Prince and the battle over his name
Remember when Prince changed his name to a symbol? Know why he did that? It’s fascinating, and quite brilliant. He didn’t change his name to a symbol to be a dick. He didn’t do it to be arty, or expressive. It was pure business, and he never talked about this angle.
He had a beef with his record company. A big beef. This is way more common than you realize. Because he never spoke about it directly, we can only guess what his beef was. However, I can tell you with about 80% certainty what it was. They likely wanted him to do something weird… put out LESS music, and tour LESS. Prince was oversaturating the market with Prince, because he was putting out like 4 album
s a year.
s a year.
To make matters worse, a further clause in the contract awarded Warner ownership of all the master recordings of Prince’s music, not for only for the life of the new contract but all previous recordings dating back to 1978. Prince was in no position to argue – his spending had spiraled beyond control on lavish shows and vast entourages as well as faced with the upkeep of Paisley Park Studios, he was in urgent wont for cash. But as Warner felt this would awash the market and dilute their own sales the two struck a compromise. Despite Warner wanting him to release one album every two years, Prince agreed to meet in the middle with one release per year.
I can tell you with total certainly what Prince’s terms were; “ok, if you give me my masters back”.
When a musician makes an album, they do no own those songs, or the performance. Warner Brothers owns all that. I can count on NO hands how many artists owned their masters in their heyday; U2 and Annie DiFranco. To own the masters just means control… and money. Mostly, though, it is control. Wanna use a Prince song for your commercial? Don’t ask Prince, it ain’t his song. Go ask Warner Brothers… it’s up to them. If Prince (or any artist) wants to do ANYTHING with their music – maybe do a remix, or let a friend use a sample… he can’t. He would have to ask permission to use or release his own music.
Point being, a long time ago he demanded his masters and Warner Brothers laughed and told him to eat a big fat purple dick. Prince then would have said ‘then fuck you, I am leaving!’. Then, Warner Brothers would have had a big big deep belly laugh. You can’t, Prince. We own you, literally. We own the name ‘Prince’, we own your likeness, and everything you have ever recorded. Prince then had the huge purple balls to say “ok, cool. You win. You own Prince. BUT… Prince will never record another note for you. I am no longer Prince. I am the artist. “Prince” has retired.
even more fun? During this period, he wrote the word ‘slave’ on his cheek whenever he was out. He wasn’t being a ‘slave’ to love, or art. Oh no. He was saying, in no small terms’ “these crackers think they own my black ass. That is, in no small terms, slavery. Warner Brothers music feels they own black people.’ I don’t why they didn’t sue him for defamation.
He did all of this until his Warner contract ran out. Then, he could go back to being Prince… and he did.
Prince took the view that his birth name was more of a brand of Warner Brothers than his own Christian name, and because the label owned all the music associated with Prince, he considered changing his name to an unpronounceable glyph would somehow void or at least highlight his protest over the contract.
Interestingly, very very recently (I mean like two weeks ago) he made nice with Warner. It was a very good trade for both. Prince said you can take my whole Warner Brother back catalogue and re-issue it, remaster it. Throw together some box sets… whatever the hell you want. I’ll even stop talking shit about you guys. You stand to make zillions. All you gotta do is give me the rights to the masters back.
They very wisely did that. I think this was a true win win for both.
What do I think about the whole name change thing? I am conflicted. On many levels, it was a pointless ‘fuck you’ to the world… including his fans. More than anything about artistic freedom, he just made everything difficult. It was total pointless high level narcissism. He made it tough to promote his music, discuss it, write about it… anything. BUT… I also respect the shit out of it. He kinda threw his whole career out the window just on principle, and I really admire that.
How many Prince albums do you own post ‘Purple Rain’? That 1 with Raspberry Beret? He has put out about 25 albums since Purple Rain. Famously, he has another 25 albums in the can just sitting in his archives. Prince made it very tough to be a Prince fan. Didn’t do press or tv, and barely even toured. I feel you had to work hard to be a Prince fan, and I think we all just tuned him out for the last 30 years. I admire the shit out of Prince. Only Neil Young has the integrity that Prince does.
With all that said, I still can’t think of a better or cooler song than ‘When Doves Cry’.