5 Lessons from the Legacy of a Legendary Artist
While mourning Prince’s passing this week, I listened to his insanely funky music and reflected on the lessons he taught us as artists.
1. You connect with your audience most powerfully at a live performance.
Prince’s live performances were the stuff of legend. He’d play a three hour stadium show and then head to a small club for a secret gig later that night and wind down by hitting the stage for another two hours. I had immersed myself in his recordings for years before I had the chance to see him play in Melbourne, but my loyalty as a fan was cemented the night I experienced his talent and charisma in person.
2. Don’t be shy about acknowledging your influences.
The Purple One was heavily influenced by Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. His style was both an homage to the musicians and performers who came before him (in fact George Clinton, Maceo Parker & Mavis Staples all joined him on stage on many occasions) while he and his friends melded those influences into what became the ‘Minneapolis Sound’.
3. Holding onto your own voice is more valuable than chasing the latest fashion.
While his sound constantly evolved, Prince never abandoned his core sound and style to fit with the latest music trend. He stuck to his roots, and stayed true to his loyal fans rather than abandoning them to chase the new hip crowd. Effectively that allowed the newer/younger artists to point back to him as an influence in the way that he’d honoured Hendrix etc.
4. Create and share with your fans.
Prince had a famous battle with Warner Bros. Music, ostensibly because they weren’t prepared to ‘flood’ the market with new music at the rate that he prodigiously produced it. The label’s system of marketing and distribution was only designed to cope with a certain frequency of releases and they were concerned about diluting the value of their Prince inventory by releasing too much product.
As an artist, Prince wanted to share his music with the world and his fans. So he developed an online subscription model called NPGMusicClub where for $7.77 per month, fans could access music as fast as he could record it, as well as exclusive access to preferred seating for concerts and VIP passes to after shows. This was in 2001 (well before Pandora Radio in 2005 & Spotify in 2008) and had 400K+ subscribers.
Today, instead of launching your own site/service – you can explore the subscription model available at patreon.com
5. Sometimes icons speak louder than words.
Prince had a knack of using symbols from early on. Back in the day when albums were on vinyl and the sleeves had lyrics printed on them, he would often substitute words with symbols (an icon of an eye replacing the word “I” etc). His iconic ‘love symbol’ was created in 1992 and became an integral part of the Prince brand as the ‘red big mouth’ is to the Rolling Stones.
Prince was a consummate artist and performer whose musical skills and creativity were exceptional. He’s not remembered as the artist he was because of general excellence, but because he worked until he was the best in the world at the things that set him apart. The falsetto, fashion, guitar playing, songwriting, dancing – he worked the gifts and quirks that were built into his DNA into an amazing virtuosic package that inspired and entertained people all over the world.
What are the unique aspects of you as an artist that could be developed and amplified to stand you apart from the crowd?