The death of Prince at just 57 has revealed one of the big problems with modern streaming services.
While older fans will be getting out their CDs and vinyl, the digital generation has turned to Spotify, only to discover to their distress Prince’s notable absence from that online music world.
The lack of Prince is pure Prince. The artist who spent much of his career at war with his record labels – his falling out with Warner Bros led to 1992’s Love Symbol album, ditching his name to become “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”, and performing with “SLAVE” written on his face.
A decade ago, he announced plans to sue YouTue and eBay for copyright infringement in the distribution of his music, arguing that while they filter out porn, they “appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorized music and film content which is core to their business success” .
All through his career, Prince fought for the rights and income for his music, stopping others from getting a free ride. His recent Australian tour demonstrated the levels he goes to to stop scammers. The ticket sales were a reminder of his power remained, nearly four decades on.
But his battle for control reached some epic proportions. A personal favourite is his 2008 cover of Radiohead’s Creep at Coachella. The Purple One ended up in a fight over the clip appearing on YouTube and elsewhere, chasing everyone to pull it down. Radiohead went hey, it’s our song, we’re cool with it being out there. It took several years before Prince saw their side.
It’s worth the wait.
For journalists there was another challenge when it came to control – Prince wouldn’t let anyone record an interview with him, claiming his voice had been misused. You couldn’t take any notes in his presence either. You needed a very good memory to chat with His Purpleness. And he had a habit of claiming things he didn’t want to see appear – even after they did – were off the record.
His notoriety in protecting his IP led the Electronic Frontier Foundation to give him the inaugural “Raspberry Beret Lifetime Aggrievement Award” in 2013.
Which brings us to Spotify.
Prince granted the licence to his music to rival streaming service Tidal, which fellow artist Jay Z bought 12 months ago.
Tidal has a couple of things heavily in its favour for artists. First up for audiophiles, the sound is CD quality.
To get technical for a sec, we’re talking Spotify at 320kbit/s, Apple’s 240kbit/s and then there’s Tidal’s 1411kbit/s.
But you pay for that – at $24 a month, it’s double the price of a Spotify subscription. And unlike its cheaper rival, it’s no pay, no play – you can’t get a free version with ads between songs.
But the big difference is the royalty model. Plenty of musicians have weighed in on the pittance they earn from millions of streams of their songs on Spotify and Apple Music – Taylor Swift famously pulled her music from Spotify 18 months ago, and also go stuck into Apple.
Prince pulled his music from free streaming services last year when he did the deal with Tidal.
His view was that the record labels were co-owners of Spotify, and they were the bane of his life to begin with, so it was a no-go zone.
Along with his enormous talent came a tireless fight for the rights of artists in a world where a lot of people make money from creative works – except for the people who produced them in the first place.
It’s another reason to admire Prince. He’s a reminder, even now he’s gone, that you get what you pay for.
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