by James D. Roumeliotis
Prior to his sudden demise, I always had quite the fondness and following for Prince, “The Artist.” Ever since I discovered his music in the late 70s, what never seize to amaze me since was his eclectic work (comprised of dance, funk and rock tunes), vocal range and the method in which he always managed to integrate it all seamlessly during his formidable stage presence.
However, what many may not have been aware of was his show business acumen. Prince built and sustained his personal brand along with the resources he exploited which comprised of his musical entertainment enterprise.
What I have learned from this beloved and prematurely departed artist are three lessons which any business can use as a takeaway for implementation. They are as follows:
1) Stray from the ordinary and remain relentlessly competitive
“The Artist” was widely acclaimed by his fans, the media and fellow musicians as one of the most influential and creative musicians of his generation. He seemingly left behind an impressive music legacy. Unlike most artists, Prince was a prolific songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sang in a variety of vocals, produced his work, as well as displayed dance and theatrical antics on stage. Must we forget that he was also an actor ─ most notably in “Purple Rain” along with performances in four other movies including on television. Moreover, he wrote songs for and produced work for other musical acts including some he impacted and/or for whom he acted as their mentor and coach.
Prince also knew how to outdo his competition by standing out with his artistic performances including the eccentric outfits he sported along with his leaping dance acts he displayed with his platform shoes ─ as he only stood at 5’2”/1.58m. Some of his singles, which eventually turned into big hits, were purposely targeted at some of his rivals.
An exemplary display of Prince’s unique and memorable performance was a video, recorded at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The illustrious artists playing the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” include George Harrison’s son Dhani, along with old band-mates and collaborators Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Steve Winwood. However, most striking among this band, who stood slightly apart from the rest while they played ordinarily, was Prince. Despite his small frame and wearing a dark suit with a red shirt, a matching derby hat, and staying on the sidelines for the first 3:27 minutes or so (in the YouTube recorded video), he suddenly steals the show with his passionate guitar solo. As the song ends, Prince abruptly takes off his guitar, tosses it in the air and then disappears off stage. That was probably the most memorable part of the video from my perspective. Many more who watched it share the same sentiment.
2) Branding, image and reputation are your equity
As with traditional businesses, Prince had created a personal persona – where the brand and performer were synonymous. He created a logo dubbed the “The love symbol” ─ one that blended the symbols for male and female which was instantly recognizable. It was also the shape of his customized guitars. Prince even owned a signature color in the mind of his followers – purple. His occasional provocative lyrics, seductive singing, dramatic performances and distinctive album covers all depicted a unique style as an icon and as a showman of his personal brand.
As one Twitterer remarked in his Tweet following Prince’s death, “Prince built a brand around his music and his genius before content marketing and personal branding became a thing.” Another stated, “Like Bowie, Prince reminded us that it’s not just OK to be weird—it’s cool to be weird.”
The moral of this narrative is that as a business, follow what Prince did ─ by working on building your brand image consistently, by establishing unique features with your products/services that distinguish them from the competition, and by being true to yourself, as well as by what you truly stand for.
3) Become vertically integrated
Prince was more than an artist, he was one who only entrusted himself with songwriting, arranging, producing, naturally performing his own music, as well as distributing it through his own label (NPG Records and Paisley Park Records before it). To do so, he built a $10 million state-of-the-art complex in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota which he named Paisley Park Studios. That said, he became his own vertically integrated corporation. This was, after all, a multi-talented musical artist who believed in taking control of his own destiny and in return, earning the maximum revenue and profits rather than giving much of it away – most notably to a record label. He considered the role of record labels exploitation and slavery. He was a fierce advocate for artist rights and independence and in he had standoff with Warner Bros., his label at the time. In protest, Prince removed his name from his album releases and changed his name to a symbol. He also styled himself as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Furthermore, during a legal battle with Warner Bros., he scrawled the word “Slave” on his face during his appearances and performances.
The significance with this illustration is that a business with adequate capital, resources and expertise ought to consider amalgamating most or all of the processes under its own umbrella. A such, quality control and improved profits are now controlled by the business itself.
A final point of intrigue
On a noteworthy footnote, in his 37 years as an artist ─ and unlike many with his fame, he kept himself out of the negative spotlight. He never plagiarized a fellow artist’s work, never had to hire a ghost writer, and neither involved in a scandal which would drag him to the courts. In the end, he was capable of playing more or less 20 instruments admirably and having earned 19 Platinum albums, 6 gold albums, along with a double diamond record for his Purple Rain album which sold 21 million copies. Impressive for a personal brand to say the least.