Update 06/21/2018 and 08/30/2020: Feeling proud and honored to state that The New Power Generation themselves have read and shared this article! And, I later (much much later) found out that Prince’s very own (half)brother Omarr Baker retweeted the link via Twitter.
Today was supposed to be Prince’s 60th birthday. He is no more. 25 years ago, on the day he turned 35, he changed his name into an unpronounceable symbol. Why and what were the consequences. A look back at 6.5 years of .
On August 31st, 1992, Prince signed a renewed deal with Warner Bros. On September 4th the deal was made public. By (representatives of) Prince it was presented as a $ 100 million deal, the biggest deal ever. Warner Bros. was irritated. That number could only be met under a number of conditions.
The contract wasn’t new, but rather an addendum to his then current one, and comprised the release of 5 albums.
Advance for upcoming releases
Prince was to receive an advance of $ 10 million for each new release. But, only if the preceding album had sold a minimum of 5 million copies (worldwide). If not, the amount was considered a (rent free) loan. 5 million doesn’t sound like much, but at the time Prince averaged slightly above 4 million copies sold per album, in which Purple Rain played a significant part. To be exact, Prince had ‘only’ released three albums that could meet the 5 million sale criterion (Purple Rain, Batman and Diamonds And Pearls).
Insiders assumed the large advance was offered to persuade Prince that heavy marketing had its merits, as he had done with his latest release Diamonds And Pearls: singles, videos and extensive touring. Sales were particularly low in the United States, with 1988’s Lovesexy being the absolute low-point
Also, his share in (the proceeds of) his music sales would increase. He would receive a share of 20 percent (some sources even claimed it was as high as 25 percent).
Paisley Park Records
An amount of $20 million was to be spent to manage Paisley Park Records in conjunction with Warner Bros. The rationale being that Prince would become more involved with the label. Warner Bros. and Paisley Park Records (Prince) would share costs and benefits equally.
New arrangements were made regarding the way Prince’s copyrights were handled. Prince was also offered the position of ‘Vice President of Artists and Repertoire’. He even got his own office at Warner Bros. headquarters in Los Angeles.
After the deal
Prince and entourage were happy with the arrangement:
We are extremely satisfied with the deal. Prince has been with Warners since 1978. It’s nice to know that they still see him as such a valuable asset.
Gilbert Davison, Paisley Park Enterprises
However, when the Prince camp stated that this was the biggest deal in the history of the record industry, Warner Bros. was, to put in mildly, surprised. In fact, irritated is closer to the truth. The amount of $ 100 million was based on the estimation that every next Prince album would indeed sell at least 5 million copies. Given the history a rather exorbitant estimation.
In the September 9th, 1992, issue of Billboard Magazine the assumption is even called absurd: “Prince doesn’t have what it takes to support a deal like that”. Prince’s lawyer Gary Stiffelman reacted to that in Billboard Magazine on October 17th:
Minneapolis reviewer and music aficionado Jon Bream got an official reply from Bob Merlis (Vice President for Publicity at Warner Bros.):
It looks like we’re giving him the farm. It’s a generous deal, but it’s a realistic deal as well. If his sales continue the way they have for Diamonds And Pearls (his current album, which has sold 5.8 million copies), we’re all going to make money from the deal. If they go up appreciably, obviously he’ll make a lot more money
Prince to retire?
Within the course of one year there was very little, if anything, left of the love between Prince and Warner Bros. The first releases after the new contract were the Prince & The New Power Generation album and the debut by Carmen Electra, titled Carmen Electra, on Paisley Park Records. Sales of both fell short. Prince blamed Warner Bros., because it didn’t promote enough. Warner Bros. was annoyed by the lack of commitment (by Prince) to promoting the album(s). The budget for promoting the Carmen Electra album was close to $ 1 million. A sum that, in no way, could be recuperated.
Prince wanted out of the deal. Old wounds were ripped open. Wounds dating back to the time that Prince wanted to the release the three-double-album Crystal Ball and was forced to scale it down to the double-album Sign O’ The Times (read all about that in the article Prince is victorious (once again) with Sign O’ The Times ). Warner Bros. wanted less output and a longer time to market his albums, and not overflow the market with Prince material. Prince felt he was being stifled creatively. At the end of April/early May of 1993 Prince announced he had retired. He would not record new material anymore.
