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July 23, 2007

Getting Music To An Audience, 21st-Century Style

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

The NY Times has a very nice piece on the musician currently known as Prince. It discusses the artist's work in taking control of his career, his music, and how he's using many highly unconventional channels to connect with his fans. If there's a model for how to stay rich and popular in the 21st century as a performing/recording musician, Prince just might be it.

Pareless's piece notes that Prince's career is entering its third decade, a time when most pop performers have long-since been relegated to the "interesting historical relic" category. Prince is still wildly popular, playing to sell-out crowds pretty much everywhere. He's done some pretty inventive things, not least of which was cutting a deal with the British paper The Mail on Sunday to publish his “Planet Earth” CD as an insert. Starting next month he'll play 21 shows (all sold out it seems) at which the ticket price includes a free copy of the CD. These are not tiny clubs, mind you. These are 20,000+ seat arena shows. He did the same thing in 2004 for the "Musicology" CD.

These moves are giving the established industry migraines. Retail outlets are screaming. Pop chart compilers, caught by surprise in '04, changed their rules so they don't have to count the 400,000+ copies of "Planet Earth" Prince will sell next month in their computation of "top selling" CDs. This is, of course, a crock since fans paid money and got a CD. Sony Music had a similar hissy fit and decided not to release "Planet Earth" for retail sales in the UK after the giveaway.

It's not the first time Prince has had a public spat with a record label. He's accused his labels in the past of holding back music he wanted to release and had a big blow-up with Warner Brothers Records in 1996. The quintessential name change for which he's jokingly known ("the artist formerly known as Prince") occurred because "Prince" was under a contract to a label. Once that contract expired he picked up the name again.

I'm not personally a fan of his music nor of his stage shows. But I continue to bang the virtual drum for more artists to explore more ways to connect more music to more fans and you have to admit this man has gone a long way toward making that happen.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use


1. Mainy on July 26, 2007 1:54 PM writes...

Lets not go overboard here and maybe take a little step back.

I mentioned the Prince release on my Blog and questioned the altruistic nature of album being made available for free.

To quote :
Okay. I'll admit it. I bought the Sunday Mail so I could get the new Prince album. Although if anyone says that I got sucked in by the strength of the ad campaign on the television, or the broohaha that surrounded it. Then they're getting a slap.

The reason I got it is that I'm partial to a little Prince, and they don't get much littler.

I'll freely admit that the diminutive icon has been more patchy than purple over the last ten years, but he can always be relied upon to churn out a little corker every once in a while. Anyway this is a pretty good wee album, but that wasn't what I was wanting to ramble on about.

What I was really wanting to mention was the ad campaign and the media take on it.

Oh my God!!! He's giving it away free. Is this the end of the record label as we know it? Er. No. I don't think so.

Is this the opening shot in a war against the music industry? Is the revolution upon us? Er. No. Don't be so silly.

What if this sets a precedent? What sort of precedent? Like a major star releasing an album for free in just one country, generating huge media hype over it and through the hype managing a resurrection of their back catalogue. When it's put like that, then maybe it will set a precedent.

So hands up. Who fell for it? Who has been discussing the demise of Sony et al? Who really jumped up and shouted hurrah at the thought of the music industry getting its nose bloodied by the little purple upstart? Who feels rather foolish now?

I'm continually amazed at the people who accept what they are told at face value. No one appears to want to pull the curtain aside and check if the wizard is really all powerful, or just a little fella that's shouting the loudest.

It's not about harbouring feelings of mistrust. It's just a about opening your mind up and considering what is actually getting said.

Take the Prince album as an example of this. I consider that it's very obvious that the release in the UK of the album as a freebie is nothing more than a marketing ploy. A very good one. A very successful one, yet a marketing ploy none the less.

So lets all sit back and enjoy the album, but let's not pretend that it was given out for nothing really. It would be interesting to see the knock on effect that this has on the popularity of Prince as an artist, and I'm sure the increased record sales of his back catalogue will be a tad impressive to.

The best thing about this is no one appears to lose out. The Sunday Mail seen increased sales. Joe Public got a free album, Prince got his profile raised and everybody lived happily ever after.

What's the betting that twat Elton John will be next.

Small word count as it's about Prince.

Little = 4

Littler = 1

Diminutive = 1

Wee = 1

So lets see what's next.

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2. drwex on July 27, 2007 10:42 AM writes...

I don't think we're disagreeing, really. I noted Prince's efforts as a way to stay rich and famous. Good for him, eh?

I also don't think this is going to have much impact on Sony or any other label. They'll hiss and spit at each other and mostly go their separate ways. What matters, I think, is that this is a different model for artists to consider. Most couldn't or wouldn't do it, but it's definitely an alternative to the Standard Record Label-Dominated Career model.

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