Some kid on a message board must have been a real dick to Prince.
While he is normally a poster boy for how to alienate your own fan base, the once-prominent pop star took it up a notch Monday, when he said in an interview with Mirror.co.uk that the Internet is “dead” and that he saw no point in distributing his music online. In an attempt to completely sound like an embittered old man, he then referred to computers and the Web as “digital gadgets” that “just fill your head with numbers, and that can’t be good for you.”
Yes, God forbid the human race should want to utilize an effective way of exchanging information. With language like that, it seems like a pretty safe bet that Prince thinks television is some form of witchcraft too. That’s an argument for another day, though. Arguing with an old nutcase’s hippie logic will get you nowhere, so let’s break down his statements on the music industry for a second.
First of all, his specific quips with iTunes aren’t that unreasonable. His only complaint with Steve Jobs’ music empire is that “they won’t pay me an advance for [my music] and then they get angry when they can’t get it.” While he still sounds a bit whiny, at least you can give him the fact that this is a legitimate business decision. The man wants payment up front to put his songs in DRM-protected mp3 files and sell them to consumers. Even if you’re like me and disagree with him on the count that everybody sells their music like this when dealing with iTunes, the least you can say is that he is thinking like a businessman, not a cranky senior citizen who pines for the days when CDs and records were still the money makers for musicians.
However, the more general statements are where we run into problems. After blasting the Internet in general, Prince goes on to compare it to a media outlet that actually has lost its relevance in the music community, saying “The Internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated.”
Wait…the Internet is like MTV? This is where his diatribe goes from asinine to completely insane. If Prince just wants to knock MTV, that’s fine. It would be beating a dead horse, but to be fair, it has glorified some of the worst musicians and frat boys to ever walk the earth.
The difference is that MTV never fundamentally changed the way that human beings go about their every day lives, much less the way that they distribute and obtain music.
MTV changed music much in the same way that the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates changed politics: they made aesthetics relevant. When Michael Jackson came out with his video for Thriller in 1983, he made visuals as relevant as John F. Kennedy did when he made Richard Nixon and his sweat-covered brow and pasty-white complexion seem unappealing to American audiences. While this shift in dynamic within the music industry was very noticeable, it pales in comparison to what the Internet has done for society as a whole, the music industry included.
Look beyond the traditional arguments for how the Internet has aided music as an art form (exposure to new bands, distribution through iTunes, etc). The Web solidifying itself as a part of mainstream culture has helped the industry in ways that go far beyond what the average aging rock star would think of.
For example, let’s look at how the Internet has allowed bands to stay vital in the first decade of the 21st century: not just by gaining a sizeable fan base, but by maintaining it. Bands that want to post new songs, live tracks, demos, pictures, videos or any other media that their fans would eat up can do so almost instantly via MySpace and YouTube. Beyond that, they can sell merchandise, they can give fans access to early ticket sales and they can help fans interact with the band themselves.
Also, think of any small, relatively unknown band you’ve seen at your local venue. If the first band that comes to mind isn’t from your area, they probably had to use any connections they might have to set that show up. And what more effective way is there to form connections with bands not from your area than through online networking? Obviously this isn’t relevant to a performer like Prince who has had managers book his shows for him for most of his career, but it’s still something worth pondering.
Finally, try to remember what local shows were like before the days of the Internet. The main ways to promote these shows were through fliers and marquees. Nowadays, it’s as simple for a band to let their fans know about shows as typing in tour dates and posting them on their blogs, whether it be Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Not quite as personal as posting fliers in places where fans might see them, but a lot quicker and definitely more convenient.
While not every musician chooses to embrace the internet for these reasons, one would be hard pressed to argue that these advances aren’t good for music as a whole. Yet somehow, Prince manages to do just that. Luckily, he has a strategy for how to stay relevant in today’s industry without using the internet: he’s giving his album out for free with copies of The Daily Mirror in Britain. There’s Prince’s master plan for keeping CDs relevant in the music industry: sandwich them between subscription cards in tabloid magazines. The man is a visionary.