My name is
It is an unpronounceable symbol whose meaning has not been identified. It’s all about thinking in new ways, tuning in 2 a new free-quency.
On June 7th, 1993, Prince changed his name to . The symbol was unpronounceable. The symbol was a mix of the male symbol ♂, the female symbol ♀; and the ‘cross’ symbol †.
On June 9th the following article was published in the Pioneer Press, a Minneapolis/St. Paul outlet:
He still may be funky, but his name is not Prince anymore. The Chanhassen-based singer celebrated his 35th birthday Monday by changing his name and announcing he’s breaking from his band, New Power Generation.
From now on, the former Prince (birth name: Prince Rogers Nelson) wants to be referred to as the combination symbol for male and female, the symbol that serves as the title for his latest album.
Michael Pagnotta, the Purple One’s publicist, said Tuesday he doesn’t know whether it’s a legal name change or an artistic whim. Only one person knows for sure and he’s not talking. Not even to pronounce his new name.
According to the Paisley Park office in Los Angeles, the singer signed the symbol in place of his name during a recent autograph session in Atlanta. No mention of how to pronounce it.
While this may seem like a Michael Jackson-type stunt, the lack of a spoken word for the symbol has left the media and the music industry slightly stumped.
“We don’t know what we’re going to call him,” an MTV press office spokesman said Tuesday. “There are people here working on it. I think they’re waiting to get the official word from Warner Bros. as to what sound we’re supposed to utter.”
A call to Warner Bros., with whom Prince has a $100 million contract, revealed it had no answers either. “This is as much of a surprise to us as to you,” a publicist said.
When the Purple One’s album was released in October, a computer diskette with the symbol was sent to the media. It is not known if Tuesday’s announcement will lead to renewed interest in the diskette.
Six weeks after he announced his retirement from conventional studio work, the singer also said he’s separating from the New Power Generation. Despite the split, the band will open for and play with him on his upcoming European tour. No reason was given for the change.
The former Prince has recorded and toured with the band since 1990. The band recently completed a solo recording project and is expected to reunite with him on future projects, Pagnotta said.
When what’s-his-name opens a five-week European tour July 26 in Sheffield, England, one thing seems certain: He won’t be singing “My Name is Prince”.
Pioneer Press, 09-06-1993
Of course, he did play My Name Is Prince at the subsequent (European) tour. In fact, he opened the shows with it.
Had the name-change been established officially as well? No, it was a creative name-change only. His passport still mentioned Prince Rogers Nelson.
Minneapolis newspaper Star Tribune conducted a survey about the way to address Prince from then on: Ambiguity, Mysterious Illness and Pat (after a Saturday Night Live character) were the main candidates. C.J., a gossip columnist for the same Star Tribune, mockingly started to call him Symbolina.
During the Act II Tour in Europe in the summer of 1993 he called from the stage What’s my Name? It Ain’t Victor!. Many interpreted the closing line of the song The Sacrifice Of Victor off the album as a clue:
My name will b Victor
© 1993 The Sacrifice Of Victor, Prince
It wasn’t before long that Prince was called The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (see below), which was later shortened to The Artist.
In was remarkable that the writing press obliged rather fast. Within six months almost all media outlets used .
Prince had a floppy disc made containing the font. The disc was accompanied by a letter/installation manual. For the first new publication it was advised to use the name (the artist formerly known as Prince). After that one time introduction would suffice.
Not that strange then that Prince got to be called The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
Was Prince really “retired”? Of course not. In the meantime was already engaged in a lot of new projects. For himself: I’ll Do Anything, Come, The Gold Experience, and The Undertaker. For others: a second Mavis Staples album (The Voice), a third Madhouse album (24), a NPG album (Goldnigga), a Mayte album (Child Of The Sun) and songs for Tevin Campbell, Earth Wind & Fire, George Clinton, The Steeles, Rosie Gaines and Nona Gaye. Of course he wanted to release that music. Warner Bros., on the other hand, wanted to slow down. The market was over-saturated. The company noticed it became harder and harder to get new material played on the radio stations. Warner Bros. decided that no new music was going to be released in 1993, except for a ‘greatest hits’ album: The Hits part 1 and 2. A third disc containing (almost) all previously released B-sides was part of the package as well.
