Whether you were impressed or not by Kanye West’s decision to tweet photos of his record contracts last month – and his demand to buy back his masters from Universal Music Group – there’s no denying that he got the global music industry talking about the balance of power between artists and labels.
But what if those artists actually owned the music industry?
That was a question left hanging by West’s three-hour interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast on Saturday (October 24).
West explained to Rogan that, when it came to acquiring his masters, he’s now changed his mind, and is instead thinking bigger. How much bigger?
“I’m going to buy Universal.”
That much bigger.
West told Rogan: “I was thinking about buying my masters [but] I realized that was too small of a thought. I’m going to buy Universal.
“[Universal is] only a $33bn organization. I’m one of the greatest product producers that ever existed. And I’m a child; I’m 43 years old. I was $53m in debt four years ago. Now it’s proven that I’m the new Michael Jordan of products.”
This might seem a laughable notion, but is there a teeny speck of a chance that it could actually be possible?
“I’m going to buy Universal… [it’s] only a $33bn organization.”
Kanye West on the Joe Rogan Experience, October 24
West’s suggestion that UMG has a current valuation of $33bn, by and large, is accurate.
Meanwhile, thanks to his successes with products including his Yeezy sneaker empire, West claims to have a current personal net worth of $5bn, alongside an annual personal cash flow of $300m.
He’s also networked with some of the richest people in the world, including the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Could West really raise $33bn after a few quick calls through his phone’s starry contact list? And if so, would Vivendi, not to mention Tencent, take his money?
It’s true that UMG parent Vivendi is not currently opposed to the idea of liquidating stakes in the music company.
Just seven months ago, a consortium led by Chinese giant Tencent acquired a 10% stake in Universal Music Group for $3.3bn.
That same consortium now has the option to acquire a further 10% in Universal before mid-January 2021.
Speaking to investors last Tuesday (October 20), Vivendi CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine said that, in addition to the Tencent consortium deal/s, Vivendi is “pursuing the process of selling additional minority [stakes] in UMG to other partners”.
However, Vivendi also confirmed last week that it intends to take UMG public in the calendar year of 2022.
At this stage, that IPO looks likely to shower Vivendi in serious money.
Commenting on UMG further, West told Joe Rogan: “They have another Steve Jobs, Howard Hughes, Henry Ford, Disney, Elon kind of character within their midst [in Kanye himself], but they are so concerned with the control of the idea of artists.
“They are using me as this artist who has attracted other artists. Also, I used them. I got famous. I made some money, I got to tour.
“I became this superstar, so we used each other. Now there’s just an adjustment that needs to be made in the relationship. I can make and I will make products that will make more money than Universal is worth.”
Elsewhere in the wide ranging Joe Rogan interview, in which West discussed fashion, religion, and his bid for the US presidency, the star said he’s “not at war with the music industry”.
“It’s just time for us to innovate,” he continued. “We need to have contracts that make sense with exactly how we sell music.
“I had 10 contracts that kept on putting me inside a labyrinth. I believe that the distribution partner that the label is, it’s like Price would go and say, ‘We don’t need the distribution partner,’ especially if Prince was alive and thriving in this internet era.”
West added: “I’m not trying to go and eliminate anyone’s job. Record labels are afraid of saying, ‘Okay, We’re going to hand over the distribution completely to you guys.’
“There’s a way where both parties can be happy and these infrastructural partners can be of service to the influencer, to the artist. These deals can be flipped in a way that they are just more fair.”
West further claimed: “At this point, music loses me money. It doesn’t make me money. My $5bn net worth and $300m of cash that I see a year, music is like negative $4m for me.”Music Business Worldwide