Why Prince is right

By now you’ll have had a good laugh at Prince, chortled righteously in disbelief at the latest mad-hatter outburst from his Purple Highness. In a statement that raised some interesting points, the most commonly snorted at was the Minneapolis Midget’s assertion that the ‘internet is dead’. This, to the social web-savvy twittering classes was the equivalent of the ‘you don’t sweat a lot for a fat lass’ chat-up line. The type of gambit that, even before the victim has stopped sneering indignantly, has done its job. It grabs the attention.  Hard to ignore something and hope it dies of neglect when you’ve just re-tweeted it to all your followers. Savvy play by Prince, and, my word, this is a savvy man. In the social media world of blogs, forums, comment boxes and twitter, the cheapest way to garner an aura of authority is to affect a world-weary cynicism. There are scores of web-users, whose ‘critically astute’ online reputations have been gained by eternally criticising the efforts of creative experimenters with the ‘oh, he’s so yesterday’ line. On this occasion, Prince got there just a touch before them, and their overexaggerated stage-shock reactions of ‘oh, we’ll all have to stop tweeting now, Prince says the internet is dead. Har har, what a loser’ are a secure a way of marking them out as the type of person whose defence mechanism is to sneer rather than to think. If these were the primordial plains of human evolution, they are the apes who would still be sneering at the other tribe’s gimmicky use of ‘tools’, right up to the point where the arrow went through their head.

So shall we laugh at Prince? Or shall we stop for a moment and ask ourselves whether this is a man worthy of having his points listened to? This is the man who gave us Sign o’ the Times; the multi-tasker who played every instrument on the Batman soundtrack; the man who knows enough about how the popular mind works to have penned Purple Rain, 1999, Nothing Compares 2 U, Alphabet Street. An artist who, when not composing the crowd-pleasing pop of the Bangles’ Manic Monday, can come up with works of musical erudition such as When Doves Cry. I am not in the slightest bit interested in whether you LIKE any of his work, or whether you think his creative peak has passed. What I would like you to do is ask yourself the question: ‘is someone of this calibre really someone whose opinions I should dismiss with a sneer?’ Because if you think that your opinion on the validity of the internet as a distribution and marketing tool for musicians is worth more than Prince’s, so much so that you’re not willing to even think about it, you shouldn’t really be reading this.

Because, after making the one statement that he knew would get him some viral attention, Prince went on to make some pretty good points. But perhaps you’re still not interested in those. Perhaps you’re still laughing at the idea that the internet is dead. Well, for some purposes it is. What do you do to differentiate yourself from the musical dross in 2010? Let’s say you are a disciplined and proven musical virtuoso, with the resources to make a professional-sounding record. Not only that, but you also have the cash, and respect, for a producer to come in and give your music a searingly critical once-over. To point out the flaws, the weaknesses and – far more importantly – tell you how to fix them? You’ve honed your act over the decades, put in the time. Well then, you have your record. Would you fling it out onto the web – to iTunes, MySpace, YouTube, Spotify, LastFm and Facebook? To flounder there under the same lousy, useless, chickenfeed conditions as the offerings of everything from some spotty d’n’b dj with a couple of tracks he ‘laid down on BandCamp, man’ to the most recent ditsy stageschool ‘chick with a stick’ acoustic singer-songwriter? Put it into an arena where every listener who gets that nagging earworm feeling when they hear something they love… can just go and hear it, at will, for free, until that nagging need is assuaged and replaced by whatever next draws at their capital in the information economy? If you’re about to say ‘well, BlancoMusic have music online, why do YOU do it if it’s so awful?’, the answer is that we’re forced to. We don’t have the resources or the profile to do anything than to bend over and let the internet shaft us where it stings. And it does sting. Believe me, when you know that every word you write, every note that Robin lays down in the studio, every re-tweet from a major newspaper critic is gathering you ‘valuable’ PR, it seems wonderful at first. But the truth is, internet PR is about as useful to making a living as a ‘Boycott Israel’ twibbon is to a West Bank school under mortar fire. For every hundred people who are moved by an online mention to check out BlancoMusic, ninety-nine will check out a song or two, or read the blog, or add it to their LastFm playlist or think, ‘cool, I must see if I can find that on Pirate Bay’. And on THIS, readers, I know of what I speak. Website visits to sales ratio? Somewhere in the region of 8,000 to 1. Oh, I hear the sneers now ‘but that’s just because your music’s shit, mate’. Grow up. It’s not shit.

What Prince has figured out is that the proportion of effort/return on pushing the internet user to actually BUY music, is not worth the resources it takes to do so. When 80 – 90% of your PR effort disappears into non-revenue online areas (piracy, Spotify), the PR needs to be 8-9 times as ubiquitous as in the pre-internet era to make the same gains. He’s done the sums, and has figured out that even if he only stands to make a penny profit on each CD that goes out on the cover of various European newspapers, that it’s worth more to him than a hundred million people retweeting a video clip of his track on YouTube. Newspapers are an established physical distribution platform, to make them the sole legal source of your music is a mark of genius thinking. Why SHOULD Prince make his music available to be listened to at will, for nothing (or as close as dammit) on YouTube, Spotify or Mog.com? For YOUR convenience? So that you can enjoy his work and display your musical credibility to your dinnerparty guests without the painful business of compensating the artist in question? Oh how RUDE of dear little Prince to deny you the opportunity. He’s an artist. Artists reserve the right, in fact, would not be worthy of the name if they didn’t do so, to piss from a height on the money-grubbing mores of the chattering classes. Don’t give me the ‘democratisation of music’ argument. If it were something we could do ourselves, what would be the value in that?! If you want free music, go and get free music from the many, many fame-scrabbling halfwits with guitars and laptops out there who are willing to give it away. That’s how much free music is WORTH.

Bitter? Moi? Yes. Exceedingly so actually. Because long before (and who can say, possibly long after) BlancoMusic existed, I was a music lover. And even if there comes a point where music no longer provides me with an income, I will still hate this period in music’s lifespan – when even the types of people who buy eggs from farmers’ markets and FairTrade coffee are somehow too eager to blame the decline of music on the malpractice of the music industry and spout fatuous self-serving nonsense about how filesharing is ‘free pr for the artists’. I can make a living without music, that’s not an issue. The issue is that the internet is making music shit. There, I’ve said it. It’s putting the actual making of music secondary to the complicated business of trying to find a way of sustaining a living from doing so. Genius, forced to figure out ways to tour without having to incur excess baggage costs. Virtuosos, giving up music because they refuse to take the whore’s option of product placement or naked dancers in their videos. Music lovers have CD collections, not hard-drives full of shit they never listen to. This all happened before, we call it the dark ages. Yep, the internet is over, it’s killed my first love.

