Jul 12 2010 3:34pm

Prince versus the internet

By now you’ve probably heard about the artist currently known as Prince declaring that “the internet’s completely over.” You probably read about it on the internet.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for eccentrics. Despite the fact that I’ve never supported the idea of monarchy or imperialism, if Emperor Norton were still around, I’d declare myself a subject, based purely on the fact that I respect a guy who just decided one day that he totally ruled. The world needs eccentricity like a donut needs sprinkles.

Prince qualifies as an eccentric, I think. And part of being eccentric is the right to talk bonkers now and then. I can’t help but wonder, though, what he means when he says the internet is over. Does he mean it was cool once and now it’s lame? I hate to think that’s what he means. I can’t imagine he yearns for the days of dial-up. Does he mean the internet is failing, falling apart as an information/communication/commerce thingie? He’s talking about commerce in particular, I think, since he follows this by saying he sees no reason to sell his songs on iTunes.

I wonder if Prince, in past lives, said similar things. Did he sit on an ox declaring no need to use a horse-drawn plough? Did he say there was no way the printing press would ever take the place of scribes?

I think there is absolutely no way in God’s purple earth that he is anywhere approaching accurate when he says the internet is over. It stands out as one of the most wonky statements since Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 gave her famous assessment of America’s difficulties with cartography. The only way he could be right about this is if he lived in a parallel dimension, maybe on a funky little island, and we are all ghosts using the Internet in an Earth-2 purgatory because we cannot let go of our attachment to “computers and gadgets” but some day he’ll meet us in a big church and lead us to the light. Yeah.

I can understand an artist’s need to protect his or her art and to keep it profitable. I can understand how some would be very cautious about the way material spreads online. But I don’t even know for a moment why Prince would say something so dopey, save that he’s one of the few artists who scours the internet vehemently demanding songs and photos be taken down, and this takes time and lawyers. So while other artists are doing just fine online, I expect Prince must be losing money because of his expensive paranoia. He’s even shut down his own website. I give him points for being thorough, at least.

I think artists need critique, and money attracts sycophants. I may be completely wrong about this, but I think perhaps Prince doesn’t have many people in his life telling him “No.” “No, you are wrong, clearly wrong, really most sincerely wrong.” I think mostly he has a lot of money and a lot of people telling him everything he thinks is perfect genius, and so there’s no counterbalance to the sillier assumptions. Perhaps there are too many Jeromes to his Morris Day. Or maybe he’s just authentically, unequivocally wrong-headed when it comes to this stuff.

I can’t help but think of Radiohead as his polar opposite in terms of embracing the online world. They’ve stated that piracy won’t kill the music industry, but the labels’ failure to adapt new business models will. By the way, a few years ago, Prince covered “Creep” at Coachella. I saw it on YouTube before he ordered it taken down. It was quite good! The guys in Radiohead wanted him to put it back up, in fact.

Prince’s new CD will be released only by The Mirror. I think it’s generous of him to make it available for free to Mirror subscribers. He’s claiming, however, according to the interview, that there will be no downloadable version anywhere. This I very much doubt. I expect it’ll be the most heavily, perhaps vengefully, pirated CD of the year.

When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA. He wonders who edits the Wikipedia entry on the Amish.

Pablo Defendini
1. pablodefendini
I expect it’ll be the most heavily, perhaps vengefully, pirated CD of the year.

Exactly. What better way to get traction and mindshare for an album that he's already giving away for free-ish (not counting a subscription fee to the Mirror)? I certainly wouldn't have heard that he had a new joint out if it wasn't for his crazy antics.

I think the man is either completely bonkers, as you say, or he's a marketing genius.
Alex Brown
2. AlexBrown
I'd argue that even more than Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails/Trent Reznor is Prince's polar Internet opposite. He just put up How To Destroy Angels up online with a free song if you buy it online.

But I think it's even funnier that Kenny G felt the need to step into the fray and declare that the Internet isn't dead because he isn't dead:,42909/

EMPEROR NORTON! No one remembers poor Emperor Norton. I'm so glad you did :) California is the home of the best and worst eccentrics...
Noneo Yourbusiness
3. Longtimefan
Being an eccetric seems to be a lost art these days.

