That Prince chap, he does like to lob a spanner in the music-industry works. It's record shop chains he's upset this time. They're calling him "absolutely nuts".
That's when music retailer HMV's chief exec hollered "absolutely nuts" (to be fair, this is a bloke already besieged by downloads and internet sales). Whereupon Columbia, Planet Earth's putative distributor, said they wouldn't release the album. Why bother...?
Of course they're only letting rip because Prince doesn't give a toss and they know it. They've lost him. His Mail On Sunday flanker results directly from his posturing, yet also brave and significant early '90s stand against his then label, Warner - could have been any major, he was fighting standard industry practices. Prince hated it that the label owned his master recordings - his music, his heart and soul. He wanted out. So he took to appearing in public with "SLAVE" eyebrow-pencilled on his cheek.
By the time I talked to him at Paisley Park in 1999, he'd freed himself from both the offending deals and the facial graffiti. Gleefully, he cast aside conventional secrecy about money. Selling albums via his own website, he told me, made him $7 a copy. Through Warner it had been more like 7 cents, he claimed.
Previously, he'd spent sumptuous advances heedlessly, shifted millions of albums, and ended up owing Warner huge sums - maybe $15 million. But now The (independent) Artist invested his own money in making the record and reaped commensurate rewards.
Since '99 he's developed more sophisticated approaches to delivering music in the www era. He compromised his cut a little in exchange for one-off distribution deals with each of the majors in turn and, with relentless focus on the bottom line, adjusted his focus onto the hugely profitable live show circuit.
All the same, a giveaway deal with Britain's most notoriously conservative newspaper? How does that work? Well, it probably hasn't got much to do with the Prince camp's declaration that "the charts are just music industry constructions" nor the newspaper's hot air about proving "we've got a commitment to music and a passion for music".
Prince has a million good reasons for the MoS deal and all of them are dollars - his £500,000 fee, according to a rival newspaper. Cash on the barrelhead, probably more than he would have eventually cleared from retailing (an unlikely) 100,000 albums in the UK, and it offers the chance to reach multitudes of new listeners.
The relationship between musician, music, music lover and money has never been more shaky than right now. No one knows whether they will learn to live together in harmony again. But Prince is the one who's done the therapy already, he's whistling a happy tune regardless and no one can shut him up.
--Phil Sutcliffe, MOJO magazine
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