Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Prince and the Internet

May 2016

By Mike Gould

They say two thousand zero, zero Party over - Oops, out of time So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999
    Prince, back in 1982 - RIP

Alas, for us boomers, 2016 has been hell on heroes. First David Bowie, then Prince. And Lemmy and various others. But Bowie and Prince are the two biggest downers to date. I wrote about Bowie and the internet back in February (see URL below), so this is sort of a companion piece that sheds light on the ways that the online world has affected the business of music, along with everything else in our lives.

(Digression: yes, that’s small “i” internet – the ‘net is now so everyday that it has lost its capitalization. The web as well. Progress.)

The above quote from the tune 1999 seems like a prophetic tech reference; the Y2K bug wasn’t popularized until 1985 and yet, here is Prince singing about it. Well, no - Prince is singing about the usual end of the millennium prophesies that appear with each major turn of the annual odometer. For you whippersnappers out there, Y2K was a giant scare about computers dying January 1, 2000, due to bugs in the way they dealt with dates. Long story. Search the web.

There Is an “I” in Prince
Like Bowie, Prince had a lot of different experiences with the internet, but he interacted with it in an entirely different fashion. Whereas Bowie was generous and accommodating, Prince was extremely controlling of his music, image, and overall web presence. As a result, there is a pronounced dearth of Princeness on the web.

First let me state that while not a huge Prince fan, I greatly admire his talent and think he was one of the finest guitarists ever. Check out his While My Guitar Gently Weeps clip online – pure wonder. Someone once asked Eric Clapton what it felt like to be the best guitarist on the planet; he replied “I don’t know – go ask Prince”. I also found his movies Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times to contain some of the best cinematic music ever seen/heard on the silver screen.

The CD Crystal Ball was originally released in 1997 and was available for a time only via online or phone orders from his record company, NPG. He had a series of websites dedicated to his music, which came and went. His NPG Music Club was in existence from 2001-2006, and according to a 2013 article in the New Yorker:

…lavishly designed official Web sites that collapsed under their own weight (lotusflow3r.com, which posted snippets of albums but failed to deliver exclusive content). He even had a CD-ROM game called Prince Interactive, from 1994, that let you tour a virtual studio and find hidden tracks.

The above article was prompted by Prince’s new (as of 2013) site 20pr1nc – I’m truncating the URL because it now leads to a strange virus-laden place. Don’t go there.

Let’s Go Cray Cray
Always over-protective of his online presence, Prince was notorious for ordering take-downs of unauthorized music or photos of him. The weirdest example of this occurred in 2007, with the Dancing Baby case. A Pennsylvania housewife named Lenz posted a video on YouTube which showed her children dancing to the Prince tune Let’s Go Crazy.

The tune is heard badly-distorted, playing in the background while kids run around pushing baby carriages (URL below). Prince’s lawyers issued a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) take-down order, YouTube complied, Lenz got the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF – an advocacy group that fights for user rights) involved, attorneys ensued, and a legal battle raged for more than three years over the matter. Lenz eventually re-posted the clip, and it is still on YouTube, garnering over 1.8 million hits. If you listen to the barely-discernible music (as I just did, marveling at the mountaineering from molehill dimensions of it all) you will wonder just what the heck Prince was thinking he was protecting here.

For all his tech miss-steps, Prince kept at it and in 2006 won a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award. The award reads:

It is with great pleasure and admiration that we present The Webby Lifetime Achievement award to Prince, who has forever altered the landscape of online musical distribution as the first major artist to release an entire album – 1997’s Crystal Ball – exclusively on the Web. Prince’s leadership online has transformed the entertainment industry and reshaped the relationship between artist and fan. Long before MySpace and iTunes, Prince used the Web to premiere videos and new music, challenge distribution practices, and connect with his fans. His groundbreaking Web site, NPG Music Club (www.npgmusicclub.com) boasts more than seven full-length CDs of music that are unavailable anywhere else.

For all the above, when Prince died, he didn’t have much of an official web presence. A quickie goog reveals the Art Official Age page, which is mainly a means of ordering his album of the same name from iTunes, Amazon, or direct from Warner Bros. Music. That last is ironic, given Prince’s long list of fights with Warner.

Warn, Warner, Warnest
Prince was originally signed to Warner Music in 1977, at the age of 18. For the next 40 years or so, he was in and out of the trenches over contractual disputes with them. When he became the unpronounceable one in 1993 (“The artist formerly known as…”), it was in protest over Warner’s claim to his name. He and Warner finally buried the hatchet in 2014, with Prince regaining rights to his catalog.

As he died without a will, expect a long series of court battles over ownership of his songs. Let’s hope more of his music makes it online as a result.

YouTube Children dancing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1KfJHFWlhQ

Article about children dancing:
http://www.cnet.com/news/strange-turn-in-dancing-baby-vs-prince-case/

New Yorker article:
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/has-prince-made-peace-with-the-internet

David Bowie article:
http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.216.shtml

Fan sites:
http://prince.org
http://www.princevault.com/

Clickamouse, the writer previously known as “Mike Gould”, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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