Don’t tell me you can’t afford to buy CDs. My entire collection is worth less than your phone and laptop.

The reason why you’re pissed off about what Prince said is because you know what it really means is that Prince does not give a shit about you. He doesn’t want you to have his record. Not unless you’re willing to get off your arse and pay for it. Nothing Compares 2 U. You remember the track? Baldy Irish girl took it to number one for about a hundred weeks? Prince wrote that, it was on the Black album. The Black Album was never released because Prince wasn’t happy with it. It became an underground hit, just having heard the recordings was a mark of credibility throughout the era. Word-of-mouth buzz, in an age before textmessages or social networks; when teenagers went Inter-Railing for a whole month WITHOUT MOBILE PHONES OR E-MAIL!!!, and civil protest was a rite of passage involving tear-gas and baton-charges (as opposed to Facebook groups and twibbons). Back when ‘the kids’ weren’t actually better behaved than their parents. There’s the insult, because what Prince is really saying, and what’s really pissing everyone off, is that being ‘on it’, musically, in an era where everyone’s desperately pleading for your attention, ain’t exactly the same as when you had to work a bit for your record collection. He knows damned well that there are DubStep clubs in Bow that were hip two years ago, where nothing of the setlist got heard on anything but vinyl and that by the time the webmob got to hear of it, were over. His biggest-selling hit came off a record that only ever got released on bootleg! What does this man want with a social network buzz! Get real, that’s for desperate little girls with stage-school mockney accents and rich dads.

And why shouldn’t he ask for an advance from iTunes? Right now, the iTunes service is this:

YOU put in the energy and time and money to make a record.
WE will host that on our clunky-as-shite server/shop.
YOU will have only three pricing options per track.
WE will take 30% of the retail price.
YOU will pay all recording, promo, pr, touring and living costs.
WE will take no significant financial risk in digitally distributing your product, but will still ask for a comparable commission to the bricks-and-mortar shops, manufacturers and distributors who actually always lost money if your physical record bombed.
YOU might, by your reputation and PR efforts, bring a great deal of filthy lucre to our operation, however YOU can FUCK OFF if you think we’re ever likely to risk advancing you some MONEY, recoupable against sales, on the likelihood that you DO.
WE, after the traditional major label business-model has been well and truly fucked by piracy and the iPhone: ‘whaddaya mean I have to PAY for music!’ generation, reserve the right (seeing as we already control the majority of digital music content AND the devices used to listen to it) to team up with another entity (let’s say Sony or Google Music, for example) to completely dominate the music content and delivery market.
YOU, being to all intents and purposes, bereft of any other way to significantly distribute your music, will be obliged to conform to our directives regarding royalties, content, style etc.
WE, at that point, might actually get involved in the filesharing issue, which WE have the resources, connections and legal gravity to hammer into atoms with high-profile lawsuits and political lobbying, were WE to have a financial interest in doing so.

UNLESS you happen to be Prince, or anyone else who actually has the BALLS to stand up to a music distribution and sales model that does nothing whatsoever for the continuation and propagation of great music other than to say something along the lines of ‘yeah baby, you can make all the movies you like, but I own all the movie halls and I ain’t gonna show ’em unless you bend over, darlin”

Look, I’m aware that I’ve ranted a bit in this post.  I’m also aware that I’m not going to change anything. I just want you to know that, no matter how evil or corrupt you think the major labels have acted over the past five decades, they always offered the musician something of value up front. Most of the whining about major labels comes from acts who would never have been signed, even in the 80s/90s heyday of music. Majors exploited bands, sure. Bands exploited them back. There were ways and means, and a lot of people got to make a living out of making music, and a lot of us got to hear music that made out lives fuller and better because of that system. Prince hates the majors too. They really screwed him over. No system is perfect, but the argument that digital distribution benefits the artist, and that it therefore has moral superiority over the major label system rests on a misconception. It assumes that the transition of recorded music from being a privilege based on merit to a democratically available option will somehow advance the artistic value of our society. If anything it does the opposite. It does for music what replacing pub bands with karaoke machines did.

The responsibility of the future of quality music does not lie with the artists or the industry. It lies with you. The patron. The BUYER.



Filed under Music, Uncategorized

82 responses to “Why Prince is right

    • TechDude

      Prince is in a cult. What do you expect him to say? I can’t even begin to list on how the Internet helped me. It got me great paying jobs, great houses, and saved me a lot of money. I also gained a lot of technical knowledge in my field for free without paying thousands of dollars to a college. Remember that Prince is just an ENTERTAINER. All I care about is the music he makes. Everything else is just his opinion

  1. Regardless how angry you are about the music industry and people not buying your music, the internet is not dead. That’s what everyone laughed at. You are too close to be objective.

    • Mike

      Dude what he really means is that the internet is the new mainstream monopoly system, that’s all, anyone stupid to not realized that in the future the so called “web cultural freedom” will be all about $, is full of shit.

      Course the internet as a consumer service is not dead, the internet is the new plazas.

  2. Rant-ish? Yep
    Vitriolic? A little
    Do I agree with it all? Not entirely
    Do I wanna cheer you? 🙂

    (found you via @csi_popmusic)

  3. @James Greenfield
    A fair comment, I think I do mention at one point how bitter I am at the state of the music 2.0 industry, and I am far too close to be thoroughly objective. The post would never have made it through the editorial processes of a decent newspaper for just that reason. These are the views I hold, and the label I run. Of course the internet’s not dead, but it was a good attention hook, and no-one would have read the Prince interview if he’d made the statement ‘The internet does not convince me of its efficacy as a tool for music marketing and sales’. That’s why it was a great piece of play from Prince.

  4. Brilliant post! Quite an odd feeling to laugh whilst subject to your bitter truths of web ‘democratisation’. I agree wholeheartedly.

