Kanye West has pushed back the release date of Donda, his allegedly forthcoming album, at least four times. But he’s given his most fervent followers a chance to hear the work in progress. On July 22 and August 5, he hosted two sold-out listening parties at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where, under a spotlight in the center of the arena floor, he stood, sat, danced, did push-ups, and levitated while Donda blared from the loudspeakers. He’s hosting another one at Chicago’s Soldier Field on August 26; as soon as it’s over, he’ll finally drop Donda, his manager insists.
Kanye has drawn more than 40,000 attendees to each of his listening parties so far, and his upcoming event at Soldier Field, which is operating at a reduced capacity of 38,000, is nearly sold out. Kanye also hawked merch at his Atlanta events, including $120 long-sleeve T-shirts and $300 bulletproof vests, and he’ll presumably do so again in Chicago.
Ticketed listening parties aren’t just a way for Kanye to control the narrative around his delayed album, and they’re not just a novel form of promotion. They're a business enterprise in and of themselves—and given the size of these things, it seems like Kanye is probably making a killing off of them. But how much money are we talking here?
Kanye himself hasn’t said how much he’s earned from these events, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium hasn’t disclosed how much revenue the shows generated. (Neither of their representatives responded to requests for comment.) But there’s enough publicly available information about Kanye’s ticket and merch sales to venture an educated guess as to how much cash, hypothetically speaking, he might have raked in.
To help us fine-tune that guess, VICE called up Erwin Schemankewitz, the owner of the Colorado-based touring company EverUpward Entertainment, who’s worked as an artist manager and booking agent for more than a decade. Together, we did some back-of-the-envelope math—based on industry-standard profit splits on ticket sales, merch, and concessions—to estimate how much money Kanye might have earned from his listening parties.
How much money could Kanye make from ticket sales?
Ticket sales are the most complicated part of live-event revenue to explain, so let’s start there.
Kanye sold about 40,000 general admission tickets to his July 22 listening party, and an unknown number of VIP tickets. It’s difficult to speculate on how much Kanye may have made from VIP tickets—which, to put it as simply as possible, gave celebrities and other rich people access to fancy boxes for an undisclosed sum—but we do know how general admission tickets were priced. So for simplicity’s sake, let’s put VIP tickets aside and just focus on the general admission tickets Kanye sold, which were offered at two price points: $20 and $50. Call it an average ticket price of $35. Knowing that, it becomes fairly simple to estimate Kanye’s gross ticket sales: 40,000 tickets at $35 a pop would add up to $1.4 million gross.
Of course, not all of that money would go to Kanye. First, Mercedes-Benz Stadium would subtract all of the expenses involved in putting on Kanye’s show. That would include covering the cost of security, ushers and other venue staff, lighting operators, sound technicians, stagehands, and taxes, among other things, Schemankewitz said. All told, those deductions would likely amount to about 30 percent of Kanye’s gross ticket sales, according to Schemankewitz—or roughly $420,000. After Mercedes-Benz subtracted that from gross ticket sales, net revenue from Kanye’s listening party would stand at $980,000.
At this stage, Kanye and Mercedes-Benz would arrive at what Schemankewitz called the “split point,” which is what it sounds like: the point at which artist and venue split up the money they made. Typically, that money gets split 70/30, with the larger chunk going to the artist, he said.
In the case of his July 22 show, Kanye would keep 70 percent of the $980,000 net, which is $686,000. But Kanye wouldn’t walk away with the entirety of that sum, either, Schemankewitz said.
Instead, he would first have to cover his own costs. He’d pay about 15 percent of his earnings to his manager, another 15 percent to his agent, and about 20 percent to his crew: his production manager, choreographer, stage crew, sound engineers, dancers, and other staff. Ultimately, Schemankewitz estimated that Kanye would spend about half of his net revenue on expenses, and keep the other half for himself—walking away with a total profit, hypothetically, of about $343,000.
For someone worth an estimated $1.8 billion, that might seem like peanuts. But Kanye wouldn’t make the bulk of his money from ticket sales, Schemankewitz said. He’d make it from merch.
How much money could Kanye make from merch?