There are quirky people and occasionally interesting people but the truly eccentric have a level of devotion and understanding in their behavior that is beyond what most people deemed "eccentric" or more unpleasantly "wierd".

Prince is very much so an eccentric and in many ways a misunderstood and sometimes understood genius. (not Apple brand Genius bar misuse of the word but actual beyond averange mental capacity and connectivity genius.)

Is the internet "over"? Well, no. It will continue to exist because of its ability to connect people to eachother and their ideas. Is it "over" for Prince? Sure. Just like using a name was "over" for him when he decided to be a symbol instead of a brand in conflict with Warner Brothers.

There was a time when pegged pants and overly styled hair was "over" and people could not see the back end of bad '80s fashion fast enough. The clothes and ideas never went away. Now they are comming back into fashion as a younger generation looks to a time they did not live through and sees in it only the recorded experience of movies and televison. Prince was a big part of that experience.

He may have won an Acadamy Award for Purple Rain but he is "over" that part of his life even as a new generation of people will be watching the movie and listening to the music....from pirated copies on the internet.

Is he wrong that the internet is over? In a way, most certainly. For Prince, however, the internet is over and as he is the center of his ever changing Universe such a severe declaration is valid for himself, if no one else.
4. cranscape
Maybe he stumbled upon this:

It's a common mistake of people over 75 and out of touch celebs I presume.
Christoper Turkel
5. zizban
Dear Prince: There is a thin line between genius and insanity. You are it.
6. Kvon
"You probably read about it on the internet."

I heard about this quote from a crossword puzzle. Available only on the internet. And free.
Ian Gazzotti
7. Atrus
The comment he made immediately afterward put that quote much more in context: he disliked iTunes (and by reflection every digital distributor) because they wouldn't give him an advance on earnings. So it's all about money, not the internet as a medium.

Incidentally, this same week Amanda Palmer said she'll release her new EP only in digital and vinyl because CD is (for her) dead.
8. The Music Void
Whether Prince is right or wrong, one must acquiesce in the fact that his ability to operate from without the conceptual box, free from the constraints of industry dogmatism and at times, perhaps reason, is what has kept his career alive..
9. Tocks Nedlog
He has striven so hard over the past 15 years to CONTROL the message, to CONTROL the content, to CONTROL the impression that people have of him -- that now the image of an angry, obsessive control freak IS the first impression the general public has of him. And that's sad, because the man is truly a musical genius, and should be appreciated as such without the negative distractions he brings upon himself.

Frank Zappa said it best: "Shut up 'n play yer guitar."
Walker White
10. Walker
As Atrus said, this all because iTunes won't give him advances. Prince is really disputing the claim that iTunes and digital distribution are the great alternative to music publishers.

Advances are an artifact of music publishers, who are essentially loan sharks. They "give" you money upfront for producing the album and a little to live on (e.g the advance), but recoup all of this money out of your royalties. So not only do they take the vast majority of the artists profits (compare the artist royalties to the total profit of a CD), what little money gets passed to the artist is immediately garnished to cover all of the production costs. As I said, loan sharks.

In fact, Prince realized this for the crap deal that it was. That is why he changed his name to a squiggly sign years ago; he did it to get out of his crap contract and away from the loan sharks.

Now we have digital distribution. Much more of the profit goes to the artist. However, the artist has to cover all of the costs upfront; there is no agency (like a publisher) to loan the artist money. The artist must do all the marketing etc. And most certainly no advances.

Prince wants it both ways. He wants the advances and other people picking up his production costs while still taking most of the profit himself (minus the advances and production costs).
11. kev mcveigh
In the UK there was no need to subscribe to The Mirror, just by one copy on the appropriate day.
Prince previous album came free with The Sunday Mail, presumably this time they were outbid by The Mirror.
randy gallegos
12. gallegosart
Of course he can't stop Emusic and WB from making available for download all the albums from the first half of his career.

How much of an advance would be required to fund the making of an Prince album anyway, given his claim to write a song a day?

Great article. "Perhaps there are too many Jeromes to his Morris Day." LOL, time to go listen to "Ice Cream Castles" again....
j p
13. sps49
It's the Taped-Up-Glasses vs. the Blouses!

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