I hold in my hands a copy of LotusFlow3r by Prince. I bought it for $7.99. It was a surprise find at The Warehouse and, indeed, I found it a bargain. Well, sort of a bargain. I may have just spent $7.99 on the three CD collection but all this did was take the tally I have spent on this release to – at today’s exchange rate – approximately $123.28…give or take. You see, I was one of the follyous few to part with (US)$77 for the new venture in Prince’s online endeavours – http://www.lotusflow3r.com. The irony of the advertisement on the hard copy CD packaging “for the entire galactic experience, visit…” was not lost on me. This purchase now means I have seen the T-shirt I was to receive as part of joining the membership of this website. It looks quite cool.
I’ve spent quite a few bucks on Prince. He’s quite a bugger at getting you to spend money. Many would argue that of late this has been money spent on diminishing returns, too. Many would argue that the LotusFlow3r escapade was a nadir in the diminishment of the returns. Many would argue, in fact, that the procurement of money has become the preoccupation of the Minneapolitan as opposed to making a product worth purchasing. You pays your money, or not, as is the case…more of that momentarily.
The lotusflow3r.com catastrophe encapsulates Prince’s incomprehensible attitude to the internet quite nicely. From the outset there were problems with the site’s performance and it ultimately failed. The site was slow, too unwieldy and fundamentally did not live up to the performer’s promise. The idea, like much of Prince’s output, was quite impressive but the delivery, like much of Prince’s output, was disappointing. In the reckoning, thousands of customers found themselves out of pocket. I know I did not get $77 value from the site…not even a T-shirt. And that disappointed me. A fair few years before, I had used one of Prince’s first websites to order the 5CD Crystal Ball set. It turned up and so did the T-shirt. I had bought albums from NPG Music Club and listened to the ahdio shows. Prince knew how to use the internet successfully. There was no rocket science here.
Bucks, apparently, have become more important over the course of the years. I understand it. Prince’s outgoings must be vast. Paisley Park as a going concern must cost a fortune to run and maintain. Add to that the grandiose artistic visions of the the Park’s Wonkaesque owner and it isn’t difficult to see why he chases dollars. Using his value as a live performer or a bankable star asset for all they are worth may have meant his balance stays in the black, but the payoff is a creative morass that lacks direction or purpose. Take the recent releases: Art Official Age is a genuinely interesting album – albeit one blighted by a meme-driven song which does not sit well in this collection; PlectrumElctrum – a curates’ egg of a release but one which hinted at an interesting musical enterprise with this all female rock trio backing band of his… HitNRun Phase One – awful, just awful. HitNRun Phase Two – haven’t heard it, can’t judge. For the first time since 1988 I have not bought a Prince album when I have had the opportunity to – and the why is because of the way I have the opportunity to buy it. I don’t own One Nite Alone. I didn’t have the ability to purchase this online when it came out. I now have the ability to purchase HitNRun Phase Two but I have chosen not to.
Prince’s deal with Tidal will have put much $ in his bank account – maybe as much as $3million plus a percentage according to reports. Prince will argue that he signed with the Jay Z Group as part of his stand against the corporate world of the music industry. Maybe he’s right. I’m thinking about this as I type… look at me multi-tasking!… Actually, I’m not sure he is. To get TIDAL I pay a flat rate. This means I get Prince’s music. I also get access to all the other artists’ music on TIDAL. Gee – umm – thanks. OK. All these musicians who have deals with record companies are being paid again by TIDAL subscribers. I can only imagine the glee with which this was received by every accounts department of every record label in the world. The money going to the artists through TIDAL will mean a double payment to the record company: either through the deal the artist has cut, or through a renegotiated deal taking into account any income from TIDAL…I imagine. Call me cut-throat but that’s what industry does. Even so…let’s say I’m happy with that: I pay a fee to access the hosting site and then I pay further for new music…is that right? That wasn’t how it used to be when Prince had his own site. I seem to remember a time when membership was free and you paid for new music. That was always going to be the problem with the LotusFlow3r site. It was a year’s membership. Prince was going to be after us for further cash donations a year later. It was so poorly thought through… although, $77 for a year’s membership that gave you access to the three albums, the T-shirt and some unreleased stuff…ok, I could go for that. But the concept was so cluttered and ill-considered from the get-go it could only end in failure.
Prince and the internet used to be such a simple and happy tale. Prince started a website and used it to share new music. At the time of the dispute between him and Warner Bros., it was a vital portal through which Prince fans could venture and find his product. (You must also remember it was a time when Prince had his own shop fronts in Camden and in Minneapolis too…both sorely missed!) It appeared as though he would be able to go it alone in the mire of the music industry. And he could have. He chose not to.
Little and often wasn’t enough for Prince: “I was right about the internet – tell me a musician who’s got rich off it…”, as much as he may deny this, Prince has increasingly become about the bottom line. He followed up that line with a quip about how well Apple was doing. Yes, Apple makes money. Yes, Warners, A&M, Sony, EMI all make/made money…until some of them didn’t… but the part about industry that Prince doesn’t seem to understand is that there is more to the product than the product. There’s more to music than the notes. On his most recent tour Prince has been educating the masses about funk; about funk existing in the space between notes. If he would; I’d like to take this analogy a little further. The music industry exists in the spaces, in the silences. In those spaces exist the cleaners, the office workers, the designers, the editors, the artists, the copy-editors, the writers, the distributors, the manufacturers, the printers, the van drivers, the loaders, the retail staff…that’s the music industry. And, I suppose, that is why I haven’t bought Prince’s new album. By buying into TIDAL, is Prince actually supporting the music industry?
In 1995 Prince toured. The tour booklet had a wonderful cover to it. Free Music, was the proclamation on it. At the time, it appeared to be a clarion call, a muster to musicians to rise up and reclaim the rights that were theirs. Chaos and Disorder followed, sounding at the time like a misspent week in Prince’s world – how odd the state of music that this album sounds so coherent and tuneful now. Prince’s way, not Warner Bros.’ way, was the way. It was the only way. Of course, Prince doesn’t see it like this now.
LotusFlow3r was the epitome of Prince’s hubris. I’m sure it will be matched again, he’s not above the hubristic, not one iota. It is an episode, for those of us interested in Prince, which tells us both a lot about ourselves and how we interact with this artist, and how far we are going to allow ourselves to go to acquiesce his every whim.
It grates with me that I still don’t own HitNRun Phase Two. I’m not sure yet whose fault that it is.
*In the course of the writing of this piece HitNRun Phase One was played. Out loud. It truly is not a Prince album. Not even the last four songs – which could be Prince songs – make it a Prince album. It is an experiment which turned up negative results. Fair enough. If I’m understanding it right, Phase Two acknowledged some of this. I don’t own Phase Two. I couldn’t comment.