Posts Tagged ‘Prince’

With Grammys Near, Will Prince’s Music Make a Big Return?

February 7, 2017

Ben Sisario NY Times.com 2/6/17

At the Grammy Awards next month, the biggest question for fans may be whether Adele or Beyoncé takes home the prize for album of the year. For the music industry at large, however, perhaps an even bigger question is whether the show will finally usher Prince fully into the streaming age.
The Grammys ceremony, on Feb. 12, is the focus of a major marketing campaign set up by the music companies that have rights to release Prince’s songs, and by the streaming services that have been hungry to carry the music but were blocked from doing so by Prince himself before he died last year at 57. (Currently, Prince’s albums are only available on Tidal.)
If all goes according to plan, Prince’s music will be made available on virtually all streaming services around the time of the Grammys, where an all-star musical tribute to Prince is expected to be one of the show’s splashiest moments.
To promote the music’s availability online, Spotify is expected to run a number of promotional spots, including, perhaps, a television ad during the broadcast and a series of online teasers to begin as early as next week, according to several people with direct knowledge of the plans who were not authorized to speak about them. Spotify declined to comment.
But when it comes to managing Prince’s music, nothing is easy.
Despite the eagerness of the music industry to promote Prince’s music online, many issues with the estate remain unresolved. As a result, the plan to offer Prince’s music around the Grammys, first reported by Bloomberg News, remains uncertain and could still fall part, these people said.
“The drivers of what will happen with Prince will be the estate,” said L. Londell McMillan, a lawyer who represented Prince and is one of two experts advising the estate’s administrators on entertainment deals. “When you are looking to release product, you’re looking for the right moments. The Grammys may represent a moment in time, but it’s not certain that that’s going to be the case.”
Here is a look at some of the complications about the estate and the legacy of Prince’s music.
A Complex Estate
Since Prince died without a will, a Minnesota court is overseeing the estate, whose value has been estimated at up to $300 million. Major tasks still need to be completed, like valuing assets and confirming heirs, although the judge overseeing the case has indicated that the heirs will likely include Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, along with five half-siblings.
Those presumptive heirs have split into two camps over the management of the estate. One group, including Ms. Nelson and Omarr Baker, one of Prince’s half-brothers, have nominated Van Jones, the CNN commentator, to be a “co-personal representative,” a role similar to an executor. The other four favor Mr. McMillan.
In a nod to the feuding and finger-pointing of the proceedings, the judge, Kevin Eide, ruled last week that he would not appoint anyone to the role unless all heirs agreed and questions of conflicts of interest are sorted out. The estate’s next step, expected next week, will replacing one bank with another as administrator, a move that will bring in yet another round of lawyers and other overseers.
Music executives who have dealt with the estate say that these issues have not interfered with deal-making, but they raise questions about how the estate will be managed in the future and who will benefit from its business.
A Tangle of Rights
Prince maintained close control of his music rights, and wielded them to an extent few other musicians can. For instance, he used his ownership of music publishing rights — the copyrights for songwriting — to block his music from appearing on YouTube, Spotify and other streaming outlets.
But that control led to problems after his death. Prince withdrew his membership from Ascap, the organization that manages performing rights, and it was not until the very end of 2016 that his estate signed a new deal with Global Music Rights, a boutique competitor to Ascap. Performing rights are essential to having music played on the radio or streamed online.
Randy Grimmett, a Global Music Rights executive, said that before he died, Prince had been considering managing his performing rights himself, a burden that few musicians could manage. “He would have been the first — and only — major artist that I know of to have taken that on,” Mr. Grimmett said.
In November, the Universal Music Publishing Group announced that it had made a deal with the Prince estate to act as administrator for the publishing catalog, and signaled that it was ready to release his music widely. But as with most deals, it still needs approval from the estate.
A Vault of Recordings
The estate still has one more major musical asset to offer: the recordings Prince released after leaving Warner Bros. in the mid-1990s, as well as his storied vault.
That trove of unreleased recordings, including hundreds or even thousands of songs, was stored in two actual vaults at his Paisley Park complex outside Minneapolis, and has been the subject of fan fascination for years. The estate has shopped this material to the major record labels, but no deal has been struck yet; executives briefed on those talks have noted the difficulty setting a value for such a range of material, and Warner Bros. still has rights to a large part of it.
Some unheard recordings, however, are set to come out soon. After putting one long-bootlegged track, “Moonbeam Levels,” on a hits compilation last year, Warner Bros. is set to release a new version of Prince’s biggest album, “Purple Rain,” this spring, with a full disc of unreleased material.
A Lawsuit With Jay Z
When it comes to Prince and streaming, the estate faces a question in court: whether or not Tidal, Jay Z’s streaming service, has exclusive streaming rights.
Tidal and Roc Nation, Jay Z’s management company, have argued in court that Prince granted Tidal rights to his catalog. But the estate disputes that point, and in November sued Roc Nation for copyright infringement, saying that Jay Z’s companies have produced no evidence of a deal.
The suit has become a tantalizing sideshow; one document filed in court shows a lengthy marketing presentation for Roc Nation apparently intended to woo Prince. But so far it does not seem to have slowed down deal activity.
What Would Prince Have Done?
Even if the estate is able to get Prince’s music available on all streaming services, is that what Prince would have wanted? He was well known for policing his catalog carefully, pulling it down from services he found unappealing. “Spotify wasn’t paying, so you gotta shut it down,” he told Ebony in 2015.
But associates who worked with him say that Prince’s true intentions could be hard to divine. After writing the word “slave” on his cheek in protest of his Warner Bros. contract in the 1990s, he returned to the label in 2014 to make a deal that was highly favorable to him.
A high-ranking entertainment executive who worked closely with Prince said that after pulling his catalog down from streaming services in 2015, Prince continued to discuss with them the possibility of returning it. He was in those talks until the end of his life, said this executive, who spoke anonymously to avoid revealing details about working with Prince.
Alan Leeds, Prince’s tour manager in the 1980s and later the president of Prince’s label, Paisley Park Records, said that Prince’s attitudes toward technology in particular could be unpredictable but were focused on protecting his interests.
“Prince’s wishes were subject to change,” Mr. Leeds said. “His attitude toward technology was that when it served him he embraced it, and when it didn’t he turned his nose up. It varied day to day, depending on his mood.”

