Prince Rogers Nelson departed our realm on April 21st, 2016. Departed, yes. Dead, never! We lost something more than an artist. We lost the sound, the theme song, of a generation. He was a relentless artist and warrior for freedom of expression, his expression, which so many embraced but could never copy. Prince was unlike any other and to him I say; “Nothing Compares 2 U!”
But the Prince we loved enjoyed was not one we knew very well. That was his choice and his right. Prince was a business man and he understood the music industry and he hated it.
Prince fought an epic battle with his recording company whom he labeled “slave masters.” His anger was so deep that he wrote the word “Slave” on his face and refused to use the name Prince. He became simply, “The Artist.”
And along came the Internet and the fight was on! Prince did not go to war with Warner Bros., and win, to become a slave to the Internet. It was his music, he owned it and he was not about to give it away to anybody.
“I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else,” said Prince. “They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”
When it came to his music and the Internet Prince was all business. He once sued 22 fans for $22 million dollars for sharing his music and recordings of his live performances online. The Purple One was not playing around.
Prince’s aggressiveness and penchant for take-down notices earned him a “Lifetime Aggrievement Award” from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for his efforts in “silencing speech.”
But Prince was not the enemy of free speech or technology. Instead he was the protector of his name, his music and his legal ownership of it. He, like many musicians, felt the technology, the Internet in particular, was robbing them of their rightful income and royalties for the music they created. It was the reason that rap mogul Jay-Z founded Tidal music streaming service. Jay-Z re-launched Tidal this year and offers artists a greater slice of the pie for the use of their music. Tidal is only music streaming service that can offer Prince’s music legally. Prince praised Jay Z for creating Tidal, telling a group of journalists, “We have to show support for artists who are trying to own things for themselves.”
In a 2010 interview Prince boldly declared “the Internet is over!” But that does not mean he was against technology. His relationship with technology was misunderstood. Prince embraced digital distribution.
Prince set recording industry precedent in 1994 by releasing Interactive, a CD-ROM that contained unreleased music, interviews, a video game, and a virtual tour. In 1997, Prince released Crystal Ball, a five-CD box set of outtakes and rare cuts exclusively through a website or by calling 1-800-NEW-FUNK. In 2001 Prince unveiled NPG Music Club, a monthly subscription service by which fans could get exclusive Prince content. NPG won Prince a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
Prince was about his music. Many people believed he hated the Internet. That is not completely true. What he hated was the fact that his work, his artistry, was being stolen and the Internet was the tool used to do it. Prince went after bootleggers, bloggers, YouTube and anyone who dared to use his artwork without fair compensation. It was not a war against technology. It was about getting paid fairly. And he was not alone. There are hundreds of other artists who feel the same and are still fighting to keep their work under their control.
Prince was great beyond music. He understood what technology was doing to musicians and he fought like hell to change things. For himself he won the battle. But the war wages on.