Cell phones are not allowed at Paisley Park, Prince’s studio complex outside Minneapolis. Even fans who pay $250 for VIP tickets to his shows there will have their phones confiscated by staffers. Such is the troubled, complicated relationship between His Royal Badness and everyday modern technology, as detailed in an article by Hasit Shah called “Poor Lonely Computer” at NPR’s The Current. According to Shah, there are two good reasons for antipathy toward smartphones. First, the artist wants to “preserve the purity of the live music experience” so that spectators pay attention to the musician, not to their individual screens. Fair enough. The second reason, Shah says, is “Prince’s fierce commitment to protection of copyright.” There’s a good reason why there is relatively little Prince content on sites like YouTube; the artist doesn’t want it there and is not shy about sending takedown notices. He doesn’t want to sell much of his back catalog on services like iTunes or Spotify either, though he has cut a distribution deal with Jay Z’s Tidal.
To the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberty group, Prince is an enemy of free speech in his zealous overuse of takedown notices and legal threats, sometimes for material he does not even own. In this case, his vendetta feels personal. “Yeah,” says one fan, “he hates the internet.” But the article suggests that history and technology are not on Prince’s side in this matter. It is no longer feasible to cling to the days of physical media, lucrative though that era may have been for A-list musicians. But part of the blame for his dissatisfaction with the new way of doing things must be shared by the streaming services themselves, who have not exactly been forthcoming about their financial practices and the fair and proper distribution of royalties. But Prince’s reluctance to play by the current rules may be hurting his career and legacy, the article suggests. Dani Leigh, who had the honor of performing on a recent Prince album, admits: “I know a lot of younger kids who don’t know Prince and don’t realize who he is.”