    Reminds me of the time I was having a drink with some friends of friends, of whom one guy told me he’d been enjoying my latest album. After thanking him, I asked him out of curiosity how he got hold of it, to which he admitted he grabbed it off some rapidshare blog. It was saddening how this guy didn’t even seem to recognise how upset I might feel about this. Ce la vie, these days.

    • Conversation I had at a small (completely packed out) gig in Twickenham by two awesome Canadian artists with a lady (who it turned out came in half way through the gig without paying):

      “They were amazing!… £14 for the albums? For some musicians that are just playing in my local pub?”

      Er yeah… some band that are trying to make a living playing little local pubs like yours around the world, hoping for a break that will make the bad days worthwhile, but in the meantime clock up hundreds of shows and thousands of miles each year bringing amazing music to your front door!

  5. san damiano


    He wrote Manic Monday but thankfully not Eternal Flame.


  6. san damiano

    Oh and The Black Album didn’t have Nothing Compares 2 U on it. It was on an album by ‘The Family’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family_%28album%29

  7. san damiano

    Good piece though and i do take your basic points!
    (Espescially the stuf about itunes)

  8. Some guy

    Never thought I’d actually come across anyone stupid enough to argue for the major label model of completely screwing over artists.

    You complain about iTunes taking 30% but completely ignore the fact that major label signed artists are lucky to make 1-2% on record sales.

    • Within a 360 degree deal, that’s probably the case, I agree. But on a 1-2% deal (which would be somewhere in the region of publishing society legal minimums), the corresponding advances are likely to be pretty big. The point isn’t that iTunes take a chunk, but that they offer nothing in return. Every major deal is open to negotiation, and artists go in with poker faces and grapple for what they can get. That option does not exist with iTunes.
      A clever act can find that a major label deal is right for them. Another one will find the DIY route better for them. Both work well for plenty of artists. And music lovers.

  9. Great article, thank you.

  10. wonderful. thank-you.

  11. Well said.

    Ohh, and Prince still rocks, just not as much as he did in the 80’s)

  12. sinisterpictures

    I wouldn’t open the curtains to see him play if he was performing in my back garden.

    • Like I said in the post. Whether you LIKE Prince or not is irrelevant to the issue.

      • sinisterpictures

        Ahh you did too! I sometimes have to concentrate so hard doing the actual reading, I don’t always absorb all what the writings about.
        Dyslexia, at least it has a name now, when I was at school you were just thick!

      • Well, to be fair, it’s a bloody long post. A lot of stuff to miss in there. My fault really, I’d had most of a bottle of wine and just started typing. To be honest, it kindof got away from me a bit, in terms of coherence.

      • sinisterpictures

        It’s a good piece, I do agree with a lot of your points too. I still buy my music in some form of hard copy, be it vinyl or cd. Predictably because of my struggle with text characters I work with images, and much to my distress have lost quite a bit of work when an HDD goes to visit that computer in the sky, or landfill. I imagine a persons music collection can go the same way just as quickly, which is why I find it much better to buy it pre backed up. I wish digital images were so easy to safeguard!

  13. Will

    I agree that the internet encourages people to make shit music but some people like shit music.

    The last album i bought was Radiohead – in rainbows and i choose to pay for it (£6). Before the internet i was paying £16 + for a CD and i bought a shit load of them. My beef with paying for music is who actually gets the money? I’d rather pay £15 and go to a show. I’m fed up of lining the pockets of HMV et al.

    I don’t understand why more artists don’t allow you to choose how much to pay for their work. If you follow in the example of Radiohead (granted they have a large following etc..),then it’s the case of setting up a site from which to download, surely that would mean lower overheads and also the record buying public can rest assured that more money goes into their pocket.

    I love music and i don’t want my favourite artists to be in a position where they can’t afford to make music but at the same time i’m not “investing” £15+ a time at HMV only to find that that money has gone into paying for plastic cases, delivery, lighting and a small margin for the shop.

    And if your CD collection costs less than a phone and laptop then you really don’t have much of a collection…Maybe the CD’s are too expensive?

    In short, i don’t pay for music and won’t any time soon. Sorry if this offends you, if it makes you feel better i don’t pay for films either.

    • Sorry if *this* offends you Will, but I see nothing but hypocrisy in your post!

      If you somehow found some music (or a movie) you love that didn’t come via the route of a label/plugger/radio station/record shop/promoter/journalist (ie ‘the industry’), is it then OK to pay? Do you pirate your music and movies and then send money directly to the band to cut out all the industry middle-men or do you leave them to it?

      What you’re doing is theft. It’s no different from shoplifting from HMV. No different from nicking a t-shirt off the merch-stall at a gig. You don’t think it should be free, you just think that somebody else should pay for it. There’s a word for that.

      I’d feel less strongly about it if you just came out and said you thought artists should just do it for the love and never expect to get paid. I’d disagree, but at least you’d have a defendable opinion.

  14. @Will
    Radiohead are a good example of a band whose fortune and fanbase was made in a time when people bought music. They worked hard and gigged relentlessly, it’s true. But they also had a lot of support from their record label. Financial support. Their decision to sacrifice their album to a pay-what-you-like model was based upon a huge, existing fanbase that their label helped them to achieve. When they did that, they knew that they would lose money on the scheme, and they did. Instead, they made their money on the ‘luxury box-sets for superfans’ model. A model which I consider to be as abhorrent and exploitative as any £16 CD ever was. Exploitative and revolting, to expect your devoted fans to subsidise the making of an album that you feel is otherwise worth giving away, just because you put it in a fancy limited edition box. Are they musicians or marketeers?
    When Thom Yorke recently told GCSE music students not to even consider the music industry/labels route it was doubly sickening. One, because that system put him where he is and, two, because it was a horrible insult to all the people who worked to help put him there.
    My CD collection is small, because if I don’t have the money to buy a new record, I take the old-fashioned route of being a bit disappointed, and make do without. For this reason, I love the records I do own all the more.
    Your stance on not paying for music or films doesn’t offend me so much as it saddens me. Music is already dying, you’re just speeding it on its way. Ever stop to wonder how much of the ticket fee to a gig the band gets to see? Or that live music is restricted to those that live near big cities, have no kids, or good babysitters, or who can stomach stinky clubs etc. It won’t save music. Only sales can do that.

    • I hated that box-set concept; talk about milking your loyal fanbase…

    • Totally agree, I hate how Radiohead fans act like if Radiohead are so indie, I bet you that if today Radiohead was a new and upcoming band they will sign to a record label in a second just like they did in the 90s.

