Rapper Ye, formerly Kanye West, announced on Feb. 17 that his new album “Donda 2” would only be accessible through his Stem Player, which is a pocket-sized device that functions like a speaker. In an Instagram post announcing the decision, he reasons that the music industry pays its artists “just 12% of the money the industry makes,” and that “[it’s] time to free music from this oppressive system.”
By billing the Stem Player as a trailblazing product that can remedy the issues with the modern music industry, Ye implies that he hopes for his Stem Player to overtake music streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music. However, that will not happen. In fact, Ye’s decision to attach a hefty $200 price tag to the Stem Player is unbelievably exploitative towards fans. Because of this high entry price, many fans have been discouraged from purchasing it, making it so artists will likely not benefit from releasing their music on the Stem Player, either.
However, Ye does make one point – it’s true that major platforms like Spotify do not pay artists fairly. The UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) department released a report where they concluded that “even successful artists are seeing pitiful returns from streaming” as streaming services pay poor rates and record labels take a disproportionately strong majority of each song’s profits. It’s likely that Ye’s exclusive Stem Player was not motivated by a genuine desire to offer a solution to these problems, but rather a desire to fill his own pockets.
Ye described the Stem Player as “[his] own platform,” and failed to articulate how it would benefit other artists. He hasn’t provided information on if or how artists will receive proceeds from Stem Player sales and streams either. He was quick to point out that the Stem Player garnered over $2.2 million in sales upon its first day of release, though. That’s a lot of money, but Ye also demonstrated that many fans are being priced out — only about 8,000 Stem Players were sold in that timeframe.
There’s millions more people who want to listen to Ye’s music, and the pirating of “Donda 2” has already begun. Tracks from the new album can be found on popular sites like Twitter, Reddit and SoundCloud as well. Evidently, fans don’t want to buy the Stem Player at such an inflated price, and they have no reason to when the same tools and songs can be easily accessible for free. The Stem Player’s low sales and piracy issues have already proven that it is not the groundbreaking product Ye built it up to be.
In his initial announcement of the Stem Player, Ye also proclaimed that “[it’s] time to take control” of the music industry that is admittedly stacked against artists. According to Ye, the release of “Donda 2” on his Stem Player was supposed to be a landmark event, yet he fell far below his own call to meet the moment. As of publication, he has released many tracks from “Donda 2” on the Stem Player, and fans rightfully criticized him as many songs sound unfinished. Ye is no stranger to revising his work — his 2016 album “The Life of Pablo” was updated several times after its release until Aug. 2018. It’s bad enough to release an unfinished project, but Ye is disrespecting his fans by pushing them to pay $200 for an incomplete album. The Stem Player can also perform remarkable functions like isolating the vocals of any given track and giving users the capability to remix songs. It might be worthwhile for some fans, but overall, it’s not going to revolutionize the music industry like Ye wants it to.
Ye’s promotion of his Stem Player came in the midst of an incredibly disturbing barrage of — now-mostly deleted — harassment and threats publicly directed towards comedian Pete Davidson. Ye has a massive platform and influence, and he continues to misuse it. If he can drive Davidson off of Instagram, he can make real progress towards shifting the power back to the artists without overcharging fans, like by promoting more reasonable streaming services like Bandcamp.
Bandcamp is built on the premise of justly compensating artists for their work, paying artists or their labels around “80-85%” of their proceeds. Fans generally have to pay around $2 per track, with more value added in purchasing a full album. It’s a relatively small price to pay to directly support one’s favorite artists, especially in comparison to the $200 Stem Player whose benefits for other artists have yet to be established. However, “Donda 2” should not be released on Bandcamp for the same reason it should not be released on the Stem Player — Ye doesn’t need to take his fanbase’s money. If Ye wants to make substantial change while doing what’s best for his fans, he should endorse platforms like Bandcamp and make “Donda 2” accessible to everybody by putting it on major music streaming platforms as he did with the first “Donda.” Ultimately, it’s clear that Ye’s Stem Player is nothing more than a cash grab which Ye is falsely representing as a useful product and a show of his noble intentions.
It is atrocious that Ye chooses to engage in such harmful behavior and is disingenuously promoting his Stem Player to capitalize on the media frenzy that he’s created. As Ye would say, “no one man should have all that power,” and especially not a man such as himself who uses his status for destructive and selfish means instead of for the greater good.
Daniel Waters is an Opinion Intern for the 2022 winter quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.