Record labels are far from the evil suits Prince made them out to be – they’re redistributive business models

April 27, 2016

When big acts attack the funding model of record companies what they are doing, whether they know it or not, is pulling up the ladder behind them

Ben Chu http://www.independent.co.uk 4/26/16

When pop stars go to war with their record companies which side do you get behind? The creative artists or the money-grubbing, talentless, suits? Surely a no-brainer. And yet reading about Prince’s epic battle against Warner Music in the 1990s I can’t help but feel sympathy for the suits.

Prince was signed as a precocious 18-year-old by Warner in 1977. He produced an album every year between 1978 and 1981. None of them were commercially successful but Warner kept on funding him as a promising prospect. Then the breakthrough came with the hit single “1999” and Prince was suddenly pop royalty.

The dispute apparently came when the prolific Prince wanted to release a studio-load of new material all at once. Warner said no, arguing that oversupplying the market was not the way to maximise revenues. They wanted the best possible return on their investment by restraining the supply of Prince. This would avoid swamping demand and also enable them to maximise the sense of occasion around each new release.

Warner got their way because they owned the rights to Prince’s music. Prince was royally annoyed though. He eventually likened his relationship with Warner to “slavery” and, later, advised all new artists not to sign contracts with record companies.

This was – and probably still is – terrible advice. Around a decade ago there was lots of optimistic chatter about how the internet would enable new artists and bands to reach audiences directly. They could, we were told, make the commercial big time without having to tap the promotional resources of record companies. The web would enable the talented to cut out the greedy middle man. But it hasn’t worked out like that. Vanishingly few artists have made it big without serious support from record companies somewhere along the line.

But don’t record companies milk top artists like Prince unfairly? Not really. Think about the model from the point of view of the record company. You sign a host of promising new acts. You pay for them to record. You promote their work. But only a tiny number will prove successful. The money the record company has spent on the unsuccessful acts is gone for good. The company makes all its money from the ones that do make it. That’s why it takes such a large share of the proceeds from a minority of successes.

The big acts simply see the large sums of money made by the company from their work and they resent it. But they often fail to grasp that these funds are what enable the record companies to invest in new acts and keep the machine running. Globally, record companies spent $4.5bn (£3bn) on marketing and investment in 2014, representing a quarter of their total revenues.

Small acts might be tempted to think established artists are looking out for their interests when the big guns attack the rapacious record company model. And there has been a lot of purple prose in recent days talking about how Prince valiantly stood up for all musicians with his various battles with record labels. But it’s nonsense. When big acts attack the funding model of record companies what they are doing, whether they know it or not, is pulling up the ladder behind them.