      • bjork

        @blancomusic i’m going to die one day so i don’t give a fuck about downloading music, it’s an insignificant issue

  15. electricden

    Great article. I completely agree with you. As an ex-record shop worker, who fought on a daily basis to get customers to value music as more than a disposable commodity, it sickens me as to how this attitude has transformed the online music industry today. I was taught to appreciate ALBUMS not ‘downloads’ and so even today, if I truly appreciate an artist’s work I will go into a store and BUY it. I think in years to come when there is an INFINITE amount of online music content to choose, and nobody interested in any of it due to it’s disposability due to artists not being properly funded, people will when looking back at those with carefully selected CD collections, small enough to be used easily, and ALL with items in it having contributed to keeping their favourite artists going, will look back in ENVY at the ‘Golden Age’ we had lived in when it came to listening to music.

  16. @ sinisterpictures Yep, so many people lose their music through the fault of the useless damned mp3 players. Not only do the things make your music sound tinny and shit, they also give people a really good reason to thieve music from pirate sites – if you lost all your music, you’d be bloody tempted, wouldn’t you?

  17. Will – I’ve seen this argument many times, and I’ve never understood it. It’s almost as though the people saying it are inventing a price because they can’t remember how much CDs cost, but I try to be fair and assume they’re just quoting the highest price they’ve ever seen.

    You’re quoting £15+ as if it’s standard. I buy all my music, and I very rarely pay over £11 even for new titles (often a lot less). Every music shop in my city sells CDs at around £5 when they’re more than about 9 months old. This isn’t panic-selling either, it’s a fair practice that’s been going on for years and allows me to pick up bestsellers and more obscure LPs at a very reasonable price.

  18. OK,
    This has been the most amazing response to a post I’ve ever gotten. Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting, and please keep doing so as long as you like. I, however, have to log off now. I’ll be back tomorrow, so don’t feel I’m ignoring or censoring you if you post a new comment and it doesn’t appear.
    Sean, Label Manager, BlancoMusic.com.

  19. A good post. Can’t say I agree with all of it but it’s a good piece and I’m glad I read it.

  20. I generally agree with most of what you are saying. I myself was berating how sensible it would be to have you music in a “free music” system like Spotify and how crap it is that the music industry is devaluing its own product for short term gain.

    The one part I disagree with though is that free music is shit music. I just don’t think that’s true. There are plenty of artists who write stuff that would have previously just never seen the light of day because the label thought there were more commercially viable tunes that they would rather promote. That doesn’t mean the other stuff is no good, it just means that the artists normal label/labels weren’t interested. The internet has just allowed them a way to put these tracks into the world without it really costing them anything to distribute it.

    You also get a lot of people like myself who make music because they like too. I don’t intend to ever pay the bills with my music (you could argue that is lucky…) so I just put it online for people to enjoy if they want to or not. Just because its free doesn’t MEAN its shit.

    I suppose though you may not mean people like me who aren’t looking for validation, I guess you probably talking about those who are desperate to make it and put their music up for free in an attempt to get the kudos/exposure they think they deserve?

  21. alphacat

    Just finished reading the piece, and it’s an interesting counterpoint. There are a handful of things I think were not factored into your assessment, though, that need to be.

    1) The advancement & proliferation of technology makes all this wistful nostalgia for the “good old days” of brick & mortar record companies irrelevant. Even if the record companies hadn’t shot themselves [repeatedly] in their own foot (by raping artists and fans… like how cd’s were supposed to eventually go down in price) – the advent of high capacity data storage and transmission technologies would’ve happened anyway, and we’d all be dealing with the same issue regardless of how unethically the industry as a whole has acted in the past.

    2) While it’s true that the democratization of music (both production & consumption) as a byproduct of this technology has:

    A) destroyed the business model of the ancien régime,
    B) allowed fools who shouldn’t be permitted to touch a goddamn ukelele to release 200 half-produced shitsongs a year, most of them stealing others’ hooks, and
    C) made it more difficult than ever for sincere, artistic producers/songwriters to get any attention…

    …maybe it’s worth considering that these aren’t all bad things entirely.

    What the hell do I mean?

    Well, the record industry fell apart under its own bloated weight, much like the Soviet Union. Too many people had come to expect a cut, which in turn was part of the reason things like cd prices never came down as promised. Managers, PR people, and let’s not forget the fees of fucking LAWYERS. The old model was corrupt through and through – all it needed was a little push to completely lose relevance. Technology provided that push.

    As for the great lumpen masses suddenly fancying themselves the next Timbaland: good! Because despite the very noticeable increase in overall mediocrity of music these days, it’s also my opinion that there’s more interesting shit going on right now than ever before as well. When I got into ‘underground’ music in High School in the late 80’s (yes, I’m that old) there were a handful of really, really amazing artists doing amazing things, and then a second tier of pretty cool bands doing sort of interesting things, and then… Top 40. The number of acts in the first category were always a small fraction, maybe 1 or 2 percent of the total volume of available music. And guess what? It’s still 1 or 2 percent, except that there are 10 to 20 times as many artists doing it. Net result? More interesting music, more envelopes being pushed, more innovation; dubstep is clearly a product of this egalitarian evolution too.

    And when it’s all said and done, it also seems to be that people are, ironically, discovering that technology in and of itself has nothing to do with writing a great song either. That still takes talent and discipline, which brings me to point C – the present scheme of things making it harder for the genuinely talented to get heard. In biology, do you know what the greatest catalyst for adaptive evolution is? C’mon, sure you do. It’s competition for resources. Which is not to say that it was ever easy for an artist to get his songs heard before – but with increased competition – plus knowing that technology is only the vessel, not the captain – I believe that music is poised to evolve in a significant way and maybe even take some part of human evolution forward, too.

    Things are up in the air right now. In a hundred years I’m curious as to how people might look back on this period, because it’s sure gonna be different from how it is now… the same way that how it is now is profoundly different from where music was a hundred years in the past.

  22. jack

    GREAT article, but…”Nothing Compares 2 U” was a song that Prince wrote for the band, ‘The Family’. It wasn’t on the “Black Album”.

  23. muleFunk

    What Prince was saying is the internet is dead…. as a means for distributing music. He is also correct in stating that it will be like MTV when the “fad” is over.

