Lessons From Prince: Own Your Art

I don’t know about you, but Uncle Prince was an integral part of my childhood. My aunt was convinced they’d be married some time in the 80’s. Time and time again we sang many of his infamous, yet inappropriate lyrics. Upon hearing the news of his untimely death I began to reflect on what I knew about him. He was a music mogul, producer, actor, an advocate, visionary, film director, trailblazer, and philanthropist as well as creative mastermind. I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with business and entrepreneurship: stick with the kid and you’ll see where I’m going with this in just a bit. 

I personally consider musicians to be entrepreneurs. Many have turned creative ideas into some of the most popular and memorable songs in each generation. Unfortunately, the creative minds do not have the discipline to do the “hard things” like learn the business to protect their creative intellectual properties. Queue the entrance of 360 deals in the modern music world. These deals are where a music company will front the artist finances to be used for promotions, marketing, touring, studio fees, video recordings, etc. in exchange for these services and any financial advances the artist receives the artist yields a hefty percentage of all artist streams of income including, but not limited to: music sales/downloads, live performances, YouTube views, publishing, merchandising, and more depending on the contract specifics...Uncle Prince would not approve. 

I’m reminded of when he changed his name from Prince to The Artist Formally Known As Prince. As a 3rd grader, (don’t judge me) I didn’t understand the significance of this name change for him as an artist, entrepreneur, and fellow rebel. Today, I understand he was laying a blueprint for future artists/entrepreneurs to follow. He changed his name so that his record label, Warner Brothers would no longer own his business (stage) name along with his music. 

He was such an advocate for owning your art, that he re-recorded his old Warner Brother’s albums to create a catalogue only he would own. Warner Brother’s would not let him obtain ownership of the master recordings and publishing of his previous work. 17 albums were redone just so he could own his art. In doing this, he would cut out the middle man, selling directly to his fan base and ultimately earn more money for what was his intellectual property to begin with. 

To further substantiate the fact that Uncle Prince was about that life when it came to owning his are, in 2015, he took his music off of all streaming channels including YouTube, Pandora, Apple Music, and Spotify. He did later allow Tidal to stream. I am convinced owner Jay Z said some moving things in that meeting. (Side note: The primary reason Jay Z acquired Tidal was to ensure artists could own their art. That had to resonate with Prince.) Spotify pays an artist between $0.006 and $0.0084 per song stream to the artist. Many artists are not making minimum wage in the amount of plays based on current plays per song based on chart fees below: 

Streaming Service Per Play


$0.006 Signed Artist

$0.0084 Unsigned Artist


$0.23 Signed Artist

$0.69 Unsigned Artist

Google Play

$0.0073  Signed Artist

$0.0179 Unsigned Artist


$0.007  Signed Artist

$0.0043 Unsigned Artist


$0.003  Signed Artist

$0.018 Unsigned Artist


$0.0019  Signed Artist

$0.0121 Unsigned Artist


$0.001  Signed Artist

$0.0013 Unsigned Artist


$0.0003  Signed Artist

$0.0018 Unsigned Artist

Reference: Knowledge Is Beautiful by David McCandless

The moral of the story is: Own your art! Uncle Prince paved the way for other entrepreneurial kings like Master P, Jay Z, and Damon Dash. These men learned the importance of having a boss mentality. These men sign the front of their checks...pretty bossy. 

How can you apply this to your art?

1.  Own Your Art

It’s your intellectual property: make sure you own it. Don’t let the things that come from your mind be the thing that someone else makes a profit from. The music industry especially profits from creative artists ignorance concerning the importance of owning your art. 

2.    Learn The Business Side of Your Industry

If you’re going to play the game, it’s probably best that you learn the rules. Being a creative mastermind is one thing. Cashing in on that creativity is another. Unfortunately, many artist/celebrities only earn around $30,000 to $40,000 annually with bogus contracts like 360 deals. (Thanks for the information Master P.) What you don’t want to be is a disgruntled artist angry like TLC because they’ve sold millions of albums; the world knows your name, yet they drive off from an awards show in a Toyota. You can’t afford not to learn the game if you want to avoid being tomorrow’s barista at Starbucks.

3.    Know Your Worth & Add Tax

Know exactly what it is you bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to pass up a business deal that is not a good fit for you. Don’t be so desperate for fame/money that you cheat yourself in the end. All entrepreneurs must learn the art of negotiation. Remember, Uncle Prince wrote, “slave” on his face at a major awards show? “If you don’t own your masters (intellectual property), your master owns you!” – Prince Rodger Nelson. 

4.    Consult The Experts

I specifically remember Rev Run coaching his son Jo Jo on the best record contract to sign. It was better to sign and independent deal and sell fewer records, but make more money than to sign a major deal with less ownership, but more album sales. The same principle remains true in any business deal. When Master P was up and coming he consulted Michael Jackson’s lawyer for sound business advice. Beyonce even received game changing advice from Uncle Prince. They’ve paid for the knowledge through experience and education; don’t be afraid to ask (and pay for) good advice. 

5.    The Independent Route Is Harder, But More Gratifying

Independence causes you to be more involved through the entire process. Freedom isn’t necessarily free. There’s a price we entrepreneurs pay for that coveted freedom. Jay Z is working double time to cultivate an environment for artists to receive the most for their intellectual properties they’ve created! Being independent allows you to be in control of your art. In our generation, we have business savvy artists like Beyonce and Romeo Miller that stand for creative freedom and demand to be compensated fairly for their contribution to the industry they work in. Pure artistry is a labor of love, but don’t get it twisted, it can still be very lucrative if you are willing to do the work the right way. 

Thank you Uncle Prince. If no one else was listening, I was. Your fight was not in vain. 


6. Always Have A Succession Plan

Because Prince did not have a succession plan, his family signed a deal with Universal for his publishing. This is a sad moment for his legacy and the freedom he fought for. 


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