This isn’t to defend the taste of the record companies and the acts they select to sponsor. And there are signs that they do not stick with new artists as long as they should. It’s unlikely that an artist today would get funding for four years without any major hits, as Prince did. They would probably be cast aside much earlier. Nor is this to argue that record companies are saintly. It’s merely to point out that the underlying business model is a redistributive one in a way that the top artists generally fail to acknowledge.

Prince certainly didn’t acknowledge it. Yet he was remarkably quick to capitalise on another trend in popular music economics. He released his Planet Earth album free with the Mail on Sunday (of all publications) in 2007. People said he was crazy for giving away his product. They said he was devaluing it. That’s certainly what his (new) record company felt. They hadn’t been told and were forced to scrap plans to sell the album in UK shops. But Prince himself still made a commercial killing from a back-to-back run of 21 live British shows in the wake of the stunt. What Prince discovered – and many have discovered since – is that the big money in music is now in the live “experience”, not the recorded product.

Of course Prince was a quixotic character – and not just creatively but commercially. He spent a lot of time in the years following that Mail on Sunday give-away trying in vain to stop his music being distributed for free online. In that sense Prince actually had something in common with the record companies, who wasted vast sums fighting an unwinnable battle with the unlicensed distribution of music online.

Record labels are starting to be more sensible now. They seem to have grasped that there is money to be made from working with the internet rather than fighting it; from advertising revenues from music videos on YouTube, from legal downloads on iTunes and from royalties from streaming sites. Global industry revenues in 2015 rose for the first time in two decades.

But the digital world is still in flux. Online music consumption is increasingly shifting from downloads to streaming. And the lion’s share of revenues could in future flow to the streaming companies – cutting out artists and maybe even record companies in the end.

In response the big players of the artistic world including Jay-Z, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Arcade Fire have established their own streaming service: Tidal. This week Beyoncé released her new album, Lemonade. It will exclusively stream on Tidal. The dominant streaming players, such as Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer, have been cut out (although it is available to buy on iTunes). This is an attempt by group of successful artists to monetise musical content once again, not just experiences. This will be the biggest test yet of their model. If an artist with the reach of Beyoncé can’t make it work, it may be a dead end.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. That’s the reference in the title of Beyonce’s new album. It’s what Prince, generally, did. It’s what the record companies seem to be, finally, doing. The Tidal crew are trying it. The question as far as fans are concerned, though, remains the same as ever: is the music sweet or not?

 

Prince: ‘I’m a musician. And I am music’

July 5, 2011

Ringtones are evil. Islamic countries are fun. The internet is like ‘a carjacking’, where there are no boundaries. Prince on being pop’s ‘loving tyrant

Guardian.co.uk  06 /23/11

Prince

‘Loving tyrant’ of pop … Prince.

Prince is running late, and when Prince is running late the prospective interviewer begins to worry. I’m in the otherwise empty upstairs room of a chic Paris restaurant, its walls, carpet and banquettes all (perhaps by chance) a Prince-appropriate purple. As last trains and planes out of Paris are missed, I think of the writer in the early 90s who spent six days rattling around Paisley Park, Prince’s Minneapolis nerve centre, waiting for an audience, only to have to speak to him on the phone. Even a relatively modest three-hour wait can make one nervous.

But suddenly there he is, sans entourage, full of handshakes and apologies. Perching himself on a banquette, he looks impeccable. His trousers and chunky polo-neck sweater are as black as his shiny, sculpted hair. His ring, ear cuffs and huge, shrapnel-like neck chain all gleam silver. His skin, uncannily smooth, does not look like that of a 53-year-old. Charisma seems to add a few inches to his height. He orders a cup of green tea. “They don’t take Mastercard here,” he says with a sly grin. “Only Amex. So I’ll have to wash the dishes.”

You expect funny peculiar from Prince, one of the few superstars who still enjoys an old-fashioned forcefield of enigma and hence endures the rumours that enigma tends to spawn. Funny ha-ha, however, is more surprising. He often seems mysteriously amused, cocking an eyebrow and pulling a coy, wouldn’t-you-like-to-know smirk, but he likes to laugh out loud, too. He is determined to be entertaining.

Asked, for example, why he doesn’t appear to have aged, Prince embarks on a baroque explanation that takes in an illustration of celestial mechanics involving a candle (the sun) and a sugarcube (the Earth); DNA research; his late father’s Alzheimer’s disease; the reason he doesn’t celebrate his birthday (“If you look in the Bible there’s no birthdays”); the importance of study; God’s concept of time; and the Purple Rain tour. “Time is a mind construct,” he finally concludes, setting his candle and sugarcube aside. “It’s not real.”

