When Kanye West launched his latest album, the focus was on his protective approach to distribution. He vowed that The Life of Pablo would never be part of the Apple ecosystem, and instead has made it an exclusive to Tidal. This strategy was controversial at best, especially given the immediate wave of piracy the title faced. But in the weeks following the official release, West has been less obviously changing how his fans perceive the very idea of an album in the streaming age.
That’s because the album that debuted on Tidal last month is not what a listener will hear today. West has been uploading ongoing changes and tweaks to that original album, making it a dynamic creation. For instance, on March 15th, he tweeted that he was “fixing” the track “Wolves” after three weeks of work on it. He has also added a new song to the tracklist since the release.
After paring away the drama of Kanye West’s performer persona and the public’s reaction to it, the idea of an evolving, changing album is one that reflects the shift to streaming and away from traditional sales.
In the sales-based model, a release is static. Once it’s out in the world, it doesn’t change. The only way to make alterations would be in an expensive re-release, or maybe with a second, deluxe version that includes extra content.
West’s approach also encourages more listens. If the songs might be a little different each time, fans will want to keep checking back to hear how it transforms. That’s a way to maintain engagement, which is crucial for success when a performer or songwriter is paid by the listen.
Given the many thinkpieces bemoaning the end of the album and criticizing the popularity of streaming, it’s refreshing to see an artist willing to adapt to the changing market. Not only will West’s attitude hopefully help him see financial success, but the experimental approach also matches the creative vision he has established.