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The Analog Prince

Last Saturday I attended a Prince concert which was part of his exclusive 21 nights in London’s O2 Arena. In addition to an electrifying performance, attendees were also treated to a copy of the album, for the single ticket price of £31.21. Judging by the mixed reactions on the decision to give away free copies of the album in the Mail on Sunday, it would seem that some parties (i.e. consumers, media and the artiste) are happy, while others (i.e. music retailers and record companies) are livid. Remarkably there is not one mention of DRM in this scenario. Could this be the way of things to come?

A significant and recurring theme in Prince’s performance, and on the promotional website and blog, can be summed up in his exhortation of the band’s performance as “Real music by real musicians”. It strikes me that this may just be the beginning of a resurgence in performance oriented music, and that established artistes (e.g. Barbara Streisand and the Rolling Stones) are now returning to their original mainstay of live performances and providing direct concert experience to their consumers.

This analogue world uses digital technology strictly as supporting cast –perhaps as it should be. Doubtless the aim of the concert and CD giveaway is focused around promotion (of Prince?), and this has being done without the help of traditional record industry players like the labels and retailers. It also gives lie to the much hyped position that illegal downloads are killing off the CD, because over 200,000 free copies of this CD album are in circulation in the UK, along with an untold number of ripped tracks now resident in personal MP3 players and file sharing networks.

According to a Time Magazine article, there is also a sound business reason for taking the free CD route in the UK since Prince stands to make more money upfront (via the newspaper and advertisers) than if it had been released in the conventional manner. His last album, 3121, sold only 80,000 copies. You can do the math. It would seem that the once mighty CD album has now become merely an enabler, or loss leader (akin to the CD single of yore), and no longer a bona fide product in its own right. The artiste, or at least an experience of his art, has now become the real product.

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