I don’t think there’s a single musical artist that commands such respect, such criticism, such hatred, such love, such worship and such controversy as Prince. It’s not as simple as loving or hating him. It’s not black or white (or purple), it’s not one or the other and it’s not yes or no. Every segment of the spectrum of appreciation has someone sitting in it when it comes to him. There is no doubt the guy is a musical genius, whether you like or loathe him. His talent is undeniable, even if he doesn’t get your butt shaking. His ability to stir up debate is almost unequalled, especially in the musical arena. There is no doubt that there is no finer live musical performer than he. No, not even Michael Jackson comes close. MJ churns out the same old shit, and his upcoming copycat routine of Prince’s famous “21 Nights” is merely a pathetic attempt to a) avoid complete and total financial ruin and b) to try to get one up on someone who is far more valid than he will ever be. But the Michael Jackson debate is for another day.
I am a MASSIVE Prince fan. I’m not even going to try and convince you otherwise. I have pretty much everything he has ever released, and much more besides. I have seen him many times live, even had the privilege of seeing him soundcheck and even being within inches of him and exchanging pleasantries. I’m not obsessive, but I admire no-one more in music than he. But fuck me, the guy can test my affections!!
We all know the stories of his acrimonious split with Warners; the SLAVE “act”, the changing of his name to an unpronounceable graphic, the cobbled together albums created merely to fulfil his contract and the weird interviews he used to give. I can handle that kind of eccentricity, especially when he continues to produce incredible bodies of work. Once out of his contract, he proceeded to become an Internet pioneer, founding revolutionary websites and formulating new ways to market and promote his work. From the ashes of one website, he created the NPG Music Club. The NPGMC was inspired. The fan (or “fam” as Prince likes to call them) pays an annual subscription, and in return, gets exclusive access to Prince’s material. All the new music was downloadable at no extra cost, video material was watchable and downloadable, members got pre-sale concert tickets and exclusive seating, plus entry to soundchecks. The whole thing was brilliant. And it worked. Prince made more money bypassing the established processes and the fans got the material they wanted as soon as Prince wanted them to have it.
And then, suddenly, without warning, NPGMC vanished. A simple explanation was given that Prince was moving to the next phase and NPGMC would be replaced. It was, eventually. 3121.com was far from the all encompassing site that NPGMC was. It was merely a “news” site. An occasional track was featured, but not much else.
And then, almost as suddenly as NPGMC vanished, so did 3121. Similar reasons were offered, especially as it’s disappearance happened after his record breaking 21 night stint at London’s O2 Arena. It was stated that Prince was off to concentrate on Bible reading and doing the work of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fair dues, but leaving nothing for his fans to congregate around.
Then we had the whole YouTube affair, where Prince instructed his lawyers to demand removal of any video on YouTube (and many other places) that featured even the merest hint of a Prince song, even if it was inadvertently playing on a radio in the background. This generated a level of resentment in the online world, normally reserved for kiddy fiddlers and mass murderers. He even set his legal attack dogs on long established independent fan sites, thus upsetting and alienating a massive segment of his fanbase.
And then, at the back end of 2008, he emerged, talking about new work, new projects and even, for a brief moment creating a new site with teasers, only for that to do the now customary vanishing act within days. Then last week, there was the full on launch of the new Prince online presence, lotusflow3r.com. This new venture seems to echo, very strongly, the NPGMC model. A $77 joining fee, getting you exclusive content and ticket pre-sales, plus the new Prince release, LotusFlow3r (a 3CD set) in download form before anyone else. This time, however, the physical CD release is not being put out via an established distributor. Oh no, forget that. Prince has done a deal himself with U.S. retail giant, Target, who have exclusive rights to sell the 3CD pack for $11.98 (which is a bargain in any one’s books!). So, die hard fans can join the club and get extra goodies and everyone else can pop into their local Target and grab a fantastic CD for an excellent price. Target get major footfall increase, Prince reaps the rewards and the fans are happy.
Or so you’d think. Oh no, MANY fans are far from happy.
Take us, the UK & European fans. Or even the Antipodean fans. Or those in Asia or Africa, or South America. Do we get an exclusive distributor? Oh no. All we get is places like HMV, Amazon and Play.com sporadically advertising pre-orders of the album for anything up to £42.99! Remember, the U.S. version retails at $11.98. I know we’re in a recession, but that’s some fucking mark up, right there!
And so the Internet boards are full of angry non U.S. fans stating that they’re going to just download the set from a P2P site and fuck Prince.
To be fair, Prince can’t control greedy retailers, but it certainly looks like Prince (and/or his business advisers) failed to understand the global nature of the demand and put in proper distribution channels outside of the U.S. Prince always seems to piss someone off. The Americans got cheesed off when he decided to do 21 Nights here in London. The Europeans got pissed off when he decided to do the Musicology tour in the U.S. alone.
Prince is lacking something. Something he had plenty of in the past.
The guidance of experienced marketeers. The kind of thing he had when he was at Warners. Don’t get me wrong. I think Prince had quite a few valid points when he spat his Warners dummy out. But being an Internet pioneer and cutting edge brand is not an easy thing to handle, especially when your skills lie in the music making. I mean, who thought, given that we are facing a global financial crisis, and that the very nature of music retail is shifting daily, that charging a large sum of money to join a website simply to get your hands on music you can buy from a supermarket for 6 times less was a good idea? The new website doesn’t even have a small area for non paid up members, so even if you’re just getting into Prince, you can’t get access to official news and updates from the man himself. Not unless you fork out $77 (£54 at current exchange rates).
I admire Prince. I admire his balls to go it alone and blaze a trail. I think the guy is a musical genius, an incredible and immutable force, a kind, warm generous and funny man. But he is pissing more and more people off. Prince probably never needs to sell another record again. So why make it so difficult for people to really appreciate his talent? He’s a control freak, which can be a good thing, but in this case leaves him exposed and ridiculed.
Suffice to say, I will be acquiring the new CD. I will be joining the new site and I will be singing the guy’s praises for many years to come. My actions will neither encourage or discourage Prince’s business decisions in the future. He will do whatever the hell he likes, because he is in that wonderfully unique position of being able to.
Being a Brit, I can fully understand eccentricity. In fact, I positively warm to it and encourage it. But there’s a fine line between being eccentric and being a twat.
Prince is on that line and he’s got a bit of a wobble going on.