Oh, The Interweb He Weaves

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.

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7 comments

  1. Jay Ashford-Scott · March 28, 2016

    Firstly, great article once again. You have made a number of points and I have to say you do make some very interesting arguments. I hare shared this (hope you don’t mind) with a few Prince fans to solicit their responses. I am actually going to read this a few more times as it deserves a much more detailed response which I would like to give over the next few days. You are one of the few writers who really challenge me with a different viewpoint. I will be back shortly 😉

    Like

  2. N. OneImportant · March 28, 2016

    “All these musicians who have deals with record companies are being paid again by TIDAL subscribers.”

    Um, have you ever had a record deal?

    Like

    • Simon Williams · March 28, 2016

      Hi,
      I haven’t, no.

      Thank you for replying to my blog. I really appreciate the fact you have taken time to read and respond to these words I have typed.

      Regards
      Simon

      Like

  3. rlittler81Richard Littler · March 28, 2016

    Great article. I agree that Prince’s relationship with the internet has gone pear shaped. Lotusflow3r.com was the last straw for me. Great idea that could have been the perfect forum for him to release new music and videos regularly as well as fan-focused releases (3121 movie) but he likes to promise his fans things and then change his mind almost instantly.

    Oh, HnRP.2 is a decent album, get it if you can!

    Like

    • Simon Williams · March 28, 2016

      Hi Richard,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to the blog; it is much appreciated.

      When he was down in NZ, Prince made a deal with JB HiFi to sell copies of HNRP2 in their stores…the closest to me is in Wellington and I have a trip planned there in a couple of weeks…hope springs eternal! I know this is a terribly old-fashioned approach…I one day hope to modernise my music purchasing methods.

      Regards
      Simon

      Like

  4. Jay Ashford-Scott · March 31, 2016

    Again, a really interesting article.
    I find I experienced Lotusflow3r in a different way to you but, as I will explain, this does not necessarily reduce the validity of some of your points. I bought the 3-CD set online for around £9.99 (UK) around $14(US) which, at the time, and indeed now is very good value. A far as the album went I found it quite an interesting project with a number of great guitar and funk tracks. Rather surprisingly and for reasons I can’t fully explain, I never joined the website at the time. I think I was changing jobs and working long hours and just never took the step. I say surprisingly because if there was an equivalent offer today, I would jump at joining up.
    You are absolutely right to mention the innovative ways Prince has and continues to use the internet, Crystal Ball etc.
    One of your major points regarding Prince’s monetary focus is a charge against Prince that has been made by some fans. From my own perspective I would say, firstly, that Prince is a very wealthy individual with an estimated fortune of around $300million, he clearly is a successful business person as well as a world class performer. I often hear both sides of the argument form Prince fans, some argue he is focussed on the money whilst others feel he is turning away money by not exploiting certain opportunities regarding remasters etc. I personally feel he is and always has, tried various ways to creatively release his music. There is a recent video regarding this on Youtube by The Violet Reality called Prince VS Music Distribution. Some of these projects may be more successful than others but all the projects have their interesting sides and great connected music.
    I too miss the Camden shop! I think Prince is situated at an incredible period of time when artist are facing a virtual onslaught from a number of factors. We have music companies acting in much more extreme ways, offering very oppressive contracts, we have the largest proliferation of illegal file-sharing in history. Obviously whilst bootlegs have always existed the speed, ease and instantly international level of the sharing of files now is almost beyond comprehension. I know a number of people who would never consider purchasing music, it’s just not something they would ever pay for. In this area Prince has a great advantage in that he is a legendary live performer, something that people still want to experience first-hand, although that obviously does not stop illicit recordings being made. Tidal is Prince’s latest platform and has a lot going for it in that a large proportion of Prince’s back catalogue is available there, although only today I saw his whole back catalogue also being offered for free on another streaming site. Youtube and Spotify payments are staggeringly small with Spotify paying around 0.00045p according to James Blunt. This puts Prince in a difficult position.
    Some fans have argued that Prince should remaster Purple Rain and other great albums. In this vain Ingrid Chavez recently released a Poetry Journal which included a Beautiful book, handwritten poems, an Memory Stick with a number of songs, photographs etc. People will still pay for a beautiful physical product.
    I would say however, my overarching feeling is that if I work out how much I have spent on Prince over the years and how much he has given me in terms of entertainment then I should owe his thousands. On a cost per hour basis Prince probably hasn’t cost me even 1pence an hour. The Cd’s, the concerts, the videos are remarkable value.
    Finally regarding Phase One and Phase Two.
    Phase One, I am probably not going to be able to convince you on despite my efforts . I love HardRockLover and actually love the energy at the start of the album and love that Prince was still taking risks and producing such a feisty album.

    Regarding Phase Two, this is much more of a ‘classic’ Prince album. Songs such as Extraloveable have been waiting 33 years to be released. This is much more of a night time album. Revelation is rather like a laid-back Power Fantastic. There are some truly beautiful ballads. There’s the guitar-driven Screwdriver, the poppy 2.Y.2.D. and a much more organic, less electronic feel to it. Whether you like it I can’t say but it is very different to Phase One.
    Just a final word. You are clearly a fan with a depth of knowledge and I really enjoy your articles even when I don’t agree with them and that is actually a sign of their value. Thank you 😉

    Like

    • Simon Williams · April 3, 2016

      Thank you for taking time to write such a detailed reply. The appreciation is mutual – even if, as you mention, our opinions may differ at times!

      Whilst one of the bones of contention I have with Prince is the centrality of money in his decision making; and as noted when you have a Paisley Park to run, you need to make some cash. I think the value for money aspect is important because consumers have not got the bottomless pockets required to keep up with Prince’s business deals and initiatives. That’s perhaps my biggest bug-bear with him. Prince is moneyed enough to act on whim – not all of us, in fact the vast majority of us, can. To invest $77 on a CD and website collection was a considerable sum of money for me and – in that regard – I did not get value. Simply, I held up my end of the bargain, Prince didn’t. And that hurts and makes one wary of succumbing again. The Tidal platform is a curiosity at the moment – what am I paying for? Am I paying a monthly fee to listen to music or purchasing it? Do I have to pay twice to purchase? etc… It’s more the business acumen (lack thereof) that Prince has displayed throughout his career since 1993/4.

      Listen – if a 57 year old wants to shut this down, he can. I’m just not going to buy into it. It lack authenticity. I was minded of this listening to Wendy and Lisa the other day. They still sing about love and loss and emotional engagement and desire and dreams and passion but their sound has matured. Prince’s sound hasn’t. I thought The Rainbow Children and some of the 3rdEyeGirl stuff was showing a change, and some of the material on Art Official Age – but HNRP1 nope. Same old, same old. Plastic.

      Even now, hearing about the Piano and Microphone Tour – what seems to have started out as a largely fresh sounding stage show is increasingly becoming amplified and sfx’d to the nth degree. It’s like he has to Vegas everything and lose the truth which was at the heart of the project…these are just observations – opinion, that’s all.

      I hope you had a great weekend.

      Like

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