The saga of distributing Kanye West’s new album

Life of Pablo clean coverShortly after the launch of Rihanna’s Anti spiked Tidal membership, another of the platform’s artist/owners is experimenting with using it for exclusive access, but with vastly more complicated results.

Kanye West released his new album, The Life of Pablo, to stream exclusively on Tidal and for download exclusively on his own website. He announced the launch with his performance on Saturday Night Live this weekend, which is when the strangeness began. The music didn’t appear online until an hour after the end of the SNL broadcast. Then it was removed from West’s website a few hours later. Listeners reported problems with their credit cards being charged multiple times and with never receiving the promised download.

Sources told Billboard that West changed his mind and took the album down to rework its mastering. Since then, West has been actively tweeting, including the bold statement that Tidal would be the only way to access The Life of Pablo:

Tidal has not weighed in on the ping-pong match of a launch, but the fact that it soared to the top of app store largely based on West’s series of tweets shows just how powerful the platform’s leverage of its artist/owners can be. The one-two punch of Kanye and Rihanna going exclusive on the platform could be a way to get Tidal in front of many more listeners.

But it’s not a sure path to success now. Tidal would need to maintain a steady rate of these exclusives from artists at a similar caliber of stardom to keep subscribers hooked. And at the same time, as with its first wave of exclusive content, its legal team would have to play a continual game of whack-a-mole trying to take down any illegal copies of the music. Although Tidal interest has skyrocketed, the other side of the coin is that the album is already a top hit on torrent sites. That will likely remain a challenge to Tidal and artists on other platforms who look for tight gating of their work.

Anna Washenko