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Scoopity Data

On April 27th, Kanye West tweeted to his 28 million followers: “lift yourself”, followed by a link to his website. There, a playable file titled “LIFT YOURSELF MASTER…” sat available for free streaming. The song? A sample of Amnesty’s 1973 hit Liberty over which Kanye rambles “poopity scoop, scoopity poop…”.

Nice troll, Yeezy.

On the surface, this seems just another rickroll from the champion of controversial marketing himself. But considered in context of the crippling closed-door data sharing policies held by streaming services, Kanye’s troll might just be a mastermind play in gathering valuable information about his listeners.

How? The answer lies in Google’s freemium Google Analytics, an embeddable piece of code that provides website owners information about their visitors. The kind of information Google Analytics provides about site visitors includes where they’re from, how they found the site, how long they stayed, and who came back, to scratch the surface.

By releasing Lift Yourself exclusively on his website, Kanye drove millions of listeners onto his own platform, and away from the streaming services (also called DSPs, or digital service providers) who remain coy about sharing listener data with artists and labels.

In most other markets, access to this kind of information is a given. When customers shop either in-store or online at J. Crew, for example, they provide a range of personal information to the retailer including contact info, age and gender, and clothing style preference. J. Crew uses this information to tailor a more personalized experience for shoppers through value-add features such as email notifications on sales, related products, customer loyalty programs, and so on.

This is beneficial for all parties: sellers improve customer acquisition and retention rates, and customers gain an accessible, personally curated path to purchase their favorite products. This model is employed in most B2C sectors today.

When fans stream music, DSPs gather a similar data set on listeners, and use it to formulate tailored playlists and recommendations based on those user’s music preferences, but that’s as far as it goes. The artists, the labels—the content creators and rights holders who actually own the music—are denied access to this data.

This is a pressing problem in the music industry, because artists don’t know what their most valuable fans look like. When Drake looks at his streams, he can’t decipher the superfan—the kid who’s streamed God’s Plan 1,000 times, bought every last memorabilia, and dished on VIP meet-and-greet tickets—from a group of 1,000 people who heard his song on Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist once. And that means that finding a product-market fit, even for the most successful artists in today’s landscape, is still a crapshoot.

This is the problem music tech firms like United Masters are trying to solve, (with help from $70m in funding from Alphabet, Inc.) But Kanye may have just beaten them to it.  By driving listeners direct-to-website, Kanye gained first-party access to listener data normally exclusive to DSPs. And you can bet that this data will come in use when he begins promoting his new album, marketing his new line of Yeezy merch, and mapping his world tour.

Mindless troll, or data innovator? (Probably the first, but still.)