Written by Matt A. of Media Junkie
Prince started fueling the fire for his big 2013 plans recently with a series of tweets by a mysterious account known only as 3rdEyeGirl. Fans and journalists initially debated what to make of these new "leaks" - were they real, or carefully planned promotion? Time proved they were indeed all part of a strategy to help drum up promotion for what promises to be a busy year for the musical legend. Whatever your thoughts on how he went about things, it had his fan base buzzing and Prince would be wise to take advantage of it.
In a recent Spreecast chat with Dr. Funkenberry and Seth Everett, several questions were posed to fans about their thoughts on 3rdEyeGirl and what they would like to see from Prince in 2013.
As a new contributing writer to Now It's On, I was asked to give my thoughts as a Prince fan and fellow blogger, and as a sucker for op-ed pieces, I couldn't resist the offer.
Topic #1. I wanted to debate the pros and cons of "free" content. Let's say "3rd Eye Girl" was/is posting unreleased content without permission. Shouldn't 3rd Eye pay for what they post? Then say the NPG could pay all of the employed producers of the content. A 19-member band paid annually is no joke. We all have bills to be paid.
Bootlegs are a tricky issue. Technically, it's stealing. However, I think it's important to take into account what is done with the material, and to understand why fans share unreleased content in the first place.
Let's face facts: the only people who want bootlegs are diehard fans. That goes for any artist. Casual fans are content to make due with readily available material, and in Prince's case, many of them are content to own a copy of Purple Rain and possibly a Greatest Hits collection of some kind and nothing more. It's only the diehards who are willing to listen to low quality third generation copies of songs, even if they're so fuzzy they're nigh inaudible, or watch a concert video of someone filming an arena's screen from the back of said arena at a weird angle.
With that in mind, an artist shouldn't be expected to overlook rampant music piracy and bootlegging. Even as an "archivist," to use the kinder term, I understand the need of the artist to protect their intellectual property. However, the penalty should depend partially on what the fan does with the material.
Bootleg labels that professionally press CDs which are then sold for extortionist prices are a far cry from a fan foaming at the mouth for unheard material from their favorite artists. Attempting to profit from someone else's work is, I feel, on a completely different level from excited fans sharing unreleased songs amongst themselves.
Had 3rdEyeGirl not been a Prince plant, I think the cease and desist letter was sufficient. You can't bite the hand that feeds you, but you can give it a little smack. The next step would be following through with a lawsuit, which would do nothing but build resentment between the fans and the artist. As Prince fans, we've seen it happen before, which brings me to the next topic.
Topic # 2. A discussion of a new web site. With so many of the Prince community hooked up online would and could the fans get together and start their own NPG MUSIC CLUB (Prince's successful subscription and membership service used back in the early 2000's), pool their $ and vote on what type of music they want?
Meaning if they wanted new songs, rehearsals, material from the vault, complete live shows, certain videos. This way, it skips the need of i-Tunes and other 3rd (sic)parties. If the fans created a network similar 2 Facebook, a fee could be given to the NPG and they could just fill the order, pay those deserving and stop all the lawsuits in one fell swoop. Thoughts?
Does anybody remember a site called Housequake? That site pretty much fit the bill for what a Prince fan would want in a site designed by and for other fans. Sadly, Prince had it shut down, knowing they didn't have the means to defend themselves in court.
Given Prince's recent aversion to technology (see: "the internet is dead"), and his control freak attitude, I have no confidence that a fan designed website, even one with his blessing, would be worthwhile. More likely, it would be a group of yes-men who lap up whatever table scraps he chooses to brush aside. If fans were to design a one-stop shop for all things Princely, it would have to be done without Prince exerting control over every aspect of it. If someone attends a concert and takes a crappy cellphone video of a performance, that shouldn't be deemed an "unauthorized bootleg" and taken down. That is a fan sharing a positive experience with other fans, and in this day and age, Prince's "no cameras" policy is a draconian one.
The sad thing is that Prince fans could make a truly spectacular site. Lyrics, scans of album and single artwork, a chronological discography, years upon years worth of pictures, tour books, video clips, audio. With Prince's blessing and trust, fans could combine all the resources he's had shutdown over the years into the ultimate Prince Mecca.
I'm sure there are some who would naively jump at the chance to work for Prince, and they would soon find themselves under the artist's thumb. Prince has built up a lot of ill will with his online fanbase over the years, and the idea of having fans design a site for him for free, but having to relinquish control of its content to his team, seems like nothing more than fleecing his fanbase for something most artists pay professionals to design.
Topic # 3. IF "3rd Eye Girl" turns out to be a band member, say the NPG's newest additions Hannah Ford or Donna Grantis, what should be the disciplinary action taken? In the past, former band members have leaked material. Perhaps more thorough background checks are needed.
This response was written before we all but received confirmation 3rdEyeGirl was part of Prince's camp, but given the questions asked, I feel it is worthy to post my original answer. This is operating under the assumption that Prince was unaware of 3rdEyeGirl's action, which I'll reiterate is highly unlikely. Consider the text of the posts - written in Prince Speak. Most of the leaks by former band members have occurred years after their time with Prince had ended, and likely after being offered large sums of money for unreleased content from his golden years.
