Prince Envisioned The Future Of The Music Business | WGLT

Prince Envisioned The Future Of The Music Business

Apr 25, 2016

Credit Jon Norton / WGLT

Fans of Prince are mourning his death in many ways.   Some are reminiscing and sharing stories on social media.  Musicians are paying homage by opening their shows with "Purple Rain" and other Prince staples.   At Reverberation Vinyl in Bloomington, owner and founder John Anderson had Prince on the turntable when WGLT's Jon Norton stopped by for an edition of "What's On Your Turntable?"

As they flipped through various Prince albums, they talked about his business acumen.    

Norton: Prince was so ahead of his time when it came to putting music online, then again taking it offline.

Anderson: And the fact that went to battle with Warner Brothers because they weren't presenting his music the way he wanted it presented.   And that goes back to the Sign 'O The Times album.  He had enough material for a triple album and Warner only saw fit to release it as a double album, and it was "trouble in river city" from there on out.  This is a man who eventually got out of that contract and released his music independently in a multitude of different ways in the 90's in the CD era and into the digital era in the 2000's. 

Prince as a composer, as a businessman, as a black artist that took control of his own career and took on a huge record label doing it, that was an impressive feat for his time.  At the time everybody kind of made fun when he went by "The artist formerly known as Prince. " Eventually he reverted back to Prince after he was free of those relationships and the connections he found toxic about the name Prince.  And the cost of that to me is that I lost track of his music and probably lost track of an incredible body of work.  So he got his freedom, but the price for that was you just didn't hear about Prince as much.

Norton: In something you alluded to, in the 90's he morphed into "the artist formerly known as Prince, he was jeered and made fun of, but it's almost like he could see something no-one else could see.

Anderson: People said that whole "Artist formerly known as Prince" and the symbol he used was just being a kind of a pretentious, petulant artist.  And really it was just a guy who wanted control over how he wanted his music presented.  I think part of it too, starting with the New Power Generation Records, from what I think Warner viewed as a black rock-star to a more black centric artist and the music he was making ... I don't know if that was the source of some of that conflict and tension, but it may well have been.  As an 11 year old white kid, I thought he was the coolest thing.  As time went on he wanted to expand his audience, like a lot of artists did as they grew.  Miles Davis did too.  And Miles Davis was a guy who loved Prince. People don't realize when Miles went to Warner Brothers in the 80's it was because of Prince.

Norton: I didn't know that!

Anderson: Yeah, he worshipped Prince, he wanted to work with him real badly, and they ended up doing a few demos but nothing ever got done.

Norton: It was the late 1990's when the internet was just becoming ... he decided he was going to put his music up online and sell it.

Anderson: Yeah that was the time Napster was a thing, and the way the artists reacted to the internet was different.  Compare that to Metallica who threatened to sue and basically pushed to get Napster shut down.  Prince was the exact opposite of that.  He saw the internet as a viable way to put his music out there to his fans, and to separate himself from record labels.  He had his own studio in his home at Paisley Park, he could record an album in a day if he wanted to and put it online, take it offline when he wanted to.  Charge whatever he wanted to. The way he approached it verses a much more typical artist like Metallica ... he went about it one way, others went about it another way.  

Norton: Was the record company right in a way in that maybe he should have only released an album once  a year in order to spread it out a little bit.

Anderson: They were right in the old label way of doing things.  What Prince saw was things were changing and the record labels didn't see this and that's why they were so behind on the whole download thing and were fighting the download thing all the way.  So Prince was ahead of it, and the labels were behind it.  But it terms of doing things the old way, in like the 80's way of making and marketing music, they were right.  But in terms of future, which is what Prince was looking at, he was doing the right thing.

Norton: So he had the vision but probably moved too quickly.

Anderson: He did, and it got nasty between them.  But sometimes an artist needs a little quality control too.  When you're in your own insulated world, which he was at Paisley Park, nobody was telling him what to do, which was fantastic, but sometimes you need an editor, or someone to say "lets marshal this this way." 

Norton: Then a decade later he took everything off line.  Today, other than what people threw up on YouTube over the weekend, you can't find any Prince music on Spotify or Pandora.

Anderson: Part of it is him controlling his image and part of it is the general societal kickback against technology to where the labels have tried to monetize internet content to the nth degree, that's happened over the course of the last seven to ten years.  So once again, he was going a different way.

Norton: John Anderson, thanks again for talking about Prince, it's tough to lose an iconic guy who has been part of our life for decades now.  He's gone too young.

Anderson: Absolutely too young.  It doesn't even seem real, doesn't seem possible.  But he was that enigma.  And he'll kind of remain that.  Long live Prince.