Prince’s Curious Relationship With The Internet Will Impact How His Legacy Will Live On

Streaming and YouTube are the future. To fight the future is to leave yourself open to the possibility of a fleeting legacy.

-By Michael Arceneaux

I noticed it happening mere hours after Prince’s untimely death was announced.

First it was little by little, and by Sunday it was far more feverous. Old videos, songs (so many songs), interviews, and performance clips. Much of what had been kept off the internet by Prince himself was making its way back to YouTube. For fans, this is a way of honoring the fallen—making a connection with other grieving fans impacted by the death of a musician whose music had monumental impact on their lives.

It’s important. It’s necessary. It’s comforting in multiple ways to anyone who knows how powerful music can be.

Still, you couldn’t help but think how pissed Prince might be at those uploading these clips and perhaps us consuming them en masse.

One of the most interesting things about Prince towards the end of his life was his contentious relationship with the internet. This is a man who pioneered much of how we consume music today. Prince is the one who sold and distributed albums solely from the Internet long before anyone else of his stature. Prince is the person who built a solid and committed online community of fans. Prince understood that the internet could be an incredible asset to artists.

And yet, as time passed on, Prince would resent services like Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, and Soundcloud for reasons similar to his beef with record labels: unfair pay scales. Though many objected to The Daily Beast headline Taylor Swift Is The New Prince,” Prince himself did share the article on his Twitter account. Prince understood Swift’s grievances as they are shared by many artists and songwriters alike.

Prince had other issues, too, like how he did not care for the way people could cherry pick how his music was consumed. Speaking to Ebony magazine about why he ultimately allowed Tidal to stream his music, he explained, “That’s the problem with these formats is that there’s a lot of laziness out there. They have to do so much, so a lot of times it’s just a program. It’s an algorithm. I didn’t want to be part of that.”

And so you could access his music via Tidal- curated to his liking – but not much else. Prince was notorious for issuing DMCA takedown notices for any fan-uploaded videos that appeared on YouTube. Prince even sent these notices for songs he did not have the copyright for — say when he performed covers on stage.

That stand does not come without certain consequences. Late last year, the Beatles finally allowed their music to be streamed online. While they, like Prince, certainly don’t hurt in name recognition, that alone does not prevent them from the future. Streaming is the future. Music videos are beginning to matter again in ways they haven’t in several years thanks to artists like Beyoncé. To fight the future to that great an extent is to leave yourself open to the possibility of a fleeting legacy.

To be clear, Prince’s impact is gigantic and as someone who considers himself a second wave Prince fan, a testament to his genius and the enduring power of his music. Nevertheless, for the generations that follow me, streaming is how they primarily access music and YouTube and other video services are where they turn to learn more.

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