All of this is accomplished in a tone that ranges from preacher to schoolteacher to salesman to stand-up comedian to chat-show raconteur. He very rarely talks to the press (“If I need psychological evaluation, I’ll do it myself”) and his ban on writers using recording devices suggests a certain paranoia, but he’s surprisingly good at being interviewed.

People must be intimidated when they first meet you, I say. Do you try to put them at their ease?

“I do that pretty quick. I’m real easy-going.” He stares at me for a moment. “You’re not intimidated, are you?”

Not now, but definitely by your reputation.

“A lot of that comes from other people. The press like to blow things out of proportion so this person becomes bigger than they are. The sooner this thing called fame goes away, the better. We got people who don’t need to be famous.”

Prince misses the days “when I could walk the street without being harassed and bothered”. He remembers the first time he realised he was famous, around 1979. “It happened very fast. I had some old clothes on because I was going to help a friend move house and some girls came by and one went: ‘Ohmigod, Prince!’ And the other girl went,” he pulls a face, “‘That ain’t Prince.’ I didn’t come out of the house raggedy after that.”

Prince, along with Michael Jackson and Madonna, was one of the regents of pop music in its blockbuster pomp. Unlike them, he could do everything: sing, write, play, produce, design, make movies, call all the shots. With 1984’s Purple Rain, he could simultaneously boast the No 1 album, single and film in the US. During his imperial phase, it felt like his only competition was himself. “I had creative control,” he says proudly. “We had to fight for over a year before I even got signed. So whatever I turned in, they had to accept. They weren’t even allowed to speak to me!”

Rumours circled him because he was such a defiantly outlandish presence: the pop star as inexplicable alien, with a sexuality as ambiguous as it was voracious, and so unsettlingly potent that the censorship lobby PMRC was spurred into existence by a single song, Darling Nikki. Did he work hard to make himself as fascinating as possible? “We were very fascinating,” he says. “In Minnesota it was a clean slate. It was punk rock. There were a lot of fascinating people around.”

He took so many gambles, in terms of image as well as music. Did he ever worry that he might blow it? “All the time. You want an example?”

Yes please.

He chuckles. “You’ll have to pay for the autobiography.” (There is no autobiography.)

Does he think the atomisation of pop culture since the 80s allows for another star of his stature? He thinks for a moment. “It would have to be manufactured. Michael [Jackson] and I both came along at a time when there was nothing. MTV didn’t have anyone who was visual. Bowie, maybe. A lot of people made great records, but dressed like they were going to the supermarket.” He thinks flamboyant showmanship is making a comeback but, he adds: “How many people have substance, or are they just putting on crazy clothes?”

What does he make of Lady Gaga? “I don’t know,” Prince says diplomatically. “I’d have to meet her.”

Prince will happily talk about how much he adores Adele (“When she just comes on and sings with a piano player, no gimmicks, it’s great”) or Janelle Monáe, but he won’t criticise other artists. “The new pushes the old out of the way and retains what it wants to. Don’t ask me about popular acts. Ask Janelle. Doesn’t matter what I say. We ain’t raining on anyone’s parade. I ain’t mad at anybody. I don’t have any enemies.”

Actually he has many, but they’re not fellow musicians. He is drawn back again and again to the perfidy of pretty much everybody in the music industry who doesn’t make music themselves. There was, of course, that business in the 90s when he went to war with Warner Bros, changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol and marking his eventual exit from the label with a triple CD pointedly titled Emancipation. “A lot of people didn’t know what I was doing,” he says, “but it helped some people. I don’t care what people think.” He’s not as angry now. “I don’t look at it as Us versus Them. I did. But you know The Wizard of Oz? When they pull back the curtain and see what’s going on? That’s what’s happened.”

Now his opponents are no longer the ailing majors, but the people selling or sharing music online. He was one of the pioneers of self-financed website releases; more recently he made lucrative deals to give away albums with tabloid newspapers. But he has no plans to make a new album, even though he has hundreds of songs stacked up. “The industry changed,” he says. “We made money [online] before piracy was real crazy. Nobody’s making money now except phone companies, Apple and Google. I’m supposed to go to the White House to talk about copyright protection. It’s like the gold rush out there. Or a carjacking. There’s no boundaries. I’ve been in meetings and they’ll tell you, Prince, you don’t understand, it’s dog-eat-dog out there. So I’ll just hold off on recording.”

