Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Kanye West’s Technological Gamble

Ian Kar, Quartz:

The Life of Pablo isn’t available in stores. West has tweeted that he doesn’t plan on selling physical copies. He’s also opted to elude Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music and iTunes. Instead, it’s available only on Tidal, the streaming service he co-owns with other major music artists like Jay-Z, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj. (West briefly made it available for purchase on kanyewest.com, but took it down shortly afterward, directing users to Tidal instead.) […]

Very few artists have the power to restrict a release to only one platform in the age of streaming music. And plenty of people illegally downloaded The Life of Pablo. But overall, West’s strategy seems to have paid off. Tidal has soared up the App Store charts since the album was uploaded at 3 AM on Feb. 13 and peaked at number 1. (It was back down to 178 as of March 18.)

As far as I can tell, Tidal hasn’t reported active user statistics since the release of West’s new album; if the strategy had “paid off” to the extent that Kar seems to think it has, wouldn’t they be gloating about its overwhelming success? And how many of those users will stick around after the trial period ends, and the new album lustre fades?

Here’s what I think is fascinating about this article, though:

And weeks after the initial release, West is still tinkering with his album. He’s changed lines around in some songs and altered the production on others. He even dramatically changed one song, “Wolves,” in response to critiques from fans who missed the guest vocals from an earlier version of the track, released back in Feb. 2015.

The products of artistic expression — whether they be paintings, sculptures, or albums — have long been rooted in an era of an absolute sense of completeness. That is, the artist will produce something that is to be fixed in a medium as a “finished” product. The work of Nicolas Bourriaud in Relational Aesthetics has changed this viewpoint somewhat within the visual arts, but musical albums — particularly big, mainstream releases — haven’t seen a similar treatment until now. It’s West using the medium as a facilitator for his artistic goals, and I think that’s terrific.

Then again, the latest version of the album still has “Facts” on it, which is unforgivably bad.

One more quote from the article:

Meanwhile, West has used his Twitter account as a way to directly communicate with his fans and lift the veil on his artistic process. He’s tweeted extensively about changing the album’s name, adding tracks, and cutting others, all while posting hand-drawn illustrations of his collaborators and photos from the studio.

If West had jumped in with Apple Music instead of Tidal, do you think he would be doing this on Connect instead of Twitter? I have my doubts.