Prince is not mincing his words when it comes to new artists in the music industry. From his Paisley Park Studios in quiet suburban Minneapolis, the singer sat in on a rare chat with 10 reporters from the National Association of Black Journalists to share his agenda to eliminate the “indentured servitude” of record contracts and give the ropes back to the artists.
“You just have to blow it up. That’s what it’s going to take,” Prince said of what he describes as an unfair digital-royalty ‘shell game’ in the music business.
A day after Apple launched its streaming service Apple Music, he pulled most of his catalog from digital stream giants, including Spotify, Rdio and Deezer. Instead, Prince signed with Jay Z’s Tidal music-streaming service to exclusively release and distribute his next album, HitNRun, on Sept. 7.
“Once we have our own resources, we can provide what we need for ourselves,” Prince said of his decision to collaborate with Jay Z and Tidal. “Jay Z spent $100 million of his own money to build his own service. We have to show support for artists who are trying to own things for themselves.”
The music mogul discussed how his deal with Jay Z and Tidal still gave him freedom to work with other musicians, emphasizing the importance of artists controlling as much of the revenue from their work as possible. He also campaigned for artists being paid directly from streaming services for use of their music, so that record companies and middlemen couldn’t take a share.
Signed or independent, artists have to sell millions of records just to earn a small fraction of the music they created. The current structure is laden with immense pressure on the artists to have sizable hits in order to see any fruition from their work. According to a recent analysis, each time a song is played on a streaming service such as Spotify, a solo artist signed to a record label can make, on average, $.0011. Literally 1/10th of a penny. If the artist is independent, the average drops significantly.
That’s probably why the seven-time Grammy Award-winning artist called the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP,) little more than a “collection agency,” claiming that little of the royalties it collects from streamers on behalf of its artists actually make it into the bank accounts of the artists themselves. He said he resigned from the organization.
Prince’s movement against music industry exploitation is not a recent cause. In 1993, Prince and Warner Bros. battled over his record contract, during that time he often appeared onstage with “slave” etched across his cheek. Prince famously changed his name to “the Artist Formerly Known As” and “the Love Symbol” to challenge the label’s hold on his rights as a musician. Prince and the label worked out their differences in 2014. He signed a new contract and reclaimed his catalog.
His advice to new musicians breaking into the business is clear. Freedom is the most valuable aspect of all.
“Record contracts are just like — I’m gonna say the word – slavery,” Prince said. “I would tell any young artist… don’t sign.”