Saturday, July 10, 2010

Prince and the Internet

You can always tell when someone is not doing well. They lash out at what they blame for all of their ills. Such is Prince's inability to make more money on the internet than he already is.

This Is What It Sounds Like When The Internet Cries
by Chris Willman & Lyndsey Parker in That's Really Week

So this week, while all the blogosphere was abuzz about George Michael's SEVENTH car crash, LeAnn Rimes' controversial canoodling pics with boyfriend Eddie Cibrian, Crystal Bowersox's new teeth, Liz Phair's credibility-killing new musical direction, and the Grammys' revised eligibility rules, the World Wide Web itself was under attack by Prince, aka The Artist Formerly Known As The Internet's Biggest Supporter. Yes, online readers, according to His Purple Majesty's new royal decree, the Internet is kaput. Over. Finished. You may as well turn off this website and go back to your abacus now.

"The Internet's completely over," Prince declared to England's Daily Mirror, sounding like he's ready to party not quite like it's 1999, but more like '79. "I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else [digitally]. They won't pay me an advance for it, and then they get angry when they can't get it....All these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

Prince's rejection of all thing Interweb came as quite a shock, considering that the man was once seemingly completely besotted with the digital revolution. For a man who very publicly battled with his record label, Warner Bros., because he wanted to release more product than Warner was willing to, a guy with hundreds of unreleased songs under his purple belt, it seemed like the perfect means to get all that music to the fans, eliminating the middleman.

So after Prince escaped from the clutches of Warner Bros. in the mid-'90s, he released a series of increasingly little-heard albums on his own label, NPG Records--some of which were only available through (you guessed it) the Internet. And even as recently as March 2009, Prince was introducing a heavily promoted new subscription website,; for an annual membership of $77, fans would theoretically not only get the digital version of the three-CD set he was releasing through Target at that time, but loads of new and unreleased material unavailable anywhere else. But as the Wall Street Journal reported this past April, the website turned out to be a bust, at least for the disgruntled followers who never got the stream of rarities and bonuses they were expecting. And just as the mercurial Prince put the kibosh on his New Power Generation Music Club subscription site back in 2006, early this year he gave the order for the site to be shut down as well.

And now it seems like Prince wants ALL sites to be shut down--including iTunes!

While Forbes writer Quentin Hardy surprisingly sided with Prince (in an article self-explanatorily titled "Prince Is Right. The Internet Is Over."--which, ironically, was widely read on THE FORBES.COM WEBSITE), most musicians weren't so quick to turn their backs on the entire Interweb. Even soft-jazz saxophonist Kenny G--a man no one ever thought would seem cooler than Prince--spoke out against Prince's remarks, jokingly telling the AssociatedPress: "If the Internet is dead then I must be dead too, 'cause I use it all the time. Maybe I've got a sixth sense, and I only see dead people." The very-much-alive Mr. G then expressed every intention to continue distributing and promoting his new album, Heart & Soul, digitally. Additionally, many other, hipper artists who've embraced online distribution--Radiohead, Trent Reznor, Beck, and Lil' Wayne and countless other mixtape-popularized rappers--hardly jumped to Prince's defense, and not even Metallica's Lars Ulrich, once Napster's most angry opponent, spoke up.

Maybe all this is a sign o' the times, so to speak. After all, it's understandable in this post-Napster age that artists might no longer be in favor of a completely open Internet, since many industry pundits argue that it is illegal file-sharing and even legal free downloads and streams that are responsible for their music biz's current slump. Still, it seems a little silly to expect people to abandon their "digital gadgets" and the online distribution methods (iTunes, Rhapsody) via which the majority of avid music fans play and receive their music nowadays. But, IF Prince is right, then what is going to replace the Internet? Will Prince release his next album on 8-track, wax cylinder, or in the "smoke signal" format long favored by traditionalists? No, in all seriousness, the distribution model Prince is now favoring his music away free with newspapers.

Yes, Prince's latest CD, 20Ten, will be included with July 10 copies of the Daily Mirror in the U.K. and Daily Record in Ireland, as well as other print publications in Belgium and Germany. For someone making the argument that music is undervalued, Prince has a funny way of proving its integrity when he gives CDs away like shampoo samples. (Maybe, somewhere along the way, he confused his Parade album with the Parade magazine included in many Sunday papers.) There's no plan yet to distribute 20Ten in America, but Prince is reportedly in talks with his old label, Warner Bros. (yep, the aforementioned "slave"-drivers who allegedly held him so captive that he was forced to carve S.O.S. messages into his sideburns) for a future U.S. release. Apparently Prince is so convinced that the Internet is over, he's not the least bit concerned about hundreds of thousands of Europeans, who will receive free copies of 20Ten this weekend, leaking the album online for all interested Americans to hear.

