Sign O’ The Times: How Prince Pioneered The Modern Music Industry

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Sign O’ The Times: How Prince Pioneered The Modern Music Industry

Sign O’ The Times: How Prince Pioneered The Modern Music Industry by Knowledge@Wharton

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How Prince Pioneered the Modern Music Industry

Musical icon, innovator and artistic genius Prince died suddenly on Thursday at age 57. He was a pioneer in the industry for his business acumen, shedding his given name and adopting an unpronounceable symbol during a dispute with his label, Warner Brothers, in the 1990s and then later retaking the name and regaining control of the masters to his classic recordings.

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The outsized impact of Prince’s career extends from his music to the evolution of his personal brand and business model — he was among the first to release albums only on the Internet, and utilized crowd funding, subscription services and other creative distribution methods years before they were embraced by the industry as a whole.

“In the early 2000s, he was away from a major record deal and very much running his career on his own” recalled Scott LeGere, head of the music business department at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota, who previously worked at Prince’s Paisley Park recording studio. “Now that we pause and reflect, that model really mirrors what independents and even major artists are looking at today.”

LeGere, who jokingly referred to himself as the “lowest guy on the totem pole” at Paisley Park, appeared Friday on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM to discuss Prince’s life and legacy. Joining him were NPR music critic Tom Moon and Larry Miller, director of the music business program at New York University’s Steinhardt School. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)

Prince – Crowdsourcing before Kickstarter

Prince was the rare artist who wrote, produced and performed his work, but he also cultivated and promoted up-and-coming talent, and wrote songs for others that while recognizably “Prince,” could be interpreted in innumerable ways. “He created kind of an incubator before that was even a term of business,” Moon noted.

His prolonged battle with Warner Bros., which led Prince in the 1990s to adopt the glyph symbol and make appearances with the word  “slave” written on his face, set the stage for the battles for artistic control and fair compensation that define the music industry today, as artists and labels struggle to define their relationships in the face of new distribution models like iTunes and streaming services.

“Prince was doing direct-to-consumer crowdsourced album releases a couple of decades before Kickstarter came around,” Miller said. “With respect to his relationships in business and his creative output, he famously said, ‘If you don’t own your masters, your masters own you,’ which of course underpinned his argument to gain control of his catalog from Warner Bros.”

When Prince released his Musicology album in 2004, it was his first in five years to be released by a major label and his most successful in years. The album’s sales were powered in part by an innovative and controversial plan to include a copy in the ticket price of the accompanying tour.

“That’s how you sell records in 2005 — you sell 25,000 every other night and stay on the Billboard charts,” LeGere said. “I remember taking the call and confirming that Billboard was going to stop [counting] that sales data. We had a conversation in the hall and [Prince] said quite simply, ‘Why would I care if anyone knows how many records I sell?’ It demonstrated to me that that was the furthest thing he cared about…. For him, it wasn’t the awards, it wasn’t the accolades; it was to share the music.”

“He created kind of an incubator before that was even a term of business.” –Tom Moon

Prince ultimately took ownership of the copyrights for songwriting and his recordings, and in 2014 re-signed with Warner Bros. — but this time he had full control. As the music industry embraced models that Prince had pioneered, he famously declared in 2010 that “the Internet’s completely over” because online distribution services were not fairly compensating artists.

“Prince was not just an early adopter,” Miller said. “Even when he didn’t have the leverage to do so, he was an artist who followed his heart and executed on what he thought was the right thing to do for his career and his music regardless of whoever was on his creative or business team at that time — and he did it decades before anybody else.”

He policed unauthorized clips of his music on YouTube and pulled his music from Spotify and other streaming services as artists including Taylor Swift protested the royalty rates that were paid to artists. Prince’s music is currently only streaming on Tidal, the subscription service launched last year by Jay-Z.

“That’s how you sell records in 2005 — you sell 25,000 every other night and stay on the Billboard charts.” –Scott LeGere

“He was highly aware of and knew his presence as an artist and also as a cultural icon,” LeGere said. “I think there’s a business growth that comes in the life and career of any professional and especially a musician; you get in and you understand who the power players are…. Living through the era of the 1980s, 1990s and today, Prince intimately saw those changes and learned to understand them, and over time he really started to wield his power for fairer deals and transparency. We will all benefit from that.”

A prolific artist in life, by most accounts, Prince leaves behind a literal vault of unreleased recordings. That vault was “full,” the last time LeGere was at Paisley Park eight or nine years ago; an adjacent locked space that staff called “the pre-vault” had “an entire floor covered with two-inch analog tapes on their spines.”

While some of the music was experimental, LeGere distinctly remembers the staff eavesdropping as Prince worked on a track that was “so good and so funky.”

“He came out and said, ‘Take it down to the vault,’ and I wheeled it down to the vault, and no one has heard it since,” LeGere said. “Let’s hope there is as orderly a plan as possible [to make the unreleased music available] because there are very special things in there, I’m sure.”

