On February 9, 2017, we were informed of the deal between UMPG and Prince’s estate. It didn’t take long for things to change dramatically with regard to The Maestro’s work: three days after the announcement, the music is streaming on many services – as opposed to one – and his work has started appearing in television commercials. In a world where most of us haven’t even fully come to terms with the loss of this Great Master, it seems that the adulteration of his legacy is occurring at lightspeed.
Streaming is one of many areas of the music industry where Prince set the bar. Streaming also seems to have created a divide among the Prince Fam(s). One side says that he only wanted his music available on Tidal so that is where it should be. The other side says his music should be widely available – period. Although I can look at it from both points of view, I believe the real answer is somewhere in the middle.
I truly believe that Prince wanted his music exclusively on Tidal for the sole reason that they pay artists better. I don’t believe he had a real, substantive problem with any other streaming services and if they had paid adequately, he would have made his work available there too. I mean, that’s the whole point. It was his livelihood and we are all aware how fiercely protective he was of it. However, we do not know the actual numbers of the deal with UMPG or how that financial agreement impacts the estate, making it impossible to know how lucrative the deal really is (or is not) for the estate; and we must remember that it isn’t he who is making these deals and we cannot reasonably expect them to, 100% of the time, do things as he would have done them (although that would definitely be optimal). We do know that folks are streaming his music at a phenomenal rate – 12.67 million from Feb 12-15 in the US alone, according to Billboard. His music is being heard everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And that is a beautiful thing.
I personally am staying with Tidal for the foreseeable future but I won’t fault other folks for using other services. I want everyone everywhere to be able to hear his music and if that means compromise on this issue, so be it. The much bigger issues for me are the use of his music in advertising, talk of a Broadway show, and Cirque de Soleil. I am appalled.
Time seems to be of great consequence here: not enough of it has passed to allow any real healing to occur, therefore making a lot of the goings-on more difficult to bear. Ten short months and we already see his work featured in a TV commercial. Sure, the ads hit you right in the feels, but the fact remains that his song was being used to interest you in a cell phone. I cannot imagine he would have been pleased with this at all. It is very difficult for me to accept and admit that I expected to see his music in advertisements at some point; but a mere three days after the UMPG deal is announced? No. Too soon. WAY TOO SOON. I remember the first time I heard The Beatles’ music in an ad. I wept. It was seven years after John Lennon was taken from us and I was devastated to see his work used in this way. Now, their work is in ads for a lot more than tennis shoes and as a result their music is heard multiple times a day every day by people everywhere – even by some people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it. Their music – almost 5 decades after they stopped making it together – now permeates our daily lives. It will be the same with The Maestro’s work. However, I had hoped that if it were to happen this way, that it would be long after I myself had gone to my reward.
Purple Rain would make a fabulous Broadway show someday. SOMEDAY. NOT TODAY. I rarely listen to the radio but when I do, I still hear a Prince song every time. When the program directors begin to relegate his work to a less regular rotation, perhaps that would be a more appropriate time to begin to consider Prince On Broadway. Cirque de Soleils’s choreography set to some of his love songs or instrumental works would be quite something to behold. SOMEDAY. NOT TODAY. We need more time to consider digesting his music this way. Too Much, too soon. We need more time…I need more time. The musical “We Will Rock You” debuted ten years after the death of Freddie Mercury. “The Beatles: Love” Cirque de Soleil show opened in 2006 – that’s 36 years after The Beatles broke up, 26 years after the death of John Lennon, and 5 years after the death of George Harrison. I would have no problem seeing/hearing Prince’s music used in these ways but it is impossible to determine at what point in time the idea of it will no longer make me sick to my stomach.
The way things have gone to date, we have no reason to believe that these deals won’t come to fruition next week. Thus far, virtually everything the estate handlers have done seems to have been thrown together with little regard for the end product. They appear to be of the mindset “we’ll fix whatever goes wrong as we go along” rather than one of “let’s get it right the first time.” It’s hard to stomach sometimes because that thought process would have been anathema to Prince. One can only hope that someone involved on the other end of the deal has a reverence for Prince and his music that appears to be absent from the folks working on behalf of the estate.
Charles Koppelman, a music industry expert hired by the estate’s former Special Administrator, recently told Billboard, these deals “have a gestation period” and “even if you did the deal today, [the product won’t be ready for the marketplace until] two years down the road. And if you did it a year from today, you’re talking three, four years down the road. How relevant will it be then? I’m not sure. The public grows up every day and the attention span doesn’t last forever.” The very idea that Prince will be less relevant a handful of years from now is nothing short of absurd. I agree with the statement about short attention spans. But to imply that a man whose 40+ year career produced 39 studio albums and sold over 100 million units would become less relevant in the foreseeable future is an insult. Prince’s existing fan base will see to it that that won’t happen and we are adding new “soldiers” to the Purple Army every day. However, we also have to exercise discernment and stop eating up every little morsel the industry throws at us. As long as we continue to CONSUME, they will continue to take advantage. If we use a little more discretion with regard to the products we are willing to buy, our voices will be heard and course correction can occur by the Administrators. Let’s just hope it isn’t too late…
Londell McMillan remarked to the Wall Street Journal that he is “here to make sure the legacy of Prince does not go afoul from how he lived his life.” Some would argue that using his music in literally the most commercial ways possible is not how Prince lived his life. It seems as though the very people entrusted to secure his legacy are instead robbing it of his essence.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the estate making money. The estate should make money. I submit that the work can be commercialized without being compromised. Allowing his songs to be used in TV ads and as the background to montages on hokey game shows is tragic. Presumably, UMPG is now controlling all that; but perhaps more thought put into some of these deals beforehand would have prevented a great deal of this unfortunate use of Prince’s work. It seems that these deals were rushed for maximum profit on the front end with no real consideration for the long-term benefit to the estate – and, more importantly, the legacy.
The world without Prince physically in it is still weird. It’s still surreal. It’s still painful. And it so hard to watch people make decisions about his work and his things when I am not entirely convinced that they are motivated beyond anything but their own gain. Everyone and everything needs to just slow the hell down a bit. Give some actual thought to what you’re doing. The highest bidder isn’t always the best bidder. There is much more to be considered here than just the dollars. The legacy of one of the greatest musicians of the 2oth and 21st centuries, an American treasure, is at stake here. I fear that those legally appointed to “guard” his work will continue to make these horrible missteps…So, it is then solely up to us, his supporters – both old and new – to ensure that his music and message continue to reach new generations and that his light continues to shine bright.
 Anderson, Trevor, Prince’s Streaming Numbers: ‘Purple Rain’ & Other Hits Lead, But There Are Some Surprises. Billboard [online], February 17, 2017
 Aswad, Jem, Prince Estate Advisors Charles Koppelman and L. Londell McMillan on Honoring – And Monetizing – His Estate. Billboard [online], February 9, 2017
 Karp, Hannah, Lawyers Battle for Control of Late Pop Star Prince’s Estate. Wall Street Journal [online], February 11, 2017
 “Ninja Warrior,” ITV [UK], February 18, 2017