    Once upon a time the internet was a great instrument for many different things and ideas. Now all it’s good for is bullshit like porn and facebook.

    Thing is too many people have been bamboozled into buying those super cell phones and they are being swept away by it’s gleam to pay attention to what’s really going on.

  24. thank you this post is very good and nice blog

  25. I call bullshit on Prince.

    Record companies exploit artists. They have done for over fifty years. When Prince took on Warner Bros. with his “slave” stunt, it was 1993 – seventeen years ago, before the web took off.

    Today, Prince has a new album to promote. He wants media coverage. Saying the Internet is dead is a story that plays very well in the mainstream media. And with the RIAA, too.

    The Internet has not stopped record companies exploiting artists. It has created new opportunities for musicians to make money without having a record company contract. But neither of those stories play well in the media.

    The point of doing deals is not to exercise control, it’s to make money. Same as it ever was.

    Would somebody please tell Prince that CDs are digital? His rant against digital looks a bit silly, if he likes CDs. If music is on CD, it will be on MP3, and on the web. Just like the Black Album was. (Although I bought the Black Album on a cassette.)

    If Prince wants to get back into bed with Warner Bros and cuddle up to the RIAA, that’s his choice. But he’s not a pioneer, he’s not an innovator, he’s not an emancipator of music and musicians. He’s had seventeen years to do that, and has enjoyed a lot of support and respect from fans and other musicians, and he could have blazed a trail. But he’s been sulking, and he’s still sulking today.

  26. Larry

    Nothing Compares 2 U did NOT appear on The Black Album. It was written by Prince in the early 80s for The family, a funk combo partially formed by Prince as an outlet of sorts to release more of his music. The song appeared on The Family’s first and only album, a self-titled one, in 1985.

  27. Sean, one question on the idea of Prince getting a royalty from the likes of iTunes: why should he? They’re a store not a label. Does HMV or WH Smith give every artist an advance? No it does not.

    • The whole idea, I think, is that he feels he can bring added footfall to their service. That may or may not be the case, but he’s brave to bring the idea up. Why shouldn’t he ask for it at least? The Beatles will bring masses of trade to iTunes if and when their music goes up there. That’s an economic lever that they have the right to use.

      • Do HMV give an advance? Hmm… I’m not *certain* but I’d be very surprised if what sits on HMV’s shelves isn’t there on a sale-or-return basis!

        And even if it is, then the distributor or the record company will have at least part-paid for the stock – and that won’t be just the manufacturing percentage. The artist will have seen some kind of advance for those units, especially if they’re as bankable as I’m sure Prince still is.

      • Sorry, I meant I’d be surprised if it *is* all there on SoR.

  28. if6was9

    I agreed with his highness as soon as read the interview. I’m quite uncomfortable reacting to a bunch of limited losers who own their suddenly gained voices to the bloody TWITTER, or blogger or whatever. Prince might sell his music via internet or give it away for free, he’s still a freaking genius. It’s a fact. And I’m 100% sure, a good deal of those passionate debaters, taking part in endless discussions about Prince’s “new groove” never even heard man’s music, like N.E.W.S., One Night Alone, Xpactation, Parade, Dirty Mind etc. It ain’t just Purple Rain.

  29. Thadd

    Some of you guys need to pull your heads out of your assess. The Internet is DEAD for MUSIC. The internet is only good for porn, bloggeres, bloggers who blog about porn, and a few news writers who write about porn.

    • sinisterpictures

      Thadd, I have never put my head near the rear end of an ass, donkey or any other kind of equine like creature. Is this placing of ones head in an ass a fad that has past me by?

  30. gregorylent

    this is not about music, of course, but about its distribution system.

    internet ubiquity has returned us to the reality of music as experienced by bards, troubadours, minstrels … it is an experience as fleeting as the wind, cannot be held, and the creators of this fleeting experience do not live all that well.

    on to the next village, for tomorrow’s bread.

  31. Ken

    Thank you for posting this. Rant or not, you’ve written passionately and well. You’ve raised issues fundamental to the lives of people who love music, Prince and Radiohead included. Due to the internet, ironically enough, it will be read and discussed widely. It needs to be. There’s a point here that few people have had the courage to make – that in the future, the greatest value will reside in things that AREN’T online. Prince at least has recognised it.

  32. Tony

    This must have been said above but Nothing Compares 2 U is from the Family album not the Black Album…but just don’t want to just correct a somewhat unimportant factual error…good piece and very thoughful and well written.

  33. Griggsy

    Brilliant article. It’s funny how many so called major media sites took the easy route and making it seem like he’s a crazy guy stuck in the past. Is it so hard to think about his comment for a few minutes?

    A lot of folks forget that he was one of the first to try to sell his music online. Years ago he tried his hands at an online music club. He’s experimented with other online efforts since then. Obviously, with varying degrees of success. It should also be noted that other artists are itunes holdouts. Where is the Beatles catalog on itunes?

    But got forbid someone speaks out against iTunes.

  34. Squeek

    I agree with your points,

    I’m not the biggest fan of Prince, i like a few of his songs but I wouldn’t say i’m a fan.

    I do enjoy music tho!

    I would like to raise a thought, I recently went to see the Kings of Leon in Hyde Park. The tickets cost me over £50 each, some may say this is expensive but this is my thought…

    I dont own any of their CD’s, I have never downloaded or payed for any of their tracks but i still like them. I rarely buy music these days as I use many of the sites listed above to listen to them online.

    I do how ever pay to see them live, and in my eyes live music is where music is designed to be. You may be very good at making music in the studio but if you cant perform live then the question I ask is do you hold any talent?

    Before people think i’m against dance music I would like to say some of the greatest artists i have ever paid to see are dance acts including Soulwax (2 Many DJ’s) & Daft Punk.

    I believe the future of music is within live performance.

    Festivals are growing in popularity every year and people are prepaired to fly to enjoy live music.

  35. Mel

    I largely agree much with alphacat above.

    First of all, my issues with the major label model, at least in the latter half of my own lifetime, stem from the rampant corporate consolidation. We went from a plethora of companies supporting individual small armies of artists covering a wider range of genres and styles to conglomerates continuously eating each other alive while producing a meager field of diversity that has continued to narrow at an increasingly exponential rate (how’s that for an overtly verbose bullshit sentence?).