His management’s pre-interview list of guidelines insisted, “Please do not discuss his views on the internet,” but perhaps Prince hasn’t read them. “I personally can’t stand digital music,” he says. “You’re getting sound in bits. It affects a different place in your brain. When you play it back, you can’t feel anything. We’re analogue people, not digital.” He’s warming to his theme. “Ringtones!” he exclaims. “Have you ever been in a room where there’s 17 ringtones going off at once?”

Does he have a ringtone?

“No,” he says, looking as offended as if I’d asked him if he drove a clown car. “I don’t have a phone.”

He’s equally put out by covers of his songs, Glee’s version of Kiss being the latest offender. “There’s no other artform where you can do that. You can’t go and do your own version of Harry Potter. Do you want to hear somebody else sing Kiss?”

Next weekend, Prince is back in Europe – this interview is to promote his headlining appearance at the Heinken Open’er festival in Poland – but he bats away an inquiry about the annual Glastonbury rumours. “They use my name to sell the festival,” he glowers. “It’s illegal. I’ve never spoken to anyone about doing that concert, ever.”

Touring is where the money is these days, of course, but it also seems to be where his heart is. He describes himself as a “loving tyrant. I’m probably the hardest bandleader to work for, but I do it for love.” His band have rehearsed around 300 songs, from which Prince can choose at whim, which makes playing live more fun that it used to be. “Purple Rain was 100 shows, and around the 75th, I went crazy,” he says, “and here’s why. They didn’t want to see anything but the movie. If you didn’t play every song, you were in trouble. After 75 you don’t know where you are – somebody had to drag me to the stage. I’m not going! Yes you are! It was bloody back then. I won’t say why but there was blood on me. They were the longest shows because you knew what was going to happen.” Now, he says: “If there’s a challenge it’s to outdo what I’ve done in the past. I play each show as if it’s the last one.”

For inspiration he keeps coming back to Sly and the Family Stone, and it was that band’s former bassist, Larry Graham, who introduced him to the Jehovah’s Witnesses a decade ago. The faith seems to have made him calm and content, albeit at the loss to his songwriting of the anguish, combativeness and transgressive sexuality that animated some of his strongest 80s material. “I was anti-authoritarian but at the same time I was a loving tyrant. You can’t be both. I had to learn what authority was. That’s what the Bible teaches. The Bible is a study guide for social interaction.” He puts it another way. “If I go to a place where I don’t feel stressed and there’s no car alarms and airplanes overhead, then you understand what noise pollution is. Noise is a society that has no God, that has no glue. We can’t do what we want to do all the time. If you don’t have boundaries, what then?”

Sometimes he seems a little too fond of boundaries. “It’s fun being in Islamic countries, to know there’s only one religion. There’s order. You wear a burqa. There’s no choice. People are happy with that.” But what about women who are unhappy about having to wearing burqas? “There are people who are unhappy with everything,” he says shruggingly. “There’s a dark side to everything.”

Noting my unconvinced expression, he tries to clarify, but gives up with a sigh. “I don’t want to get up on a soapbox. My view of the world, you can debate that for ever. But I’m a musician. That’s what I do. And I also am music. Come to the show for that.”

It’s been over an hour, and he’s starting to look restless. Does he feel most at peace when playing music?

“I can feel pretty peaceful doing other things as well,” he says, with what I think might be a saucy look.

Does he ever feel nostalgic?

“I tend to dig some of the art from back then. I like putting it on shirts and bags. The fans dig it. But musically, no. Each band brings different songs out of you.”

He keeps playing down his own stardom and doffing his cap to his band or God or Sly and the Family Stone, but does he ever think, perhaps midway through playing When Doves Cry to 30,000 people: “I’m really very good at this”?

“Well I don’t think it,” he smirks, raising an eyebrow. “I know it.”

Prince: ‘I’m a musician. And I am music’

June 26, 2011

Ringtones are evil. Islamic countries are fun. The internet is like ‘a carjacking’, where there are no boundaries. Prince on being pop’s ‘loving tyrant’

Dorian Lynskey Guradian,co.uk 06/23/11

Prince

‘Loving tyrant’ of pop … Prince.

Prince is running late, and when Prince is running late the prospective interviewer begins to worry. I’m in the otherwise empty upstairs room of a chic Paris restaurant, its walls, carpet and banquettes all (perhaps by chance) a Prince-appropriate purple. As last trains and planes out of Paris are missed, I think of the writer in the early 90s who spent six days rattling around Paisley Park, Prince’s Minneapolis nerve centre, waiting for an audience, only to have to speak to him on the phone. Even a relatively modest three-hour wait can make one nervous.

