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5 positive lessons every artist can learn from Kanye West’s chaotic Donda launch

Now that Kanye West’s Donda is finally released, there are positive lessons that every artist and label can learn from this chaotic rollout.

The release of Kanye West’s Donda was delayed so many times that fans were literally placing bets on when they’d actually get to hear it. Then when the album finally became available to stream on Sunday morning, West posted that Universal and Def Jam had released it without his permission.

The five-week runup to Sunday’s release included two sold-out 42,000 seat Atlanta stadiums with fans paying $25- $100 for the privilege of hearing unfinished snippets of songs.

That’s a gross of $1.5 million and $2.7 million per show and a third-ticketed “listening event” filled a Chicago stadium.

Fans at the second show and watching online bought a reported $7 million in merchandise.

The livestream broke Apple Music records with 5.4 million viewers. It’s unclear what Apple paid for the privilege of streaming the show. The deal may have netted West millions of dollars or it could have been all about unleashing Apple’s massive music marketing machine.

Lessons learned

West has been sharing Donda details for months and in the 5-6 weeks after his promised release date the frequency and impact of those details intensified.

Herein lies the first lesson that Kanye West’s album rollout can teach every artist:

#1 – Stop focusing on a single Release Day and start planning a many-week release campaign.

While few artists can demand attention the way Kanye West does, his antics and the listener parties focused the attention of his core fanbase who then shared their enthusiasm (and sometimes amusement) on social media.

Fans became Donda’s marketing machine making the second lesson learned from Kanye:

#2 – Engage core fans early.

Over these last weeks and at those listening parties West shared incomplete songs along with mixes full that often turned out to be far from final.

Those teased tracks along with the listening parties and activity on social media gave the fans something to talk about and share with others, which brings us to lesson #3:

#3 – Give fans a reason to tell others.

Even though – and often especially because – the pre-release music that West shared was incomplete, the fans loved it.

The artwork that West shared (above) and said would grace the cover of Donda was also replaced. On Spotify and elsewhere a black box serves as a placeholder while we all await the final artwork.

While some might say that these constant changes are proof of West’s struggle with ADD and likely bipolar disorder, true fans view these preliminary creations as a look at the mind of a genius. T hat’s lesson #4:

#4 – Fans care more about process than perfection.

After Donda was finally released, West claimed that Universal and Def Jam had done it without his permission. And if the past is any indicator, West is likely to replace some of the released tracks with new mixes in the coming days.

That brings us to lesson #5:

#5 – Release day is not the end. Its the beginning.

Ultimately the success or failure of Donda will be measured based on the quality of the music.

Either way Kayne West certainly has our attention.


Bruce Houghton is Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank and serves as a Senior Advisor to Bandsintown which acquired both publications in 2019. He is the Founder and President of the Skyline Artists Agency and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.

Kanye West photo by David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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