    In other words, it’s the same as almost any corporate buy out – when companies merge, they cut costs by cutting jobs. When record companies combined and recombined, they slashed more and more opportunities and concentrated more capital on what they thought were “safe bets.” It was the same as someone with a financial portfolio choosing to invest heavily in just a few hopefully high-performing stocks instead of diversifying, but the gamble lost.
    Music sales were dropping before Napster came to be be.

    I was a kid that didn’t grow up near a major city with progressive radio stations. I still don’t live near such a place. I do buy music at actual record stores, but I guarantee you with the most sincere of honesty that full on at least half of my cd collection consists bands I learned about online. Many of those bands have never had major label support, and they sure as shit don’t get played on midwestern radio stations or wherever else we’re expected to discover new material. Without the internet, half the bands I love wouldn’t have me as a fan.

    • @Mel The sentence was verbose, certainly, but not bullshit.
      It’s heartwarming to hear your experience – that was exactly how the internet was supposed to work in favour of artists. I’m glad to have some evidence that it does do so. Let’s all hope for more people like you, who find th music they want to hear, then buy it.

  36. Jen

    I agree with some of your post and respect the passion you bring to the discussion.

    But, I do find it somewhat ironic that your complaints *on your blog* regarding the Internet and music distribution are very similar to the complaints put forth by those who would consider themselves “real” writers about the Internet and blogs.

    In some ways, this comes off as a bit elitist and a bit in-my-day-we-walked-uphill. Not the complaints about music theft, which are entirely valid. I *like* that music is so accessible now and more people seek out new music on the Internet, rather than making due with whatever is forcefed over the mega-corporate radio stations. I *like* that anyone can put their music out there and it’s up to you and me to decide what we want to listen to. I don’t think recording music was a privilege based solely on merit under the old system. I think there was entirely too much recording music based on marketability.

    In fact, the only thing I don’t like about the digital distribution system is how easy it makes piracy. We all “dubbed tapes” and made mixes for our friends back in the day. It’s just on a bigger scale now, and I agree that this is a shame.

    • Thanks Jen. You know, I never really expected so many people to read the post, or to get so much interest. Probably if I had, it would have been a lot less passionate, but a lot better-researched. Really, it was a stream of consciousness rant about the things that are destroying my faith in the current music model. What I ought to say now is that I do have hope for the future of music, and that a lot of new opportunities are there to be taken now, that weren’t before. We’ll all get through this, and come out stronger.
      As regard to making tapes for your friends, on cassette. I think most of the filesharing line about how piracy gives artists exposure and pr, actually applied to tapes. The reason why, was because there was a peer element, a respect element, and a genuine recommendation element. When someone gave you a tape, it was because they wanted to share something cool with you. Reputations were on the line, fans were made, bands got heard. Anonymous filesharing doesn’t do that, because there’s no personal element, plus it’s not limited by a physical artefact.
      It is, I agree, VERY difficult not to let nostalgic imaginings of my past enter into discussions about music now and music then. I try my best, but as I’ll happily admit, that post was a bit of a freeform rant that wasn’t as well-controlled as I’d have made it had I known it would lead to thousands of reads and my ending up getting interviewed on radio shows.

  37. You’re so full of shit. Are you fifty years old? You’d better be for as bitter you are.

    You are clinging to a doomed industry. All of you, off buying CD’s and acting so self-righteous. Good for you, you spent twelve dollars on something that I got for free and didn’t even have to get out of bed for. You lose.

    Just because someone says something is worth twelve dollars doesn’t make it so. If all the grocery stores in the world starting charging a thousand dollars for a loaf of bread, you wouldn’t pay it. There would be upheaval.

    Hate me all you want; the cold, hard fact of the matter is the internet exists, and so does filesharing, and they are NOT going to go away just because Prince, you, the US government, and a few other bitter old douche bags think that it’s wrong.

    (On an off-note, I love Prince.)

    There are people that embrace change and there are people that cling to the past, that’s all there is to it.

    …Or, perhaps I am the one clinging to the past? Because, I wasn’t alive in the 1800’s like you were, but regardless I am aware of the fact that music has been around since the dawn of time. It is not a human invention. Two hundred years ago music was quite free, and people would not even have been able to grasp the idea of trying to “own” it, or having to pay for it. It is something that travels through the air. It is for all of us.

    When someone like Prince writes a song like “Darling Nikki”, I’m sorry, that song belongs to me just as much as it belongs to Prince, and you can fuck off if you think otherwise.

    As for your rant about how the internet killed music, for God’s sake, stop being such a little bitch. It did not. I refuse to believe someone who can write as eloquently as you would believe such tripe. There has always been bad music by the bucketload. All the internet did was give every two-bit jackoff the ability to make his music available to the public, instead of remaining in the boombox in his mom’s basement.

    You can think that’s a travesty all you want, but you just sound like a baby. Nobody is making you listen to shitty music. Nobody is making you download anything illegally.

    An interesting bit of irony: the music industry isn’t the only thing “suffering” as a result of the internet. Newspapers all over the world are going out of business too. You wouldn’t have this blog with a bunch of avid readers, either. The good newspaper columnists will have to change their business model to keep up with the times, which happen to be a’changing. Times tend to do that.

    I close this argument by apologizing for going off on you, but I can’t help it. You are a dinosaur and you are my enemy. Your ass-backward idea of restricting the free trade of ideas and art is the absolute antithesis of what music is about. My friends and I are building a renaissance of art and music in our own backyard. It is anything but shitty. This is an incredible time to be alive. I feel sorry for anyone that is missing out on it.

    P.S. I am subscribing to your blog because I find your writing to be excellent and provocative. Don’t hold it against me.

    • Not quite fifty yet, but closer to it than to 20.

      I’ve got things I’m willing to fight for, you’ve got things you’re willing to fight for. I’ll fight for music to continue existing, you’ll fight for your ability to keep on stealing it.
      Let’s just get on with it, shall we?

    • @WarMaster
      Sorry, when I opened your comment up in the dashboard it only opened the first part. At that point your opinion seemed a little less interesting than when I came here and read the whole thing.

