No Controversy: Prince and artistic legacy in the digital era Melanie Baker April 28, 2016 Columns, Featured, M-Theory Prince died a week ago. As a tech-centric person, on occasions when I’ve mourned a celebrity death, I do so through media consumption. Studio and live performance recordings, think pieces, reminiscences, analyses, interviews… I’ve been consuming a lot in the past week. There’s really interesting content covering not only remembrances of what Prince’s music meant to fans, but also about race, sexuality, identity and whatnot. Incredibly accessible thanks to being online. Some coverage just curates amazing live performances. I recommend those, too. But this is a tech column. What’s tech about The Purple One? Especially given what he told The Daily Mirror in 2010: “All these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.” Well, I read a comment that struck me as so odd it’s been stuck in my head. I don’t recall the author or platform, but it was to the effect that Prince’s obsessive control over his music would likely hurt his legacy. Were I a good journalist I’d hunt down the commenter and sort out what he meant. But maybe the answer is as simple as he’s just not a fan. If you’re familiar with Prince at all, you’ll likely recall how he changed his name to the love symbol in the 90s as part of a dispute with his record company. If you look for his music on YouTube, you’ll notice there are live performances and such, but no official Prince channel (similar on Spotify). These are a couple of examples of the lengths to which he went to manage his image and brand, and control ownership and use of what he created. Note that this was a career that began analog and stretched well into the digital era. This is a long, weird, meandering, and fascinating read, with relevant interview discussion about that topic on the page linked. So, because Prince took sometimes dramatic steps to control his image and art, that permanently overshadows the music and his influence? Nah. This piece is a loving tribute from a long-time fan, and he talks about the lengths he and other fans would go to to share bootlegs over the years – using the tech that was prevalent at the time. People who would go to those lengths aren’t going to forget Prince. Or because it’s the Internet age and no one wants to pay for anything online, people can’t easily discover or enjoy his work? The idea that his music would be hard to access is laughable for someone like me, because I, and many of my friends, already have his music. Plenty of us old codgers have purchased it in multiple formats as time and tech have marched on. Creative works paid for and tech limitations managed. Legacy secured. But what about the kids these days? How are they supposed to discover Prince? Well, aside from their parents going crazy in the purple rain, as it were, it’s not like the music isn’t available on iTunes or on streaming services like Tidal. Of course, don’t underestimate basic parental influence, especially with technology in hand. A friend of mine who lives in Minnesota recorded and shared via Periscope when Minneapolis City Hall played Prince songs on the tower bells a couple days ago. She also happens to have a daughter, who I know is familiar with Prince. And Periscope. Did you know there’s a direct link between Prince and the concept of JOMO (joy of missing out – flip side to the social media-driven FOMO, or fear of missing out) coined by techie Anil Dash after his son was born? Interesting story you can catch in this episode of the Note to Self podcast. Tech culture legacy passed down. I would also argue that Prince, like Queen (more royalty gone too soon) pops up more than you might realize. Prince wrote a lot of hits performed or covered by other people. Beyond that, again, like Queen, his music has and will presumably continue to appear in movies and such. Media legacy. Besides, artists and their careers tend to have a variety of peaks and valleys throughout their lives and after their deaths. Evolution and renaissance are common. Discovery and rediscovery by new audiences often comes with covers or collaboration by younger artists, by use of the music in new media, or with the help of new technology. Hell, even if you’re just starting out learning to play guitar, you could do worse than a YouTube study of Prince’s virtuosity. Legacy by renaissance. I can also see a new generation of artists taking inspiration from artists like Prince. What was the scandalous stuff of parental advisories back in the day is, today, the stuff of graduate theses and think pieces. Pity we had to lose both Prince and Bowie to really bring such interesting scholarship and online commentary to the forefront. Who knows what inspiration and derivative artworks we might be blessed with in the future thanks to a new generation finding courage and ideas in that glam and grind? And much of it is likely to have a digital component since… what doesn’t these days? Of course, there’s one other wild card where Prince’s legacy is concerned: The Vault. There have been mentions of it over the years. The last bit of this Kevin Smith story explains a lot. (Though the whole thing is entertaining.) I, for one, would love to know what’s all in there. Will we get to enjoy it? What will we be allowed to do with it, besides groove? Imagine the tech-driven potential for creativity and reach that we didn’t have in the 80s. This, my friends, is legacy. Prince has had us wondering what he would do next for the last 30-plus years. Like mere death is going to change that. Photo: Purple rain d’uh by Irina Souiki is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or firstname.lastname@example.org.