant portion of Apple’s investment went to marketing, including the high-profile Beats commercial, rather than a direct payment. (Chance The Rapper has said that the deal he made with Apple to release his 2016 mixtape Coloring Book exclusively on Apple Music for two weeks was for $500,000 and a commercial.) Indeed, West’s ad for Beats By Dre — which is owned by Apple — aired during game six of the NBA Finals, which averaged 12.52 million viewers, according to the NBA, a 50% increase over the same game last year — and a massive platform on which to announce an album and premiere a new song.
“An A-level artist like Kanye could demand a multi-million-dollar deal, or a guaranteed marketing spend to promote the spot,” says one brand marketing executive, noting that often deals of that magnitude involve multiple deliverables. “It’s either about generating revenue to help support the album release, or to cover expenses. But a lot of people don’t realize that A-level artists will do deals for very little money if there’s a massive marketing commitment. It’s not always about the dollar, it’s about the promotion.”
West, however, seems to have figured out a way to make it about both.