Entertaining Business: Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift

by March 20, 2015
via Wikimedia.org user Jørund Føreland Pedersen

Kendrick Lamar’s newest release streamed online late last Sunday night. (Photo via Wikimedia.org user Jørund Føreland Pedersen)

Taylor Swift doesn’t keep her admiration for west coast rap star Kendrick Lamar a secret. When his album dropped on streaming services last Sunday, more than a week ahead of schedule, Swift joined millions of others in the collective online excitement:


While Swift is certainly a fan of Lamar’s music, she has no love for the way many others first heard his sophomore album on Monday morning.

By day’s end, “To Pimp a Butterfly” set a record on the streaming service Spotify, from which Swift pulled her music in November. Lamar’s album received 9.6 million listens in 24 hours.

Swift was adamant when she withdrew her recordings from Spotify, saying the free service undervalued albums as an art form.

Lamar, on the other hand, is using the surprise digital release to create more buzz over what was already one of the most anticipated albums of the year, an album he spent a meticulous amount of time crafting.

There are questions surrounding whether the label meant to release the album to digital distributors early. But, mistake or not, surprise drops and record setting releases on streaming services have translated into successful CD sales.


Take Lamar’s rival for hip hop kingship, Drake. His latest album, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” surprised many when it released early on iTunes in February.

It broke Spotify’s record from most streams in a debut week, cracking 17.3 million streams over the first three days and sold just shy of 500,000 copies in its first week.

“If You’re Reading This…” earned the largest number of album sales for an R&B/hip-hop album since Beyonce released her eponymous album in 2013 and sold over 600,000 copies in just three days. Her album was also a surprise release.

Lamar’s latest release holds two major implications for the music industry.

First, the release date is dead. In the internet age, it makes little sense to hold album releases subject to their physical release in stores as CDs become an archaic technology.

The trend is catching on as well. Kanye West is expected to release his latest album this year and has already said that it will be released as a surprise. It also helps artists combat leaks, which has been a problem throughout the industry’s history.

Second, services like Spotify might actually help music. After Swift pulled her music, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek responded that the service could “help fans find music and help artists connect to fans” in a way that fought online piracy and paid musicians for their work.

Lamar spent an extended amount of time working on this album, and many critics have already credited it as an artistic achievement that transcends the industry.

Releasing it to Spotify’s 50 million users around the world does not seem to be hurting its sales either. It is expected to top the Billboard 200 albums chart next week with a projected 325,000 album equivalent units sold by March 22.

Swift has legions of followers and is one of the biggest, richest and most powerful musical artists on the planet right now, pulling in $64 million in 2013. Lamar made $9 million between June 2013 and June 2014, the majority of which came from tour dates, according to Forbes.

Despite the difference, Lamar’s “art-for-art’s-sake” attitude is forming a powerful new business model that few in the industry, like Swift, want to use or believe is sustainable.

Instead of worrying about getting paid each time a song or album is played, its focus is entirely on the product and getting it out to audiences in whatever way they prefer to listen. The money comes later.

In the long run, it might just hurt Swift, who is one of his biggest fans, and her fight against online streaming. Hopefully the two can still be BFFs someday.