A musical legend is gone, but the music industry may just be letting out a sigh of relief.
The news that legendary singer/songwriter Prince died Thursday April 21st in his home, at the age of 57, came as a shock to fans across the world. Much like the loss of David Bowie earlier this year, Prince’s death has many reflecting on the powerful presence he had in life and the void that is now being felt after his loss.
In a time when we like to place entrepreneurs on a pedestal for being innovative and disruptive, it’s interesting to look back on Prince’s career and see how much these terms describe his presence in the music industry. His insistence on independence and being able to define his identity, including his name, have had a huge impact on how artists are able to define and protect themselves and their work. In business terms, he was took the idea of a personal brand and rebranding to a whole new level.
To Prince, it was outrageous to think anyone had the right to take away the creations of an artist, and many protections in place for musicians today are in part thanks to him and his fierce persistence. Prince was able to have more control over his music than many other famous singers and performers, through several costly and lengthy legal battles. In an industry that did, and continues, to have an obscene amount of control over the artists who’s work actually brings in the billions, Prince’s demands for autonomy and independence were a true disruption to the music business. He set the stage for musicians like Jay-Z who are now well-known for disrupting the status quo and taking control of their rights as artists.
Whether a fan of his music or not, it would be hard to find a person who’d argue that Prince was not authentic to himself and his work. Prince was a true artist in the field of music, approaching his work with a signature style that he stubbornly refused to deviate from. Because of this, his songs have a fierceness that is easy to identify as his own, but at the same time hard to describe. He was able to take the very masculine musical genre of Rock and Roll, give it an androgynous treatment and combine it with Funk in a way that sounded innovative and exciting while still feeling natural. And, much like his music, he continued to blur the lines and live by his own understanding of self, presenting himself as an advocate for gender bending and the ability to self-identify.
Not only has the world lost a tireless, talented, and inventive musician, they’ve also lost an outspoken activist for the rights of artists as individuals with control over their creations. When looking at the current music landscape, it’s difficult to see who will be able to fill his shoes and continue keeping the music industry on their toes. But for now, fans will process the loss of a musical great by binge listening to their Prince collection and rolling out purple rain memes my the thousands.