But suddenly there he is, sans entourage, full of handshakes and apologies. Perching himself on a banquette, he looks impeccable. His trousers and chunky polo-neck sweater are as black as his shiny, sculpted hair. His ring, ear cuffs and huge, shrapnel-like neck chain all gleam silver. His skin, uncannily smooth, does not look like that of a 53-year-old. Charisma seems to add a few inches to his height. He orders a cup of green tea. “They don’t take Mastercard here,” he says with a sly grin. “Only Amex. So I’ll have to wash the dishes.”

You expect funny peculiar from Prince, one of the few superstars who still enjoys an old-fashioned forcefield of enigma and hence endures the rumours that enigma tends to spawn. Funny ha-ha, however, is more surprising. He often seems mysteriously amused, cocking an eyebrow and pulling a coy, wouldn’t-you-like-to-know smirk, but he likes to laugh out loud, too. He is determined to be entertaining.

Asked, for example, why he doesn’t appear to have aged, Prince embarks on a baroque explanation that takes in an illustration of celestial mechanics involving a candle (the sun) and a sugarcube (the Earth); DNA research; his late father’s Alzheimer’s disease; the reason he doesn’t celebrate his birthday (“If you look in the Bible there’s no birthdays”); the importance of study; God’s concept of time; and the Purple Rain tour. “Time is a mind construct,” he finally concludes, setting his candle and sugarcube aside. “It’s not real.”

All of this is accomplished in a tone that ranges from preacher to schoolteacher to salesman to stand-up comedian to chat-show raconteur. He very rarely talks to the press (“If I need psychological evaluation, I’ll do it myself”) and his ban on writers using recording devices suggests a certain paranoia, but he’s surprisingly good at being interviewed.

People must be intimidated when they first meet you, I say. Do you try to put them at their ease?

“I do that pretty quick. I’m real easy-going.” He stares at me for a moment. “You’re not intimidated, are you?”

Not now, but definitely by your reputation.

“A lot of that comes from other people. The press like to blow things out of proportion so this person becomes bigger than they are. The sooner this thing called fame goes away, the better. We got people who don’t need to be famous.”

Prince misses the days “when I could walk the street without being harassed and bothered”. He remembers the first time he realised he was famous, around 1979. “It happened very fast. I had some old clothes on because I was going to help a friend move house and some girls came by and one went: ‘Ohmigod, Prince!’ And the other girl went,” he pulls a face, “‘That ain’t Prince.’ I didn’t come out of the house raggedy after that.”

Prince, along with Michael Jackson and Madonna, was one of the regents of pop music in its blockbuster pomp. Unlike them, he could do everything: sing, write, play, produce, design, make movies, call all the shots. With 1984’s Purple Rain, he could simultaneously boast the No 1 album, single and film in the US. During his imperial phase, it felt like his only competition was himself. “I had creative control,” he says proudly. “We had to fight for over a year before I even got signed. So whatever I turned in, they had to accept. They weren’t even allowed to speak to me!”

Rumours circled him because he was such a defiantly outlandish presence: the pop star as inexplicable alien, with a sexuality as ambiguous as it was voracious, and so unsettlingly potent that the censorship lobby PMRC was spurred into existence by a single song, Darling Nikki. Did he work hard to make himself as fascinating as possible? “We were very fascinating,” he says. “In Minnesota it was a clean slate. It was punk rock. There were a lot of fascinating people around.”

He took so many gambles, in terms of image as well as music. Did he ever worry that he might blow it? “All the time. You want an example?”

Yes please.

He chuckles. “You’ll have to pay for the autobiography.” (There is no autobiography.)

Does he think the atomisation of pop culture since the 80s allows for another star of his stature? He thinks for a moment. “It would have to be manufactured. Michael [Jackson] and I both came along at a time when there was nothing. MTV didn’t have anyone who was visual. Bowie, maybe. A lot of people made great records, but dressed like they were going to the supermarket.” He thinks flamboyant showmanship is making a comeback but, he adds: “How many people have substance, or are they just putting on crazy clothes?”

What does he make of Lady Gaga? “I don’t know,” Prince says diplomatically. “I’d have to meet her.”

Prince will happily talk about how much he adores Adele (“When she just comes on and sings with a piano player, no gimmicks, it’s great”) or Janelle Monáe, but he won’t criticise other artists. “The new pushes the old out of the way and retains what it wants to. Don’t ask me about popular acts. Ask Janelle. Doesn’t matter what I say. We ain’t raining on anyone’s parade. I ain’t mad at anybody. I don’t have any enemies.”