Prince didn’t put up with that. He wanted to release his music and he wanted to release it now. He proposed to release a single using the name . Warner Bros. declined, but he wouldn’t let go and kept bringing his proposal to the table, until finally Warner Bros. caved. A decision with far reaching consequences. On February 24th, 1994, released the song The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. It turned out to be the greatest hit by Prince/ since years. It convinced Prince/ even more that he could do without Warner Bros. In fact, was convinced his career would turn out to be more successful without them!
Prince decided to give his lesser quality songs to Warner Bros. in order to fulfill his ‘Prince contract’. He was going to release his new (better) work under the name . When Warner Bros. released the album Come in 1994, the label had to make do with what was delivered to them. Of course they desperately wanted The Most Beautiful Girl In The World on the album, but since Come was sold as a Prince album, didn’t give permission to release the song on that album. 1994 also saw the release of the infamous The Black Album. As a limited edition, but still.
Prince is dead
At shows frequently called out Prince is dead!. The 1994 album Come had Prince 1958-1993 as the name of the artist, implying Prince had deceased in 1993.
On June 14th, 1993, recorded a rehearsal with a stripped down version of The New Power Generation, the so-called power-trio: Michael Bland on drums, Sonny T. on bas en on guitar and vocals. The rehearsal consisted of 7 songs, among which a cover of The Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman.
planned to press the recordings onto a CD and have it shipped as an insert with Guitar World, a magazine for guitar lovers and connoisseurs. The release was blocked by Warner Bros. and previously pressed copies were made unusable. A pity, because the recordings were unique. excels in (heavy) guitar and the loose atmosphere works like a charm. The limited release would probably have boosted ‘s image. The result of Warner Bros. refusal? was furious.
The Gold Experience
As if wasn’t pissed enough regarding The Undertaker, things were about to get worse with his new project. ‘s heart laid with The Gold Experience, the album he wanted to release, which Warner Bros. refused. To add to the overall confusion appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman on December 13th, 1994. Both 1994 (Prince) albums Come and The Black Album were ignored. Prince was there as . Letterman introduced him with the following words: “The song he will be doing for us tonight is from this CD right here, which is entitled The Gold Experience, and I’m told this particular CD will never be released. So it makes perfect sense that he is here promoting it tonight”, followed by playing Dolphin.
In the end, The Gold Experience was released in 1995. The text Prince esta muerta is uttered on it.
During the performance at The Late Show Prince appeared, in public, with the word Slave written on his cheek. As if, after his own death proclamation, public opinion on Prince/ wasn’t at an absolute low point, he went another step further. A multi millionaire owning his own studio complex, connecting his situation with the highly charged subject of slavery, implicitly aligning himself with the ‘real’ victims of slavery, was not just crazy, it was completely bonkers. In 1996 Prince commented:
People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face, but if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I? When you stop a man from dreaming he becomes a slave. That’s where I was. I don’t own Prince’s music. If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.
Rolling Stone, 1996
Nevertheless, he still has a valid point. Despite the fact he didn’t sign those contracts with a gun pointed at his head and got paid for it, it is kind of strange that Warner Bros. could decide what happened to his music and that it was not his to own.
The genaral public was baffled. The result was that “B” quality music was released on Prince albums. Under the new moniker , The Gold Experience was released in 1995. Around the time the album finally appeared The Ultimate Live Experience tour, which promoted the music, was over and had already moved on to other projects, among which Emancipation, a triple-CD set that was released in 1996.
The battle that was fought, was way ahead of its time. At the same time that had his dealings, George Michael too was entangled in his fight with his record company. He too stated he was being stifled in his artistic freedom.
However, the record buying public had trouble understanding the battle, that was about more than money, but centered around ownership of the music, or art, that was being created. The only thing audiences witnessed was that the albums didn’t deliver the music that could be expected from Prince. The albums were getting increasingly hard to get and the average record buyer was usually oblivious to releases.
My Name Is Prince
In 1999 the album Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic appeared. It was released by . Production duties were done by Prince. Could it be? On May 16th, 2000, Prince organized a press conference in New York:
On December 31, 1999, my publishing contract with Warner/Chappell expired, thus emancipating the name that I was given before birth, Prince, from all long-term, restrictive documents. I will now go back to using my name instead of the symbol I adopted as a means to free myself from undesirable relationships.
Prince Press conference, 16-05-2000
From then on, all new releases would carry the name Prince again.