And, highly ironically, right now three preview samples from Prince's new CD are available for streaming on...the Daily Mirror's website. So maybe the web isn't obsolete after all. But just in case, check the songs out by clicking here...quick, before the Internet self-destructs!

See ya next week.

Is the internet 'dead' for music? No, of course not. Just ask Beyonce or Lady Gaga. It may be dead for some traditional or older artists like Prince, which is his problem, but it is not dead or 'over' for everyone else on the internet at all.

The problem is big name artists from the past are not making the dough they used to in the pre-Napster days (i.e., peer-to-peer file sharing for those youngins' who do not know what Napster was or could not tell from the article). Back before, say, 1999, well known artists could sign multimillion dollar deals with recording studios, with the expectation that even if one of their albums tanked that sales would be high enough to recoup costs. Well, once people started sharing files, the primary victims have been the recording industry and the large contracted artists/bands.

One of the reasons why so many of those old bands, like the Eagles or Styx, tour so much today is because that is how they make most of their income. They have to find a means to cordon people off while playing their music. The music store walls have been breached. The quandary for Prince is he hates to tour, but just look at this year's greatest money makers on the concert circuit (Eagles, Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi); they are all leftovers from the pre-file sharing era, and Prince is upset that he might have to leave his confines in Minnesota and tour into his late 50s.

All of that is actually understandable on Prince's part. What is not understandable is the nonsensical notion that the internet makes it impossible to make money through music. Really? Did Prince see how much money Journey made by shilling their 1981 tour on DVD? They mostly used the internet and fan sites to promote it--and guess what, you can go on Netflix, online, and watch it. How much more money did they make by doing that? Even if it is just .50 per viewer, after hundreds of thousands of viewers, I surmise that Steve Perry and Neal Schon are doing alright for themselves. And Prince himself knows this, since he is currently streaming parts of his most recent album online.

What we have is an inability of some older famous acts to change with the innovation and diffusion of technology. If the RIAA had spent as much time on anti-piracy software in the music releases of their companies' artists, file sharing might never have become the phenomenon it is, but they were technologically outwitted in the late '90s and did not have the means to stop it. Sony tried in the mid 2000s, but ended up putting trojan horses and maleware in peoples' computers, enraging consumers and damaging the company's recording sales.

The irony is that technology has advanced to the point that anti-piracy software exists to pretty much kill file sharing in the music industry, if the recording industry chose to uniformly apply it. Why they do not is a mystery to me. It could be they do not want to kill file sharing completely because they realize that many consumers depend on it and will start boycotting.

Do I feel any mercy for Prince? Absolutely not. And least any of you feel sorry for him, back in 2007 he threatened to sue his own online fan sites for using his images and likeness (and most all of these pages were non-commercial and dedicated solely to Prince and his music). In 2008, he tried to get YouTube to shut down a video recording of a performance of Radiohead's Creep. It was only brought back to YouTube at the insistence of Radiohead, who did not want to be associated with someone who prefers taking a huge dump on his fan base.

For his part, Prince has nothing to worry about. Just read the comments at the bottom of that YouTube video. They will love him no matter what. That is the advantage of being a music genius (even if you are a jerk who charges $77 to your fans to access your material on your own web site and refuse to give them the promised music).

For me, I paid less than $10 for a new cassette tape of a popular artist back in the '80s. When CDs of comparable artists became popular in the mid-80s, they cost over $15, sometimes almost $20, and that price remained basically the same for all new albums, even well into the '90s and today, in spite of the saturation and switchover from cassettes to CDs in the '80s and '90s (and even though the cost for production quality of a CD was almost the same as a cassette's by the '90s). This meant that market forces should have competitively reduced the prices of CDs, instead of remaining artificially high. The paymasters for the RIAA made billions of dollars off consumers through collusion and got away with it (yet another advantage of being a politically connected industry).

Peer-to-peer file sharing is the ultimate payback to the recording industry for the theft fest that occurred between the mid-80s to late '90s. And it is coming to an end. Federal law now allows the government to force internet providers to target people who use peer-to-peer file sharing software, to say nothing of the army of lawyers for the RIAA waiting like mafia collectors to take a few thousand dollars more out of your bank account for downloading too many songs on Limewire. And once the industry finally releases all of its music with anti-piracy software, which makes impossible or nearly impossible the ability to copy or share music (without encryption technology), the free for all will be winding down. Of course, the music files that do not contain the anti-piracy software will still be out there, shared for free amongst downloaders--music that will be older, from artists like Prince. So, mr. artist that once did not even call himself Prince, get used to touring and feel lucky you have a career and one with so many fans that they will pay out $100 just to listen to you live, even though they could do it at home for free.

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