What can you really say about Prince that hasn’t already been said – other than he has gone way to soon?
I mean, I know folks pass away all of the time, but talk about random. And honestly, I haven’t fully accepted the fact that he is no longer here with us anymore. Like, I’m waiting for him to sashay out some secret purple underground enclave hidden deep within Paisley Park and say that it was all a huge misunderstanding. That he isn’t actually dead, but rather, purifying and getting himself reborn in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
Anyway, like the rest of you, I wanted to mourn the death – as well as celebrate the life and wonderful artistry of one of the best to ever do it – by planning a mix of his tunes. So I headed over to YouTube and Googled “The Best of Prince…” to set adrift on memories bliss.
But alas, a Prince song was nowhere to be found. No “Diamonds and Pearls.” No “Kiss.” Not even a dubstep mix of “Adore.”
Needless to say, my mood went from sad to downright disappointed. Paying homage to our recently departed artists through song and music videos on social media is a huge part of the modern-day grieving process. Yet when I looked around yesterday, I saw a bunch of profiles struggling to compile lists of “our favorites” from sheer memory and coming up short, because obviously, without a primer, you aren’t going to remember them all.
I mean, all of my Prince “albums” are actually on cassette tapes. (Yeah, I know: What are those?)
But according to this article in The Daily Beast, in spite of the discomfort and disappointment, Prince might have wanted it this way.
Last summer, in what would be his final middle finger to an exploitative record industry and last act of badassery in a career devote[sic] to championing artists’ rights, Prince withdrew his music from all streaming services except for Tidal.
One month before vacuuming his content from those free services, Prince retweeted an article from The Daily Beast that championed Taylor Swift’s stand against Apple Music because of the service’s initial policy of not paying artists for streams during customers’ free trials.
In his tweet, Prince took a stand against Spotify, quoting the line, “Spotify is co-owned by record labels, who hold 20 percent of the company’s stocks.”
As most of us already know, Prince had long been a strong advocate for artist rights. In the ’90s, he was involved in a bitter split from Warner Bros. Records over both money and ownership of his music. In protest, he began to appear publicly with the word “Slave” etched on the side of his face.
And as reported last year in The Guardian about his now infamous fight against the label:
His argument was that he was signed to Warner and they, as a result, owned and controlled his name as well as any music released under that name. He changed his name to that of a symbol and was referred to, variously, as “Symbol”, “Squiggle” or “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince”. This coincided with George Michael’s ill-fated attempt to get out of his contract with Sony, which he had termed “professional slavery”, meaning the record labels had a serious PR battle on their hands that they could not afford to lose. Unable to break free completely, Prince fulfilled the terms of his contract with a rapid run of albums, some of which were regarded as a shameless purging of studio tapes and offcuts just to make up the numbers.
It would take 18 years before Prince would regain ownership of his catalog. Since then, he was pretty vigilant about protecting his art. His biggest adversary, of course, was the Internet. And in 2010, he said in an interview with the UK’s Daily Mail (as previously reported by The Guardian), “The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else.”
In 2014, he took his fight with the Internet a step further by removing all of his music from YouTube. And last year, Prince ordered all of his songs and albums removed from every streaming music service and online radio provider, with the exception of Tidal.
It should be noted that the topic of artist ownership and royalties have been a growing concern among many in the entertainment industry. Most notably, Beck, Taylor Swift and The Beatles who over the years have all fought or sought to have their music removed from social streaming sites like Spotify, Apple’s Beats Music, and Rhapsody.
But as noted by writer Josh Constine in this article from last year in Tech Crunch, online music streaming sites often are unfairly blamed for artist’s royalty issues when in fact, it is the record labels themselves who horde all of the money. He also adds, “Basically artists who are mad about streaming should demand better deals from their labels, remember the alternative is getting their work stolen, be patient, and tour. CD sales didn’t get huge overnight either. Once more people realize how amazing it is to be able listen to any song they want, the money will come.”
Of course, that was never an issue for Prince. The man could strum “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on his purple guitar while making weird googly eyes and most of us would have paid top dollar for that. And to be fair, you had to respect not only his business acumen but his desire not to be used and taken advantage of like so many others.
But still, I also feel like we, the fans, got kind of lost in his fight against the industry. And right now, when we need to hear from him the most, there is nothing but silence.