Once again, Kanye West is trying to make money off of DONDA before actually releasing the album. Today, West's official website announced the sale of the DONDA Stem Player, a device allowing users to tinker with his album to their hearts' content.
For $200, the DONDA Stem Player will allow users to customize any song by isolating individual sections of songs, adding effects, controlling the bass, vocals, bass, drums and samples, splitting any songs into stems. If you've ever seen a video of your favorite artist in the studio starting at a computer screen with sound wave files stacked on top of each other like Tetris, those are stems of the song that later congealed into streaming magic. In a way, DONDA Stem Player acts as a portable digital audio workstation (DAW) like Pro-Tools as it allows users to loop sounds in real-time, sample live, and save actual mixes. The specs didn't list any port for people to record natively into the Stem Player using a microphone, so it's a bit more limited than your traditional DAW.
West's audio playground is creative freedom within defined confines. The StemPlayer.com website is where users can upload their own songs; save, share and download their mixes; and get new official content, precluding the ability to simply connect your Stem Player to your laptop and directly extract audio. You also have to be 18 or older in order to use the website. If you're thinking of making money off of your DONDA remixes, you might want to read the fine print to avoid a lawsuit. The Terms of Service on the website stipulate all audio clips and digital downloads are property of the seller, who in this case is West, and are protected by national and international laws protecting intellectual property. The site also stipulates one user can only purchase up to three DONDA Stem Players, presumably in an attempt to curtail resellers from buying up their inventory of devices and reselling for exorbitant prices as they do with anything West sells.
The DONDA Stem Player is as ambitious as it is mysterious. The FAQ section of the website says the device will ship "this summer" before instructing users to check back later for more info. It does also state U.S. customers should receive their devices within two business days of it being shipped. But, with summer officially ending on September 22, that could mean receiving it next week, next month or never.
Now, why would a meticulous genius like Kanye West allow people to edit an album he's shed blood, sweat and tears on? There are a few very Kanye West reasons. Firstly, making his album essentially an open-source project is a natural progression for an artist who once updated most of the songs on his 2016 Life of Pablo album a month after it was released. Also, turning the listening experience into a collaborative one — which many say he has already begun with the DONDA listening parties this summer — can infinitely extend the replay value of the album via the stream of remixes from fans. Secondly, the site says the album will be shipped with the DONDA album, which could help increase the album's sales. However, due to Billboard's new merchandise bundle rules, West would need to sell the Stem Player separate of the album for the bundle sales to count towards his album sales. Lastly, the Stem Player could be his next business venture as he can potentially license the player to record labels and other artists for them to use with their own albums.
Whatever the reasons, the announcement of the DONDA Stem Player a day before West's third album listening, this time at Chicago's Soldier Field Stadium, is a good sign we may actually get our ears on the most anticipated album of 2021 outside of West's rival Drake's Certified Lover Boy.