      My feeling about music at the moment is that there’s an awful lot of crap music being made, and released. That makes it harder for people to find the good stuff. However, I do think there’s some incredible music being made right now, really incredible. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t, or shouldn’t be running a record label (which is what I do when I’m not blogging ;-)).
      Dinosaur. Perhaps, or perhaps I’m just not happy with the way things are now and I’m trying to change them. If there’s a model out there that will work for musicians and fans alike, I want to find it. If it’s something very different from the music industry I grew up with, that’s even better. The old industry sucked. The present industry sucks. The new one won’t, but we have to find it.
      You’re very welcome as a subscriber to the blog. It’s lovely getting positive feedback from people, but it’s the negative stuff that makes you learn. No point having everybody patting my back!

  38. I suppose the actual argument I was trying to make is that I don’t believe what I’m doing is “stealing” music at all.

    For one thing, when you go and steal a car, you are hurting the person that owned it, or the dealership you stole it from. You are actually physically taking it from them. When you download information, mere bytes off the internet, you have not “taken” anything from anyone. You could argue that I am taking money out of artists’ pockets, but the thing about that is quite simple: Why SHOULD I pay twelve dollars for something I can get for free more conveniently? It’s supply and demand, simple economics.

    If people want to go out and buy a CD, something they hold in their hands, that’s fine. Believe what you want of me, but I am not a thief. I don’t go to Best Buy and pocket CD’s off the shelves. No, that is not the same thing at all. I can’t believe people even argue about this. What is so hard to understand about this concept??

    If BP admitted they screwed up REALLY BADLY and wanted to make it up to the world and started charging zero dollars for a gallon of gas, NOBODY would go buy gas for three dollars a gallon. That person would be what most people call a “moron”.
    Again, economics.

    I believe you may be biased due to the fact that you own a record label…but this goes back to what I was saying about the modern business model. I genuinely wish you the best (I don’t actually consider you to be my enemy or ‘full of shit’; I am a zealous writer) and I do hope you find a way to make your living, but forgive me, as part of the younger generation, for having a strong feeling that people just aren’t going to be buying recorded music for very much longer. Bands have always made most of their money from touring anyway, and the world will always need good bands, so no real harm done, to them. Labels may not be so lucky unless they find a new way to exploit their artists, or actually genuinely help them, which I hear is pretty rare.

    You claim that the present industry sucks, but I don’t see any basis for that claim unless you, well, run your own label. I agree that iTunes sucks; they’re part of the problem…but in your article you mocked artists using BandCamp. I think sites like that are the way of the future, like it or not. They offer an excellent, free service and ask for nothing in return from the artists. It affords people like me who don’t have QUITE as big a fanbase as Prince (ha ha) the ability to get their music into peoples’ hands, on their own terms, for their own price, even free. That is a wonderful concept! The fact that the market is (and always has been) over-saturated is not their fault.

    So, I suppose I’m confused as to why you think the present industry sucks. The internet is a filthy, noisy cesspool, but I just don’t feel negatively affected by it. It has helped me and my career in ways unimaginable fifteen years ago, and I’ve no doubt it has helped yours as well.

    You say that you will ‘fight for music to continue existing’, but I just don’t see how you could possibly believe that a thirteen year-old kid downloading Dark Side of the Moon off of Piratebay and having his life changed is going to kill music. That is asinine. It’s just a new way to do it, albeit a bit less ‘romantic’ than blowing the dust off your father’s old vinyl.

    And yes, I will fight for my right to “steal” music. Just as I will fight for my right to give mine away. I hate to tell you this, but my side is going to win, simply because there’s no way it won’t. You can’t turn off the internet.

    • A cab driver doesn’t actually lose anything if you ask for a ride home, then refuse to pay him. OK, the gas money, but his service doesn’t get paid for. It’s too simplistic to use the ‘no-one actually loses anything physical, so it’s not theft’ line. If someone moved some of the numbers about in your bank account and cost you a month’s wages, you’d feel like you’d been robbed. Yet all that’s happened is that someone’s changed some data. There are many different types of theft. I just want us all to think a bit deeper. For example, I’m no fan of filesharing, as you know, but it’s not actually what I consider to be the biggest threat to the music industry right now. Have a look through the archives of this blog and you’ll see that I bear far more ill-will towards the streaming services such as Spotify and Mog.com than I do toward individual filesharers. Filesharers, well, I wish they wouldn’t do it, but at least they’re just taking the music because they want to hear it. Spotify and the like are taking the music because they want to get rich, and don’t care that they have no means of paying the artists for the music that is making them rich. Plus, they’re not only getting rich from artists’ music, but are giving potential music customers a legal alternative to actually funding their favourite artists. Right now, artists pay for PR, which ends up making Spotify and Mog rich, but stops people from feeling the need to go out and buy a record. It’s INSANE that musicians have to put up with this, but they do. Our music is on Mog.com and LAst.fm without our permission. We have even asked them to remove it, but have been ignored.
      If you MUST fileshare, do me this one favour: twice or three times a year, go find a band you really like and buy their cd direct from their website. JUst 2 or 3 times a year. Then go fileshare everything else. It’s a compromise that will do more for the continuation of the music industry than going and buying a subscription to Spotify ever will.

  39. Pingback: Prince’s war with iTunes plays into the hands of illegal filesharers | Robin Meade Blog

  40. Vicbastard

    Oh please. Your rant presumes the old music industry–the one being destroyed by digital–was filled with Princes, with transcendent musical talent whose work could move millions. But it wasn’t. Prince was the exception. The industry was designed to take the half-talented to the top, and skim the profits for bankers. For every Prince, there was a Kenny Loggins, Tiffany, Foreigner, or John Parr. What’s left of industry defined talent is on American Idol. It’s dreck. Whereas every other track on lastfm has someone coming up with genius in his or her basement. Prince is on the internet. It’s just not the Prince from Minneapolis…

    • Alright, perhaps a bit of balance is needed here. Not all the music twenty years ago was excellent; not all the music available on the new music model is awful. The old way had its main focus on making money, so if Tiffany sold records, she got her records made. The new model lets everyone put music out, but only the music that is likely to sell millions of copies is given any sort of promotional backing by major labels. Promo is the big difference now – everyone’s got distribution and retail sorted out, you only have to send your music to an aggregator or set up your own ubercart website to sell your music. Who gets to sell lots of records now? The acts with big promo budgets. There’s great music being made, but it’s too risky a proposition for a label to invest in now – only the acts who have the potential to sell millions of units will get promo budgets. Right now, that means promoting the kind of music that appeals to the demographic who actually buy most music – the pre-teens. It’s about ten years since Red Hot Chili Peppers released Californication. It’s about 23 or 24 since Appetite for Destruction. Both were challenging, musically interesting records. Neither would sell more than a hundred thousand or so now, because they would be considered too risky to bet much promo money on. There’s more music than ever available on the internet now, some of it amazing, but it’s near impossible for acts to make a living from making it because the ‘underground’ fragments into smaller and smaller niches, whilst the ‘mainstream’ plays safer and safer. I just think that it’s sad that mainstream success is now based on acts which react to the record-buying public’s tastes, rather than challenges and changes those tastes. The edgy, new stuff is all out there, but it can’t get the profile it needs, because after about 10,000 fans, growing an audience via bandcamp-style strategies becomes restricted by money issues.