What did the period yield? Apart from a highly lacking (commercial) career, no-one gave two cents for anymore, the contract was not annulled, which kind of was the initial goal. The discography had become highly unclear. But, probably the most important (and serious), the general public had grown indifferent. To them Prince was an ancient relic from a time long ago. For the fans however those years were golden years, because a lot of music got out. At first Prince seemed to be at ease with a more marginal role, which had musical and artistic merit.
Eventually, Prince did come back big time, particularly in the United States, where he shot back into the charts with albums like Musicology (2004) and 3121 (2006).
Business wise Prince established a great number of innovations in the music industry. Nowadays it is common practice to communicate directly with fans and release music through paid membership constructions. Prince pioneered it. He also pioneered with other ways of releasing music, through independent channels (see the story on Crystal Ball, The Truth and Kamasutra). And, before his untimely passing, Prince got control over his masters. At long last he was the owner of his own music and was able to do with it whatever he wanted. Like accommodating it with… Warner Bros. The albums Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age appeared on the Warner Bros. label, as well as the posthumous release of Purple Rain: Prince & The Revolution – Purple Rain Deluxe Expanded, which, according to the liner-notes, was largely compiled by Prince himself.
The end of ?
The symbol stayed with Prince for the rest of his life. It has grown into a very strong and recognizable logo. Everybody knows who is meant by . It makes Prince fairly unique: an own logo and an own color. The color purple is associated with Prince. There is even a color developed (by Pantone) bearing his name (see this article’s header).
The symbol was frequently used by Prince. In guitar and stage design, at his own Paisley Park Studios and in much of (Prince) jewelry and merchandise. The symbol was officially registered as a trademark in 1995, using the name Love Symbol #2.
At first was a rebellion against Warner Bros. and the restrictions he was imposed to. More and more it grew into a battle for artistic control and freedom. Prince wanted to operate independently and determine the best distribution deal on an album by album basis. He went on to release albums by (pre-)registration, Internet downloads, concert tickets, newspapers and on-line streaming services. In 2006 Prince received a Webby Award for his “visionary use of the Internet to distribute music”. Even though sales figures weren’t that high for all of them (volume-wise), they most certainly were a success financially. In the current times that was fairly unique. Nowadays artists hardly make money anymore with album sales, but Prince managed to pull that off and put the publicity machine in play in a way that suited his needs the best. The real money is made with live-shows. Prince was the most talented performer in the world, and he knew audiences would keep on coming back wherever he went.
Halfway through the period he stated:
Warner Bros took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros.
He set the record straight for himself, and thereby enabled other artists to profit from his battle and its profits.
At one time Prince stated that “entered his consciousness during meditation”. Even though I believe that the symbol meant more to Prince than just a negotiation trick, the spiritual explanation is dubious at best.
Release during the period
During the period a lot of albums were released. Prince released albums under three monikers: Prince, and New Power Generation.
|Year||As||As Prince||As NPG|
|1993||The Hits / The B-Sides||Goldnigga|
The Black Album
|1995||The Gold Experience||Exodus|
|1996||Emancipation||Chaos And Disorder
|1999||Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic||The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale|
Furthermore a lot more albums were released, which contained Prince/ music, on the Paisley Park Records label and its successor, NPG Records.
Even though the period was oftentimes messy, for the Prince music lover it was highly rewarding. Lots and lots of music was released. Music that, at times, was less accessible, but often very interesting. With the albums The Gold Experience and The Truth the period even spawned two Prince classics.
What did you think of the period? Let me know!
I hereby genuinely thank Bram and Edward for their proofreading, corrections and additions.
Warner Bros. Records Logo image: warnerbrosrecords.com
Prince – BillBoard Magazine 10/17/1992 & 05/08/1993, WB versus images: prince.org
Prince – My Name Is Prince image: princevault.com
– Floppy disc image: longlivevinyl.net
– Font Graphix Zone installation manual image: anildash.com
– Eligible bachelor seeks image: twitter.com
– Guitar World – November 1994 image: dhaitreguitars.com
– The Undertaker image: rateyourmusic.com
– Slave image: abcnews.go.com
Trademark image: onbekend
– Love Symbol guitar image: schecterguitars.com
Love Symbol stage – Super Bowl – 02/04/2007 image: independent.co.uk
– Marriage china image: natedsanders.com
The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about.