When I read the news about Prince’s passing, I did what most people with internet access did and turned to Google to find something to listen to as I began to mourn. I didn’t find much outside of the European music video sites I usually frequent when I need my purple fix. So, I did what I never thought I would do: I went to Amazon and bought a compilation of his greatest hits.
As the world reflects on his legacy, I figured out what I can learn from his life and how to honor him after his transition. Prince epitomized art and he was, as Erykah Badu would say, serious about his shit. He dedicated a lot of energy to maintaining control of his art and how it was distributed to the world.
In 1993, after continuous conflict with Warner Brothers Records, Prince famously changed his name to his trademark symbol and began to perform with the word “slave” written across his face. He renounced his name and was subsequently referred to as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” Interviews were rare and journalists that got the coveted opportunity weren’t allowed to record the exchange.
YouTube is rife with videos related to Prince but viewers have to sift through many to find one that actually uses his voice. Spotify used to be my go-to service for Prince’s music but he snatched his music from every streaming service except Tidal in 2015. An initial fan of internet and its possibilities, he eventually saw it as another tool record labels used to get paid at the expense of their artists.
His actions have spawned many a joke and dismissals as crazy but ultimately, his royal badness was in control. Prince knew his worth and paved the way for other artists to do the same.
This example is one that extends beyond music. People in other industries should follow him.
Any creative can tell you that people love to partake in art but they don’t want to pay for it. Wait, I’m wrong. People want to pay creatives but not in money. We’re expected to work for exposure. As long as someone sees it, we’re supposed to be happy.
I’ve experienced and witnessed this phenomena numerous times since I entered the media industry.
People will read this blog and send me emails asking me to write for their website for free. Students are told they have to do internships for little to no pay to get into the industry. Freelance writers across the ‘net have shared horror stories about having to chase down publications for months and years for one check. When we scoff at these prospects, we’re met with indignation.
It’s supposed to be about the art, they say. Writers are supposed to want to share their words regardless of what they get in return. That’s why the archetypal starving artist is romanticized. Many of our artistic idols, from Vincent Van Gogh to Zora Neale Hurston, died penniless because people didn’t truly appreciate their work until after their bodies went cold and their art went into someone else’s hands. Others, like TLC, were everywhere but exploitation left them broke. These people gave everything but got nothing because that’s what artists are supposed to do, according to society.
Prince spent his whole career fighting that ideal even when it made him unpopular. I consider it an honor to his legacy to fight anyone and any entity that seeks to exploit my gift. I implore other artists and anyone else with a gift to do the same.
At the very least, we gotta eat.