  41. what paul sullivan said.
    Fuckin A’

  42. This is a wonderful piece. i don’t think that music on the internet is dead, but music distribution being controlled by technology companies sure as hell should be.

  43. Pingback: Musicians Bypassing iTunes For Independent Distribution Models

  44. Nice man ! I really enjoyed spending my time in your blog !

    Thank you .

  45. Winston V

    Like the first comment says ‘fuckin’ A’ man. And I’m old enough to remember that phrase from the first time around. Not only that, I’m old enough to remember reading Creem magazine and the writing of the late great Lester Bangs. This is te first time I’ve been reminded of Bangs writing since then. Keep snarling, keep screaming and keep at them. A joy.

  46. anechoic

    thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking for a long long time 🙂

  47. brilliant article that did take my breath away when the word music was kept on going on and on .Criticizm is a debate in my eyes.When eyes are blind there shant be no debate.

    Entertaining Girls Win

  48. Kulturpessimist

    Cry us a river Prince!

    That the new generation of listeners does not want to pay for the kind of “music” Prince has produced is a classical example of a revolution which eats its own childern. Prince delivered always ugly music and his androgynous, shrieking voice was really awful. His privat life was simply disgusting. And now I am supposed to pity him because he can’t sell his poison to the desorientated youth of today? The whole “pop”-music was alway a destructive affair. And that the whole society drifted always downhill since this kind of music became dominant doesn’t suprise me. For me Prince is some kind of drug dealer. That he is out of buisness doesn’t move me. Unfortunately the new “stars” are not better.

    Feel free to scorn the messenger of the bad news.

    • You’re welcome to your opinion, and I wouldn’t dream of scorning you. Nothing you’ve said deserves scorn, nor will I feed your wish to be seen as a visionary martyr by doing so. One thing though, far from being ‘out of business’, Prince is currently the world’s highest-earning solo musician. Well, so say Wikipedia, so it MUST be true 😉

  49. obviously, internet is not dead. it is now part of living in every man.

  50. i like to always sing on karaoke bars because it is very exciting to sing in front of many people .

  51. Andy

    Hi Sean,
    Great discussion prompted by your Blog. I recently came across a blog created by an old punk Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik) now with Mick Jones performing and creating music as Carbon Silicon. He discusses the same issues Re: marketing, free downloading etc… Check it out here. I think that you will find it interesting. http://www.carbonsilicon.com/articles/the-game-has-changed/

  52. Hi Andy, long time no hear. Hope you and the family are all blooming.

    Had a look at the Carbon Silicon blog. It makes a couple of erroneous assumptions. The major one being that James reckons that, because he wants his music NOW, that it’s easier for him to go buy it than go searching for it on a torrent site. Funnily, one of the most oft-cited reasons filesharers use to justify their actions is that it’s the opposite. Filethieves are always telling me that they can have whatever music they like, when they want it, by pulling it off a torrent. Compare that with the multi-stage process of buying from iTunes and you can see they have a point. What James does in his blog is take a situation which applies to him (finding the convenience of legal downloads a strong point in their favour), and assumes that it applies universally. Same can be said of his career. With a legacy-fanbase that comes from having a member of the Clash in your band, you can be sure that there are enough old punk completists out there who will pay money for anything you put on the market – be it box-sets, t-shirts or mp3 files. In that respect Carbon Silicon are not engaged in what is becoming the biggest battle in the music industry right now (although much of the industry hasn’t quite realized it yet, especially the new bands trying to go it alone), which is the creation of demand. Boil it all down and all business only has one principle: the supply/demand graph. James and Jones have a demand for their product that exists even when ther is no product. Most bands do not, and launch their music into an oversupplied marketplace before they have developed a demand for it. The giving-your-music-away-for-free model of demand-creation worked for a little while back in 2004 or so, but at this point, it’s entirely defunct as a method. There is so much free music available on the web now (not just the pirated stuff, but music volunteered by creators) that there simply is no need for a casual listener to ever pay for it. So the trick is to make something about your music, your product, that makes it a product which people will want enough to pay for. Slinging it out there for free doesn’t, in my opinion, fulfill that task. Creating demand, then choking supply – that’s the new music model. Keep a lookout over the next few years and you’ll see it happening more and more often. For Carbon Silicon, a large part of their demand-building mechanism will be the promotion of their old-punk heritage and their stance against ‘the man’ (in this case the record companies who bankrolled their early career, and against whom James still bears a grudge for insisting that Sigue Sigue Sputnik honoured their contract to record a final album, despite the band having broken up), but their huge legacy-fanbase of Clash fans puts them in a vastly different position to the majority of bands giving away free music. Honestly, if ex-Clash members put their used hankies on e-bay, they’d get five-hundred notes apiece for them. The same thing applies to Radiohead’s ‘pay what you want’ album release. Fine for Radiohead, suicide for an unknown band. The public just don’t see new, unknown music as a commodity worth paying for any more, and the fault for that lies as much with the bands giving their music away for free as it does with the Pirate Bay. I think the acts who survive the next few years in the music industry will do so by dictating their terms to the web-populace, not by pandering to it’s demands. So far it’s only been the likes of Prince (and now Kid Rock, who has taken his music off iTunes) who have seen this development (and us, of course), but it’s the only way forward. Artists lead, not follow.

    Phew! That became a bit of a rant, didn’t it!? Wasn’t excpecting that. Anyway, hope you’re well and happy. We’re all cool over here, hope to see you sometime. Sean.

  53. Pingback: Prince’s war with iTunes plays into the hands of illegal filesharers | wrongmog

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  55. Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the web the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people think about worries that they plainly do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

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