Prince’s War On The Internet Is Doomed To Failure

Hurl your iPhone in the sea. Kick your monitor down the stairs. Fire up The jig is up. Haven’t you heard? The internet is “over”.

At least it is if you’re Prince. In an interview with The Mirror (who are giving away his new album ‘20Ten’ this coming Saturday), the prolific star has announced that the web is no longer a worthwhile medium for musicians.

“I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else,” he told the paper. “They won’t give me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”

Hmm. So giving your music away online is dumb, but giving it away with a tabloid is the future? When did Prince become such an internet reactionary?

It wasn’t always like this. Prince actually pioneered internet distribution in 1998 when he became the first artist to release an entire album online – ‘Crystal Ball’, which was made available via mail order direct to fans.

But despite winning a Lifetime Achievement Webby in 2006 for “[tapping] the power of the web to forge a deeper connection with his fans and push the boundaries of technology and art”, Prince has spent the ensuing years dismantling that reputation.

Not long after receiving that award, Prince shut down the NPG Music Club website, erasing his official web presence completely by the end of 2007. To this day, you’ll search in vain for any of his official videos on YouTube.

He also enlisted Web Sheriff to send cease and desist letters to fan websites, claiming breach of copyright by those who posted live images of the artist – or even, in one case, photos of their Love Symbol-inspired tattoos – on their websites.

The crusade took a turn for the absurd when Prince forced Pennsylvanian mother Stephanie Lenz to remove 29 seconds’ worth of footage of her 13-month-old baby dancing to ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ from YouTube – no images of Prince, just a snippet of a song playing in the background of a family home video.

Things got really megalomaniacal when, after performing a show-stopping cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ at Coachella 2008, Prince had fan-filmed footage removed from the net, prompting a bemused Thom Yorke to snap: “Tell him to unblock it. It’s our… song.”

How apt: a dispute between an artist who grasps the potential of online, and one who doesn’t. The internet isn’t “over”, of course. But Prince’s hit-making days are. At a time when the future of printed media is in question, to release an album through newspapers seems remarkably backwards.

It’s myopic of Prince to turn his back on a medium that’s no longer proving profitable for himself – while others are reaping its rewards. Earlier this year MGMT streamed their entire ‘Congratulations’ album online for free, and still celebrated a Number 4 UK/Number 2 US hit.

Thanks to blogs, message boards, fansites and other social media, the internet offers endless variety and renewal, and provides a direct link between artists and fans. Prince is missing out. Equating his withdrawal from a digital world with its demise is akin to a child assuming its surroundings disappear when it closes its eyes.

Jason Draper is the author of ‘Prince: Life & Times’