Typically, artists take home more money from merch than ticket sales because there are lower expenses and fewer splits involved, Schemankewitz said. But estimating Kanye’s merch proceeds isn’t dumb simple: Unfortunately, we’re still going to have to subject you to some more speculative math.
According to Billboard, Kanye made $7 million gross from in-person merch sales at his August 5 listening party. Typically, artists and venues split merch revenue 70/30, Schemankewitz said. In the case of Kanye’s August 5 show, after Mercedes-Benz took its cut, Kanye would be left with around $4.9 million.
According to Schemankewitz, Kanye’s manager would keep roughly 15 percent of that sum, which would leave Kanye with around $4.165 million. Schemankewitz said all of that money would go to Kanye, plain and simple.
Still, you’d have to account for the cost of manufacturing merch, he said—even if, compared putting on a show, merch expenses tend to be pretty low.
“The cost of producing a long-sleeve shirt has got to be, like, ten to twelve bucks,” Schemankewitz said, alluding to the $120 long-sleeve tees Kanye sold at his listening parties. “It's got to be like a 90 percent margin.”
Assuming, conservatively, that Kanye is selling his merch at an 80 percent margin, he’d still be making a killing: A total profit of $3.332 million, based on our (hypothetical) calculations.
What about the concessions?
Though folks made a big fuss about the $40 hotdogs, $50 chicken tenders, and $65 snack baskets attendees were purportedly forced to buy at Mercedes-Benz if they wanted something to eat, a rep for the arena clarified that those items were only sold to guests in VIP suites. Everyone else was able to purchase reasonably priced concessions, including $1.50 hotdogs, $5 beers, and $3 nachos, the rep told Hypebeast. But as far as Kanye’s profits are concerned, that’s ultimately a moot point: Artists don’t get a cut of concession sales at their live events, Schemankewitz told VICE. Instead, all of that money goes to the venue.
So how much did Kanye probably make in total?
When it comes to his first listening party, answering that question is pretty straightforward, at least hypothetically. Let’s assume he made the same amount in merch sales on July 22 as he did on August 5: $3.332 million. Add to that sum his hypothetical profit from ticket sales ($343,000), and you’ve got your total: $3.675 million in profit, all told.
On August 5, the second listening, he probably made a bit more. Yet again, Kanye sold about 40,000 tickets, but he charged between $30 and $75 for them. If we assume an average ticket price of $52.50 (the mean of $30 and $75), his gross ticket sales might come out to as much as $2.1 million.
As noted at the top of this story, Mercedes-Benz would deduct expenses, then split what’s left over with Kanye 70/30. Kanye would pay out half of his cut to his agent, manager, and crew, ultimately leaving him with something like $514,500, per our calculations. Add that figure to his August 5 merch profits ($3.332 million), and you have a total profit: $3.846 million.
Add that sum to his total profit from his July 22 listening party ($3.675 million), and you’ve got his total profit from the two shows combined: $7.521 million.
It’s important to note that that figure—like every figure in this story—is a rough, ballpark estimate. There’s also a chance a superstar like Kanye might have contracts that differ from industry standard. But according to Schemankewitz, Kanye likely walked away from his listening parties with a chunk of money close to that total.
Why does any of this matter?
There’s a lot that’s been said, and said well, about the artistic value of Kanye’s listening parties: Letting fans hear his unfinished record offers them an unprecedented, firsthand look into his creative process, and his performances themselves are otherworldly experiences.
But the fiscal value of these listening parties is important, too—not just for Kanye, but for any artist with a loyal, passionate fanbase. He’s charted a course for artists to create two money-making opportunities out of one album: Hosting a handful of exclusive, ticketed listening parties before its release, and touring on it once it comes out. At a time when most artists earn a pittance from streaming services and rely heavily on shows to make a living, listening parties could provide them with a much-needed financial bump.
Obviously, not every artist who wants to follow in Kanye’s footsteps would be able to make millions of dollars from merch and ticket sales. But most artists wouldn’t be chasing an extravagant, seven-figure payday.
“You don't have to sell out two 40,000-person events for this to be a viable thing,” Schemankewitz said.
Update (8/25): Kanye's listening party at Soldier Field is capped at 38,000 attendees, the Chicago Tribune reports. This story has been updated to reflect that fact.
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