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  1. Federer v Nadal as industry

    2128: As the night fast encloses Centre Court, I can just see two figures wearing white, Carrying vastly different rugs. Rafael Nadal has just ended Roger Federer’s Wimbledon reign, And has he also replaced the Swiss master as the earth’s best player? A question an additional day when we’ve all had a lie down. If you neglected this final, search it on iPlayer, to get the DVD, just about anything. it’s essential see it. It was probably the best match we will see in our lifetimes. I believe that crying, So I’ll stop twittering on and say bye bye from Wimbledon 2008.

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    Federer 4 6 4 6 7 6 (7 5) 7 6 (10 8) 7 9 NadalNervous begin with Nadal as he belts a forehand long. He decides to serve volley the first time in the match on the next point and wins it. After compelling Fed wide, He puts away another volley to safely move to within two points. Fed still won’t lay down, A barrage of groundstrokes compelling Nadal to put a volley long. Federer shanks a backhand into the trams and Nadal has a third champion point. You just need to laugh. Nadal gets the first serve in but Fed simply times and returns a backhand cross court which Nadal can only just get a racquet. An ace gives Nadal a fourth chance and this time wedding ceremony miracle. Fed slaps a forehand into the net and Nadal collapses on the turf.

    Federer 4 6 4 6 7 6 (7 5) 7 6 (10 8) 7 8 NadalBrilliant such as Nadal, striking an acutely angled backhand cross court, holding Fed no chance. Two break zones for Nadal. An ace will save you the first, A challenging forehand the second. But Nadal’s support at him, another wicked backhand making Fed mis time the forehand. Almost inevitably, Fed bangs down ace # 25th ace. A forehand error gives Nadal a fourth break point and that time period, Fed succumbs pummelling a string of forehands before putting one millimetres beyond the basic. Nadal will serve regarding that title.

    Federer 4 6 4 6 7 6 (7 5) 7 6 (10 8) 7 7 NadalA forehand winner gets Rog off to the ideal start but Nadal surges into a 40 15 lead. An impudent drive volley pass keeps Fed hanging around and he then looks to have pulled off a miracle by getting a ferocious smash back and onto the baseline. A forehand winner from Rafa ends the actual though and it’s fist pumps all round from the Nadal camp. It’s starting out get pretty gloomy out there, But play should persist until about 2130 BST.

    2059: “We are sat on a hotel outdoor patio in Sardinia. Goodness knows what my phone bill possibly be! occur Roger! There’s a age group of cardigan wearers behind you, Lee and eva via text on 81111

    Federer 4 6 4 6 7 6 (7 5) 7 6 (10 8) 7 6 NadalSome ferocious hitting from Rafa forces Rog to go long and it’s 0 30. Panic routes for Federer fans but not the man himself. Fed’s 24th ace and a superbly placed volley draw him level and another big serve gets him to 40 30. Fed is in complete control of the point but decides to go for an attempted pass which looks to be going long and puts his volley into the net. Rafa can’t avail yourself though and his return off a second serve goes long. Another deuce is inconsistent but Fed hangs on.

    Federer 4 6 4 6 7 6 (7 5) 7 6 (10 8) 6 6 NadalRafa whips a forehand just into the trams but it’s Fed’s only glimmer of hope in an otherwise perfect service game from the indomitable Spaniard. No tie break in the decider but you knew that, most effective?

    2048: “I know I’m not old enough to not overlook McEnroe v Borg etc (so i’m 28) But now is the best tennis match I have ever watched, world of warcraft, Misselland through 606

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    Federer 4 6 4 6 7 6 (7 5) 7 6 (10 8) 6 5 NadalNadal delivers a testing cross court forehand from a near out of the question position and Fed puts the volley into the net. that may be 15 30 and a forehand curler from Nadal gives him two break points. Rog coolly sends down an ace before flicking away a big forehand. We may still be here tomorrow, But who likes you?

    Federer 4 6 4 6 7 6 (7 5) 7 6 (10 8) 5 5 NadalIf Rafa’s feeling the stress, He’s not showing it bringing out a wicked second serve ace on the first point. Fed comes back to 15 15 but then puts a return just long. Fed’s forehand yet again has Nadal in trouble and that’s 30 30. Big roar from the group, But Nadal forces the mistake from Fed and then puts away a routine forehand to level it up again.

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    Federer 4 6 4 6 7 6 (7 5) 7 6 (10 8) 3 2 NadalTwo aces and it’s done and dusted. nervousness of steel.

    2023: The warm up is as well as Roger Federer will serve at deuce and 2 2.

    2021: “I’m at an Elton John concert in Perth and hundreds of people making the effort follow the tennis on their phones, Elton clearly is not a tennis lover,magazine and Dot, Via sms on 81111(He is when. is not just he?)

    2017: Thudding outside the door of this commentary box as people dash back to their seats. the squad are back too. We might finish this besides.

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    2012: lad, Even the Voice of Wimbledon is feeling the stress. Short but special, Here’s good news: “It is planned to uncover Centre Court with a view to resuming play very shortly.

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