Actually he has many, but they’re not fellow musicians. He is drawn back again and again to the perfidy of pretty much everybody in the music industry who doesn’t make music themselves. There was, of course, that business in the 90s when he went to war with Warner Bros, changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol and marking his eventual exit from the label with a triple CD pointedly titled Emancipation. “A lot of people didn’t know what I was doing,” he says, “but it helped some people. I don’t care what people think.” He’s not as angry now. “I don’t look at it as Us versus Them. I did. But you know The Wizard of Oz? When they pull back the curtain and see what’s going on? That’s what’s happened.”

Now his opponents are no longer the ailing majors, but the people selling or sharing music online. He was one of the pioneers of self-financed website releases; more recently he made lucrative deals to give away albums with tabloid newspapers. But he has no plans to make a new album, even though he has hundreds of songs stacked up. “The industry changed,” he says. “We made money [online] before piracy was real crazy. Nobody’s making money now except phone companies, Apple and Google. I’m supposed to go to the White House to talk about copyright protection. It’s like the gold rush out there. Or a carjacking. There’s no boundaries. I’ve been in meetings and they’ll tell you, Prince, you don’t understand, it’s dog-eat-dog out there. So I’ll just hold off on recording.”

His management’s pre-interview list of guidelines insisted, “Please do not discuss his views on the internet,” but perhaps Prince hasn’t read them. “I personally can’t stand digital music,” he says. “You’re getting sound in bits. It affects a different place in your brain. When you play it back, you can’t feel anything. We’re analogue people, not digital.” He’s warming to his theme. “Ringtones!” he exclaims. “Have you ever been in a room where there’s 17 ringtones going off at once?”

Does he have a ringtone?

“No,” he says, looking as offended as if I’d asked him if he drove a clown car. “I don’t have a phone.”

He’s equally put out by covers of his songs, Glee’s version of Kiss being the latest offender. “There’s no other artform where you can do that. You can’t go and do your own version of Harry Potter. Do you want to hear somebody else sing Kiss?”

Next weekend, Prince is back in Europe – this interview is to promote his headlining appearance at the Heinken Open’er festival in Poland – but he bats away an inquiry about the annual Glastonbury rumours. “They use my name to sell the festival,” he glowers. “It’s illegal. I’ve never spoken to anyone about doing that concert, ever.”

Touring is where the money is these days, of course, but it also seems to be where his heart is. He describes himself as a “loving tyrant. I’m probably the hardest bandleader to work for, but I do it for love.” His band have rehearsed around 300 songs, from which Prince can choose at whim, which makes playing live more fun that it used to be. “Purple Rain was 100 shows, and around the 75th, I went crazy,” he says, “and here’s why. They didn’t want to see anything but the movie. If you didn’t play every song, you were in trouble. After 75 you don’t know where you are – somebody had to drag me to the stage. I’m not going! Yes you are! It was bloody back then. I won’t say why but there was blood on me. They were the longest shows because you knew what was going to happen.” Now, he says: “If there’s a challenge it’s to outdo what I’ve done in the past. I play each show as if it’s the last one.”

For inspiration he keeps coming back to Sly and the Family Stone, and it was that band’s former bassist, Larry Graham, who introduced him to the Jehovah’s Witnesses a decade ago. The faith seems to have made him calm and content, albeit at the loss to his songwriting of the anguish, combativeness and transgressive sexuality that animated some of his strongest 80s material. “I was anti-authoritarian but at the same time I was a loving tyrant. You can’t be both. I had to learn what authority was. That’s what the Bible teaches. The Bible is a study guide for social interaction.” He puts it another way. “If I go to a place where I don’t feel stressed and there’s no car alarms and airplanes overhead, then you understand what noise pollution is. Noise is a society that has no God, that has no glue. We can’t do what we want to do all the time. If you don’t have boundaries, what then?”

Sometimes he seems a little too fond of boundaries. “It’s fun being in Islamic countries, to know there’s only one religion. There’s order. You wear a burqa. There’s no choice. People are happy with that.” But what about women who are unhappy about having to wearing burqas? “There are people who are unhappy with everything,” he says shruggingly. “There’s a dark side to everything.”

Noting my unconvinced expression, he tries to clarify, but gives up with a sigh. “I don’t want to get up on a soapbox. My view of the world, you can debate that for ever. But I’m a musician. That’s what I do. And I also am music. Come to the show for that.”

It’s been over an hour, and he’s starting to look restless. Does he feel most at peace when playing music?

“I can feel pretty peaceful doing other things as well,” he says, with what I think might be a saucy look.

Does he ever feel nostalgic?

