We lost a unique legend and pioneer last month in Prince’s passing. The man was multi-dimensional, and though he was revered as an artist by many, he was so much more — and I think the other facets of who he was and his contributions will be revealed as time goes on. I was fortunate to have interacted with Prince on several occasions during the past couple of decades, and I’ve been reflecting on those experiences over the past few days. I never really shared much ’til now about these interactions because he was fiercely private, and I respected and honored his desire for that.As jaded as I have become about working with established artists (for over 30 years now), I always got a bit of a jolt when my caller ID said “Paisley Park”, which it did several times over the years.
I think the earliest encounter was when I was still running music at Apple, and I’d invited him to participate in a marketing campaign during the mid-90s. He listened to the ideas I ran past him, and had a few questions, but politely declined. Still we had a great conversation about how he loved the Mac, and shared our experiences with record labels (mine as an A&R exec, and obviously his as an artist).
The next time Prince and I were in touch was a couple of years later when Todd Rundgren and I launched our PatroNet service (in 1995); Todd has essentially created his own ISP — and not only was PatroNet the first artist-direct-to-fan business model, it was the first artist subscription service that allowed fans to underwrite the artist (vs needing to go through a label), and though Prince gets credit for being the first major artist to release an entire album exclusively through the Web, the truth is that Todd was the first to do so (by several years). David Bowie had subsequently launched his own artist subscription service called BowieNet (in 1998). And then Prince launched his version with the NPG Music Club in early 2001. The NPG Music Club service lasted for five years before Prince shut it down; you can see the final Closing Letter that Prince himself wrote and sent to paid subscribers on the Club’s wiki page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NPG_Music_Club. (I know that Prince wrote it himself because he wrote the word “to” as the number 2, and the word “for” as the number 4; I received several e-mails over the years with him writing in that format).
I was one of the early pioneers in digital music and digital distribution, and Prince was dabbling in this arena quite actively himself during the late 90’s and early 00’s. We were in touch around several projects and initiatives — some he ran past me and others I shared with him at that time. For example, I shared my vision for a consumer-facing music service for Apple (when I was driving music at Apple, it was mostly industry-facing activities aimed at professionals), and he thought it was a great idea and weighed in with his own input; both of wanted to ensure that artists would benefit directly by however the service got structured – Prince for obvious reasons!).
When I was no longer at Apple, I remember I had proposed a structure to Google which would be a massive search-driven artist-centric approach where say if you typed in “Prince” you’d get links to his music, his web sites, his tour dates/buy tickets, images of him, bios, and more — with no fluff or interference. Unfortunately Google didn’t adopt the strategy at the time but Prince loved the concept and vision. Ironically, since Prince’s passing, Google has in fact constructed an homage based on the very same concept I had proposed to them over a decade ago now.
One thing Prince and I were very aligned on was that artists as the creators of their music and their brands needed to retain control over their assets (including their content, brand and sites). He consistently took a stand on this over the years. I remember him calling me in the very early 2000s, very upset about his music showing up on Napster; he wanted me to get the top brass at Napster on the phone with us in real time to share his concerns and request that the songs be taken down. I told him how they would take the songs down, but fans around the globe would just keep putting them back up (like whack-a-mole). He still insisted that I tee up a call, so I got Napster execs Milt Olin (COO) and Hank Barry (CEO) on the phone — and Prince subsequently made up a list of the songs he wanted taken down, and Milt and Hank did their best to ensure his request was honored.
Then I was doing some work with a great fellow in the UK named Mel Croucher in the early 2000s, who was running a service called My-Reputation.com. My-Reputation was in the business of doing global audits on the web presence of notable artists, celebs and public figures; I told Prince that this was one of my current clients/projects, and he asked that we do global audit for him. He was a joy to work on that project, very appreciative and respectful to Mel; very savvy & paid the bill on time.
Another time I remember having a conversation with him about my work on Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Concerts in NYC just prior to 9-11, and how I was booked on Flight 93 on 9-11 (but obviously didn’t get on the flight); Prince’s response was “girl, it wasn’t your time; it just wasn’t your time”. It’s hard to believe last week was HIS time; it was just way too early — a life cut too short.
When I published my first book, “The Art of Digital Music” (along with my co-author David Battino), I had reached to Prince to invite him to be interviewed for the book. For reasons he never explained to me, he politely declined to participate (he was always extremely polite!). But years later when I had him come to the Pollstar Awards as a presenter, I brought him a copy of the book – and he asked that I sign it for him, and smiled when I handed it back. He seemed duly impressed with the book.
These are a few of my memories about our interactions; there were others but I’ll stop here for now. I’m truly honored to have had those encounters with Prince and for our connection over the years. He was of course a genius musically, a philanthropist and humanitarian, and a genuinely kind and respectful person. He broke the mold in so many ways creatively and was a tireless activist for artists rights; it was a consistent theme that he never tired of carrying the flag for. One thing’s for sure — Prince was definitely a man who played life full out and on his own terms; his legacy is huge. Time will reveal the many facets of this incredibly gifted and talented man and the true depth of his contribution to our lives.