Last Thursday, Kanye West assembled a crowd of believers and journalists at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to preview his 10th album, Donda. It was a confusing but on-brand spectacle meant to preface the album’s release the following day. However, the album never showed up, and rumor has it West is still lurking the halls of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to this day, because he lives there now.
In a dispatch to quell anxious fans, artist and Kanye West associate Theophilus London said on Instagram that Donda could hit digital streaming platforms (DSPs) as soon as July 24 (it did not come out on July 24) and mentioned that Kanye West is “the only artist who can turn in his album to DSP's 1 hour before it's released.”
This short lead time is an interesting display of Kanye West’s influence, though it’s not even the most interesting one he’s put on this month—that would have to be moving into a sports arena. But still, how quickly could Donda—or any other record, for that matter—actually hit streaming services after it’s finished? The answer depends on who you ask, and who you are.
A source familiar with Apple Music said that an album can be streaming on Apple’s platform as soon as thirty minutes after a distributor, such as TuneCore or DistroKid, provides the final version. When an album is complete, artists and record labels often use these services to upload their music, and then the distributor (like DistroKid) provides the album to all the desired streaming platforms. These multi-platform services are especially convenient when administering last-minute tweaks everywhere that the music already exists—for example, if Kanye wanted to fix “Wolves” again.
This process works a lot more quickly if you’re an artist of his level, too. Small record labels, like Chicago-based Born Yesterday Records, said they cannot expect such quick turnaround times when submitting a mixed and mastered album to DSPs. The label’s lead times are often measured in weeks and months, not hours. But for all their faults, the process of getting music onto Spotify and Apple is relatively painless.
“I think Spotify, Apple, and all the big streaming services are super-duper evil tech companies that are siphoning money out of the hands of musicians and small labels,” said Born Yesterday co-owner Greg Obis. “But I think that the way that they handle getting stuff onto their platforms has become more accessible.”
The prospect of hearing an album an hour after its completion is baffling when considering the vinyl supply chain right now. Vinyl presses are struggling to meet an unprecedented consumer demand and big-box retailers like Target and Wal-Mart entering the space. For LPs, Obis said, Born Yesterday expects a 10-month turnaround.
Obis could not imagine getting a Born Yesterday record onto streaming services within an hour—he usually budgets for a month, using DistroKid as the distributor. It’s likely that larger artists and labels, Obis said, have personal relationships with people who represent the DSPs, to ensure a smooth and timely delivery with shorter lead times (Apple Music and Spotify did not respond to requests for comment.)
Even if listeners can hear an album an hour after it’s been completed, maybe it’s worth waiting longer. Anyone who has made a cheeseburger from scratch can attest to the amount of time and prep that goes into the prep, cooking, and assembly, only for the final product to be devoured over a kitchen sink in just a few seconds, followed by a regret that it was not savored mindfully. Hastily uploaded albums can also sometimes contain errors, Obis noted, like the eight seconds of static contained on the Canadian version of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album on iTunes.
Either way, it appears that Theophilus London is correct, Kanye West could have his album on DSPs within an hour of its completion, as long as he is an important and influential artist like Kanye West.
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