Drake and Jay Z are among the most successful musicians year after year. Between them, they earned $92 million in 2016 while making the list of Forbes highest-paid musicians, adding to the nearly $97 million they pulled down in 2015, and $93 million in 2014. Drake’s 2016 album Views was a gigantic commercial success (which is saying something in the era of the single), and he gets the most streams of any artist on Spotify. Recently both made the news for two different reasons: on March 6, Jay Z launched a venture capital firm, Arrive, to invest in startups. On March 18, Drake released a 22-song playlist, More Life, that promptly broke two Spotify streaming records and one Apple Music streaming record. Drake and Jay Z demonstrate how the new music moguls are defining success for the recording industry. On the one hand, Drake illustrates why artists need to hustle their songs constantly in an on-demand economy. And Jay Z understands why musicians — even the elite — need to build personal brands that transcend music.
Drake: Hustle Your Music
Drake knows that making music inaccessible doesn’t work in the on-demand economy. You can’t expect fans to buy your albums to find hidden gems of songs that reward patient listening the way Led Zeppelin used to do in the glory years of album oriented rock. As Brian Solis once noted, attention is a currency to earn and spend. And attention, while difficult to earn, is easily spent. Keeping anyone’s attention is increasingly difficult at a time when Americans own four devices on average and toggle their way through a sea of websites, apps, games, and other distractions that compete for our time. So Drake distributes music liberally, dropping multiple songs like attention bombs as he did with More Life, Views in 2016, and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in 2015 (along with a short film for good measure). He doesn’t expect his fans to wait for a new album to hear his new songs — he maintains a constant hum of activity through his music, supported by a strong social media presence.
As Dan Rys of Billboard noted, “Unlike superstars for whom every move is an event, Drake keeps his activity at a constant simmer, peaking at strategic moments.” As a result, he is one of the few artists in the Forbes list who made the bulk of his money in 2016 from music sales.
Even Beyoncé, whose every album is an event, keeps our attention by releasing a barrage of videos to support her albums. Artists need to feed a content stream to keep their names visible. As music pundit and consultant Cortney Harding once told me, “Albums take a very long time to make, and artists can’t remain silent in between album releases, especially when everyone else is releasing a steady stream of content on YouTube. If you want to release an album a year from now, you need to release a song a month and content between songs rather than remain quiet and expect fans to wait for the big release day.”
For Drake, every day is release day.
Jay Z: All Business, Man
Jay Z has always known his brand is bigger than music. Even as his star was ascending as a rapper in the 1990s, he was creating business ventures. In 1996, Jay Z cofounded of Roc-A-Fella Records, and then a few years later cofounded Rocawear clothing line. He Jay Z operates businesses such as his entertainment company Roc Nation and Armand de Brignac champagne (which he acquired in 2014). As he put it, “I’m not a business man, I’m a business, man.” (Ironically the one venture that he’s apparently not mastered is streaming. His Tidal streaming service has famously struggled.)
In 2016, he released no new music, and he didn’t tour. And yet he earned $53.5 million as he cashed in on his many business ventures. His latest, Arrive, will invest in early-stage startups and provide support ranging from marketing to business development. Part of Roc Nation, Arrive will apply Roc Nation’s entertainment management experience to support entrepreneurs (and that experience is considerable, as Roc Nation works with the likes of J. Cole and Rihanna.) Arrive will apparently not restrict itself to entertainment startups.
Jay Z has also proven to be an innovative business operator with his music. For instance, in 2013, he signed an intriguing deal with Samsung to distribute one million copies of his Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album through a special app exclusively on Samsung phones before the album went on sale publicly. Samsung reportedly paid $5 for every album, meaning Magna Carta Holy Grail sold $5 million before a consumer purchased a single copy.
As I noted in my ebook The New Music Moguls, the successful moguls who regularly make the Forbes list of highest-paid musicians build their audience through recorded music, but make their real money elsewhere, whether from touring, endorsing products, or investing in businesses. Dr. Dre may have earned his reputation as a rapper, but he earned his biggest payday, $620 million, through his stake in Beats Electronics. Diddy is worth hundreds of millions of dollars because of his branding deals with Cirac vodka and Aquahydrate. The list of celebrities as business brands goes on and on: Katy Perry (who has cobranded music with H&M), Luke Bryan (who endorses Miller Lite), Rihanna (who has her own footwear line with Puma), and Taylor Swift (who earned $170 million in 2016 through touring and via deals with Keds, Diet Coke, and Apple). Oh, and Drake hedged his bets through branding relationships with Apple, Nike, and Sprint. They all realize that recorded music is a launching pad, not an end unto itself.
The days of consumers rushing out to buy recorded music are over. We’re streaming songs, discovering music through ads, apps like Snapchat, and many other platforms that didn’t exist before digital. But music no longer engages our hearts. Music captures a fraction of our attention at best. The new music moguls grab our attention through their music and turn attention into money through their personal brands.