These new leaks are of a completely different variety. While unreleased music still trickles out through underground channels, none of it has been more recent than a poor quality bootleg of Ice Cube's "Black Sweat" remix from 2006's 3121. No outtakes from Musicology, Planet Earth, LotusFlow3r, MPLSound, or 20Ten are circulating amongst fans to the best of my knowledge. Prince's camp is wound up pretty tight, and it seems more than a little strange that suddenly, on the cusp or a potential new album and tour, several recent tracks and rehearsal footage with a brand new band has suddenly "leaked" out.
Perhaps Prince takes his fans for fools, and no doubt some of them are. But the odds of this leak being done without Prince's knowing are slim to nil. I assume he keeps a tight watch on his bandmembers' phones and social networking accounts to ensure this sort of thing. This is unsubstantiated, but it doesn't seem unfeasible for a man who has waged a war on bootleggers for decades, and has fired band members for far less than releasing his music without his permission.
I'd also like to remind everyone of the "Jam of the Year"/"Face Down" cassette tape, sold exclusively through 1-800-NEW-FUNK, which prominently stated "4th generation bootleg, but it's all good" on the cover, despite being perfect soundboard quality (if edited from the original performance, thus failing to eliminate the need for actual bootleg recordings).
Not that I think the whole 3rdEyeGirl mystery isn't a fun diversion. If it turns out to be someone from Prince's camp, I applaud him for finally using the internet as a promotional tool. Some of the material being "leaked" is indeed intriguing as well. Time will tell who's really behind it, but I don't think anybody will be truly surprised to find out it was little more than a promotional tool.
Topic # 4. Andy Allo was indeed the co-producer of the CD Superconductor. I was in the studio first-hand to see that happen. It is jointly owned by NPG and Alloevolution.
Of the all the artists that worked with Prince, Andy was one of the few who did not follow guide vocal trax originally laid down by Prince. Only the 3 songs that Prince co-wrote were produced in this manner. Andy is extremely talented and a quick-learner. She refuses to punch-in individual songs and rather goes back 2 the top when necessary to get a performance that she has sole approval of. She was given an unlimited budget by NPG to fulfill her vision. The results are something all of us can be proud of.
What do you guys think of Superconductor?
Having not listened to Superconductor, I will have to defer to those who have. My brother claims it is the best Prince associated artist release since the 80's glory days and Baron3121's glowing review which appeared on Now It's On last year more or less backs that opinion up.
Topic #5. Paisley Park. The soundstage at Paisley Park is currently under renovation. It looks like Barbarella meets Sweet Charity. Are there any new fans that wanna experience late-nite parties at Paisley Park? What's a good cover charge that everyone can agree on? Yes, Prince will be there.
By this point, many of you are probably wondering, "how can someone so cynical about Prince call himself a fan?" It's true, I am cynical. I'm jaded by years of abuse and mistreatment at the hands of my favorite artist. And just like women flock to bad boys, so too Prince fans take his abuse and return for more.
The fact remains that Prince is still, and always will be, my favorite musician. The man behind the music is irrelevant. Many artists in many different mediums are not very nice people, but that doesn't make their art any less provocative or alluring. There is something about Prince's music that has spoken to me since I was a small child, and continues to speak to me into my adulthood. Like most longtime fans, I feel there has been an undeniable drop in the quality of his music, but once he takes to the stage there are fewer performers capable of electrifying an audience in the way Prince does.
Even in recent years when his shows have largely been Greatest Hits medleys a few steps shy from being full-blown Vegas showroom revues, he can still bring it, as evidenced after a disastrous opening night in Chicago last year, which he immediately followed up with a show for the ages. Even when coasting, Prince's live shows are energetic and fun.
The chance to see Prince on his home turf - Paisley Park Studios - is a no-brainer. The last time he held such an event was 2002's Celebration. My brother was lucky enough to attend, while I foolishly opted to stay at home and receive updates from him on a nightly basis. Upon hearing Prince rented out a movie theater and treated the audience to a screening of Minority Report, reports from an awkward music workshop where Larry Graham answered every question by launching into a bass solo, and rave reviews of a guitar-oriented show filled with rare performances, it has been a decision I've regretted ever since. Not even excellent quality audience recordings could ease the pain that I had a chance to go, but passed on it, and it's a mistake I won't make again if the opportunity presents itself.
I was fortunate enough to attend one show at Paisley Park, in August of 1995, but it was cut short thanks in part to Prince's late arrival, Chanhassen's curfew, and sound problems. It was a memorable experience, but more for spending the day in a frat house filled with Prince fans listening to then-uncirculating tracks like "God Is Alive" and watching as two female fans argued over who looked more like Mayté. Oh, and for meeting Nathan J. Wright who, by the way, still has not sent me my copy of the Purple Underground magazine.
Cover charge is another matter. There has to be a happy middle ground to account for travel expenses for fans far and wide, but still worthy of Prince's stature. What that number is, I can't tell you, but if we're talking a multi-night event, perhaps offering single-show tickets, or a full event package at a discounted price - e.g. - Friday-Saturday-Sunday for $30 each individual show, or $80 for the package. Those are strictly ballpark figures, but it's a practice many festivals have adopted that caters to both crowds - those who can only attend one show and don't want to miss their chance, and those who plan to attend them all, come hell or highwater.
2013 could potentially be one of the most exciting years for Prince fans in quite some time, with a possible full scale tour, a new band, and rumblings of another multi-disc album. When it comes to Prince, I've learned to take every rumor with a grain of salt because he is notorious for losing interest in projects quickly, but for right now, I'm cautiously optimistic.