5 Lessons Music Creatives Should Learn From Prince

Photo credit: Richard E. Aaron of Getty Images

Photo credit: Richard E. Aaron of Getty Images

Sometimes it snows in April.

It’s been almost a week since Prince’s exit from this physical realm, but I haven't truly internalized it yet. I think it’s because he hasn’t really left.

I can’t honestly claim to be the biggest Prince fan, but I appreciate and value his artistry. Prince has left us with an extensive catalog, many memorable performances and stories, and some of the best facial expressions and side eyes that I can think of. But, he left us with more than that. He left us with innovation, passion, confidence, a sense of ownership, and a better understanding of love. That’s what makes him stand out in the industry.

I want to share five quotes from Prince that music creatives could learn from to create better music and to have more control over their music. Check them out below:

“If you don’t own your masters, your masters own you.”

Prince went through a very long battle with his former label, Warner Brothers, to receive the full rights to his music. That means copyright (something I talked about via Beyoncé's Formation video here), the ability to license songs, and more. Because Warner Bros. owned his masters, they had the right to redistribute his music any way they pleased without the permission of the creator, the artist. Fortunately, Prince won the fight back in 2014. Make sure, as a creative, that you own your music. Claim copyright protection over the composition AND the sound. Have true ownership over your work. If you want to learn a little more about masters, check out an informative blog post about masters here (via Wendy Day).

“Like books and black lives, albums still matter.”

One thing we know best about Prince is that he took pride in not only his individual songs, but in a collective body of work. I’m pretty sure that he meant this statement in the context of the GRAMMYs, but it’s completely relevant in artistry. The entire body of work mattered to him, and as a creative, it should matter to you.

“The key to longevity is to learn every aspect of music that you can.”

Prince told Beyoncé to learn how to play the piano, and guess what she did? Learn how to play the piano. If you’ve seen her Lemonade visuals, you saw Beyoncé play the keys for her song “Sandcastles.” She’s also become more business savvy about her craft. This is what Prince really pushed for: musicianship, artistry, and ownership. Oh, and if you didn’t know, Prince played over 20 instruments, was a songwriter under a number of aliases, had a label, and was an inventor. He pretty much did it all in terms of music. You, as a creative, should have that same type of passion when approaching your work.

“I really believe in finding new ways to distribute my music.”

Prince totally did that throughout his career. Before he took down all of his music from every streaming platform except for Tidal, at one point, Prince self-distributed his music via the internet through his own platform, a monthly subscription service via NPG, his music imprint. Even though he had many issues with music distribution throughout his career, Prince did really well at staying ahead of the curve, which leads to the last quote:

“A strong spirit transcends rules.”

Prince always did his own thing. Some folks labeled him pop, some rock, some R&B. But, he did so much that we can’t even label him solely under one genre. He even transcended rules in the way he approached the industry, the way he approached his image, everything. That's so important when discussing what a legacy looks like.

With a career that spanned four decades and a generation of artists that have been influenced by him, Prince will never leave us, as long as we keep him alive. His music can’t stay relevant only during this space in time; it has to continuously transcend time. Hopefully, by using some of these lessons he’s given us over the years, he’ll also remain alive through his advice and example.