“I tend to dig some of the art from back then. I like putting it on shirts and bags. The fans dig it. But musically, no. Each band brings different songs out of you.”

He keeps playing down his own stardom and doffing his cap to his band or God or Sly and the Family Stone, but does he ever think, perhaps midway through playing When Doves Cry to 30,000 people: “I’m really very good at this”?

“Well I don’t think it,” he smirks, raising an eyebrow. “I know it.”

Prince trys to beat the System

April 23, 2009

 

Prince works outside record labels

The Purple One eliminates the middleman

By ANTHONY D’ALESSANDRO/Variety

I don’t know about you,” Prince exclaimed to the adoring masses at his March 28 Nokia Theater performance in L.A., “but I’m about to tear this place apart.”

The Purple One applies the same principle to his business affairs: He has consistently torn down the established labels’ sales model and built it back up in his own image.

While free file-sharing has eroded royalty accounting and emptied the wallets of many a pop icon, Prince has always been one step ahead of the game, dating back to 1997, when he became the first artist to sell an album (“Crystal Ball”) directly to his fans over the Internet, for $50.

In the past few months, Prince has been at it again, revamping his business model by deciding to release the three-album set — “LotusFlow3r,” “MPLSound” and his protege Bria Valente’s debut, “Elixer” — on his own NPG Records and giving a facelift to his exclusive fan website, unplugged since 2006.

“The gatekeepers must change,” Prince told the Los Angeles Times in January about his latest endeavor to work outside the record labels and other go-betweens.

Pulling off such a feat required the art of seduction that characterizes much of Prince’s music. He began spending more time in L.A. than at his Minneapolis homestead, not only to sync up with the West Coast music scene but to court the media with private performances at his Beverly Park mansion. As the launch date for “LotusFlow3r” drew near, Prince played three back-to-back dates on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno”; headlined the most coveted, and funkiest, post-Oscar party, at the Avalon in Hollywood; and topped it all off with a record one-night, three-concert event at L.A. Live’s Nokia Theater on March 28 that sold out in a record 7.7 seconds.

Nonetheless, his “gatekeeper” philosophy isn’t a newfound one. The pop artist’s angst with the labels dates back to 1996, when he ended his 20-year contract with Warner Bros. Records; one of the sticking points was that the company failed to release some of his material. Since then, Prince has partnered with labels on a project-by-project basis. His 2007 album “Planet Earth” was released through Columbia Records and sold close to 300,000 units — a figure considerably below his previous partnership with the label on “Musicology,” which went multiplatinum with the help of free giveaways at his concerts.

Prince’s revamped Web domain, appropriately Lotusflow3r.com, gives his loyal followers exclusive access to an array of film footage and music from the Purple One’s “Vault” — a library that contains an immense amount of unreleased material. At a lofty annual subscription price of $77, fans also will be treated to such perks as live-cam concerts from the mansion and first dibs at tickets for last-minute, unannounced gigs, which have become a Prince trademark.

While some of the privileges are on par with Prince’s previous html address, his Web designer, Scott Addison Clay, who has been behind such high-gloss movie sites as “The DarkKnight” and “Twilight,” says Prince “felt his earlier fan site turned into MySpace. There were forums where fans could talk and see each other on the Internet.” Lotusflow3r.com touts the highest-quality MP3s around at 320 kilobytes per second — iTunes’ typical average kbps is 192. There’s also talk of a potential hookup with Microsoft’s Xbox.

“Prince wanted (the) LotusFlow3r (website) to function like a videogame in its interactivity,” says Clay, before adding, “but not in the way that you control Prince with jujitsu moves — that wouldn’t be appropriate.”

Assuming that 1 million fans sign up worldwide, that’s $77 million directly in the hands of the Prince empire — untouched by a label’s bookkeeper. The site’s launch, coupled with his three-

concert L.A. event and the release of his three-disc album set exclusively through Target the morning after (at a price of $11.98) underscores Prince’s MO to be a brand-name corporation unto himself, with money streams from publishing, touring, merchandising, advertising, ringtones, fashion and satellite radio gigs.

While the price that Target shelled out to Prince to sell his latest CD set is undisclosed, analysts put the amount at mid-six figures.

Sure, his recent album sales might be far from the 13 million “Purple Rain” benchmark, but it’s not about being multiplatinum for Prince, rather multiplatform.

“When I’m taking all the proceeds, I don’t worry about how well it does on the charts and I don’t need a No. 1,” Prince asserted at a 1997 Manhattan news conference pegged to his cyberspace foray. “I’m No. 1 at the bank