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July 23, 2007
Getting Music To An Audience, 21st-Century Style
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.
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