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TECHNOLOGY MUSIC

Breaking Down Kanye West’s Stem Player Ahead of ‘Donda 2’

Donda 2 will serve as Ye’s first-ever sequel album, and the project is sparking conversations around the relationship between music and technology.

Kanye West, who legally changed his name to Ye in October, is preparing to launch his Future-produced album Donda 2 before a live audience in Miami. The highly hyped lead-up was amplified even more when the Chicago-born rapper announced that he will sidestep traditional streaming platforms and handle its release on his own terms.

Donda 2 will only be available on my own platform, the Stem Player,” the 22-time Grammy winner wrote on Instagram. “Not on Apple, Amazon, Spotify, or YouTube. Today artists get just 12% of the money the industry makes. It’s time to free music from this oppressive system. It’s time to take control and build our own. Go to stemplayer.com now to order.”

Created in partnership by Yeezy Tech and Kano Computing, the Stem Player first surfaced last August — the same month of the original Donda‘s long-awaited arrival.

The Stem Player is just the latest example of Ye’s pioneering efforts throughout his career — in music, fashion, live spectacles, and more. Now that it has officially entered the chat ahead of Donda 2, it’s time to explore his potential influence in technology and the Stem Player’s functionality.

Stem Player, Explained

This audio streaming device allows users to customize how they listen to music. But nothing is ever that simple with Ye. He has built something that will help its users create their own music.

According to Stem’s official website, users will be able to “customize any song.”

All of the features listed on the site are as follows:

  • Control vocals, drums, bass, and samples
  • Isolate parts
  • Add effects
  • 4 channel lossless audio mixing
  • Real-time loop and speed control
  • Tactile effects
  • Save, playback, and download mixes
  • Update content and software

Stems are individual stereo recordings sourced from mixes in a record. The main stems, such as drums, vocals, bass, and melodies, are the foundations of tracks created in digital audio workstations (DAWs), such as Logic, Protools, and Abelton Live.

West’s Stem Player will allow users to control the volume of the stems individually and even wholly drop them off in real-time using custom touch-sensitive light sliders.

Therefore, fans can listen to the acapella, the instrumental, or the thoroughly mixed product of a song. Additionally, users will be able to save their custom-mixed versions of the record.

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Stem Player’s software will download from the device via USB-C connection. As a result, music fans will upload stems within the software, download tracks, add their mixes, and get firmware updates for the device.

In other words, by giving users such creative autonomy, Stem Player could change how music is received across the industry.

Don’t like a verse on a song? Remove it from the track altogether.

Love a beat and wish you could rap over it yourself? Isolate the instrumental stem.

Likewise, the technology will allow recording artists access to isolated vocals of industry giants, allowing them to add them to their tracks.

The benefits aren’t restricted to any individual Stem, either. There is a “community sharing” element that empowers musicians to send their stems to each other — and then use them over any instrumental they want. The vocal, drum, bass, and sample stems are instantly shareable, and as a result, mixed for the ultimate collaborative experience.

The Business of the Stem Player

The Stem Player sells for $200. Purchasers will have access to Donda 2 on Tuesday, Feb. 22 — its teased release date. Currently, the technology is available in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Initially, the steep price tag led music fans to be skeptical of the Stem. However, the reported sales numbers in the first days of its release should quiet the critics.

According to Kanye, the device has already sold over 39k units, with over 4.7 million users on the Stem platform. Supplementary reports confirm that West has earned $2.2 million in sales for the inaugural launch of the hardware in the first 24 hours.

The device is the first piece of tech launched under the Yeezy brand umbrella. Likewise, the product’s success indicates many more technological advances.

Why now?

Ye’s decision to reveal the Stem Player’s exclusive role in Donda 2‘s release comes as his contract with Def Jam Recordings is rumored to have expired. It’s worth noting here that he publicly alleged Universal Music Group, Def Jam’s parent company, “put my album out without my approval” in reference to Donda last August.

When given the opportunity to partner with another influential corporation, Ye passed.

At the screening of his three-part Netflix documentary Jeen-Yuhs earlier this month, as relayed by Billboard at the time, Ye claimed he was offered $100 million by Larry Jackson to “put Donda on Apple,” but he turned down the offer because he wasn’t able to land a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The same day that Ye announced Donda 2 will only be available on his Stem Player, Apple reportedly pulled out of its $2 million sponsorship deal with Ye:

But Ye is presumably unfazed, based on what he said at the Jeen-Yuhs screening: “It’s not about the money, though; it’s about our power and our respect collectively.”

With this new chapter, we will watch in real time as Ye experiences the aftermath of his decision to take complete ownership over the production and reception of his music — a sentiment he reiterated in a press release.

If Ye’s untraditional release of Donda set any precedent— it became Spotify’s most-streamed album within any 24-hour period in 2021 at the time — Donda 2 and Stem Player are about to set the world on fire.

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