It’s no secret at this point that Tidal, the online music streaming platform launched by Jay Z, is the pop culture punch line that keeps on giving. And yet, that hasn’t stopped the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kanye West from dropping albums and videos as exclusive offerings on a platform that only boasts a little more than 1 million subscribers, all of them paid as Tidal offers no sort of free subscription service like rival Spotify, which boasts more than 75 million subscribers.
And yet, despite Tidal’s paltry numbers, the live-stream listening party and reveal of Kanye West’s latest album, The Life of Pablo, saw more than 20 million viewers attempting to watch the stream according to a Tidal press release. This is probably due to a free trial period that Tidal offers, as well as the 60-day free trial that came when Rihanna released a million free digital downloads of her latest album, ANTI. Still, those are huge numbers, and the digital live stream album drop was able to achieve them by tapping into the bored, unfocused minds of the 9-to-5 worker. The Life of Pablo stream took place at 4PM EST, at the middle or end of the workday for most Americans. Even with the time of its release when employees should’ve been, you know, working and the technical difficulties that plagued the stream, 20 million people viewed at least some portion of Kanye’s one-day cultural command of the zeitgeist.
Kanye’s not the first to tap into the bored, unengaged office worker – many publishers and content producers are tailoring their content to be more easily accessible on mobile to catch the wandering, distracted eyes of many workers. It’s a huge audience to tap into, one that takes multiple breaks throughout the day and need devices and the means to take these unrelated work breaks to consume content that doesn’t raise the eyebrows of their bosses.
After all, most office workers are on the Internet at some point during the workday in order to perform their duties and do their job. The catch-22 is that the Internet is the biggest distraction out there, one that we constantly use to procrastinate and do anything rather than be productive. How can anyone expect someone to work straight for eight hours on the computer without getting distracted by a tweet, a breaking news item or the release of a new album from one of rap’s greatest? It’s impossible. Kanye realized this, and played right into this sort of captive, work audience – and those numbers sure prove that it was a move that paid off in spades.
Recreational activities like listening to music, watching movies and TV or shopping have all been consolidated on the Internet, the thing that most of us use for work. When all of that opportunity is available in one place that we actively have to tap into to be productive and get shit done, is it any wonder that it’s become increasingly difficult to separate work from play? As a purely digital release that’s so far only available on Tidal, The Life of Pablo necessitates that people listen to it on the Internet. When Kanye West launches an album that can only be consumed on the Internet, of course you’re going to get working class people pausing their daily grind to listen to Yeezy spit fire.
While TorrentFreak indicates that The Life of Pablo has been pirated 500,000 times since its release due to it being a Tidal exclusive, Kanye’s release strategy is unique in that buzz and exposure might offset the lack of profitability. No one besides Adele can sell 20 million albums today. So what do you think matters most to Kanye: making money and maybe selling a couple million albums, or creating a cultural event that instantly exposes 20 million people to his art? The answer should be obvious to anyone familiar with Yeezus.