My morning ritual usually begins with coffee, toast, and a ripe banana, but, today was different.
Today… I might be talking to a music legend.
I threw on my lucky black T-Shirt, Adidas draw string shorts, and my favorite Jordans; when it came time for the call, I was ready.
I had my tablet and favorite non-inked pen. The phone rings and I pick up… “Hello,” as a quiet, majestic voice responds, “Hi Scott.”
“Hey… I mean Hi”
I’m thinking, “Is this really Prince?” It sounds like him, but is this, actually Prince? I listen closely…
“Can you get me off of speaker?”
Yeah, it’s him.
My mind’s racing, blood pumping, as I gladly say, “Sure.”
And so begins the story of that time Prince called me.
It started with this vague email I received through my company’s website:
A while back I created a free social music and audio hosting website called YourListen.com. The email was sent to YourListen’s general email account, which is forwarded to my personal account. So, in essence, “hello there” meant me.
So why would Prince want to speak with me?
I really had no clue either — but here’s a bit of a background on the history between YourListen.com and Prince.
Prince and YourListen
I get hundreds of solicitation emails each week — and generally, 99% of them are a complete waste of time. The above referenced, unaffiliated email falls into that category — or so I thought.
After googling the sender, I couldn’t find any information relating them to the music industry, and especially not to Prince.
Who is this mysterious Meron?
I was curious, so I responded. Plus, the recent history between YourListen and Prince’s music got me thinking…
About 5 months ago — Last March — we saw a huge spike in visits to the site.
After digging into our analytics, the traffic traced back to two cover songs Prince performed of a Christian singer/songwriter Nichole Nordeman’s song “What If,” which was one of two new songs Prince debuted prior to his “Hit & Run” tour launch.
The upload of the track to our site was picked up by some of the biggest digital music and entertainment websites: Billboard.com, Entertainment Tonight, it hit the front page of Yahoo! music, and made the Music section of USA Today , among others.
My initial thought, “This is amazing!” Prince and/or the up and coming Christian Singer/Song writer Nichole Nordeman are now using oursite!
The whole goal of our platform since day one was to provide a simple, social and central platform for musicians to distribute their music (and audio tracks) for no cost to them.
This was a perfect example of our platform executing on our intensions.
We have hundreds of thousands of musicians doing this already, the majority of which are independent artists with the rest being more “mainstream” artists. So, to see and hear an artist like Prince on YourListen.com was a dream. It was exciting to see… again, or so I thought.
At this point I decided to take a look at the profile of the uploader. Was it Prince? Was it Nicole? Was it one of their record labels?
It was a user that seemed entirely unrelated to any of the parties mentioned above. After looking at the details of the users profile: Bio, Profile Picture, Cover Image, and other profile data, it seemed obvious it was just another social media user. Or, shall I say abuser?
Bummer. I felt slighted.
At this point my thought was that this upload is a blatant DMCA copyright violation, which by law we are required to remove from our site.
And just as I realized this, and I got an email from websheriff.com, one of many companies that sends out notifications of copyright violations. So we removed the file from our platform. Done.
A few months later Web Sheriff reaches out to us again, informing us of another user with close to 2,000 file uploads relating to Prince’s catalog — and once again, we remove all the files and the user’s account. Problem solved.
So as outlandish as it appeared, there was a faint possibility that it could be in fact a legitimate email on Prince’s behalf.
There’s a far off, random, tiny, slight chance that Prince’s team might really want to speak to me.
But it didn’t seem real — nothing appeared legitimate about the correspondence.
Follow Up Emails
So later that day I hesitantly respond to Meron and she responds back:
After Meron’s response, my concerns about the legitimacy of this call grew exponentially. The email was once again very hazy.
Nothing was answered.
Who was I really dealing with? All I got back was a request to get on a call, so I decide not to email back — and go on with my life.
Two days later, on the way to a friends, my phone rings with a blocked number.
I answer the call, it’s a voice I don’t recognize: it’s Meron.
Meron is following up about getting on the phone. At that moment I was busy and told her to send me an email and I would get back to her with a time. What did I care. I once again ask her what the phone call was in regards to and she responds with, “He will tell you, it’s about his music.”
She can’t be serious.
Prince wants to talk with me about his music?
Later that evening I have an email from her with a time for the call. I guess she’s trying to tell me who’s boss. But I can roll with this punch.
I once again ask for specifics about the topic of the call and if Prince is actually the one I will be speaking with. Once again the response was, “About his music on your website” and “yes, you will be speaking with Prince.”
So at this point I am going to bed at night thinking that I might have a call scheduled the next day at 1pm with…. His Royal Highness, Prince!
It can’t be. Is this real?
So just in case this call is real I begin the mental Rocky workout.
I have always been a huge Prince fan so I looked up his most recent works: Albums, Tours etc. I also had the mindset that if he was really calling me, it was going to be a conversation about his music being uploaded to our site in the past.
Based on Prince’s reputation in the music industry and how he handles his music catalog (Just check out the Google results for Prince Copyright ), I was expecting to get berated.
Despite my preconceived thoughts on what the call was going to be about, the goal for me was to not only figure out how we can work with Prince and his Record Label moving forward, but to also come up with a custom solution for him to effectively control and monetize his work.
So I take Prince off speaker phone and it soaks in;
this is really Prince.
I proceed to tell him it was a pleasure and an honor and how much I love his music , my Purple Rain (The Movie) T-Shirt — I’m still allowed to be a fan, right?
We get down to business.
He starts off by mentioning that we have some of his music catalog on our site illegally. I bring up the past circumstances and mentioned to him how we have handled it.
He counters with, “There’s still some of my music catalog on our platform.”
I have nothing to hide, nothing to defend. I’m here to help. So, I mention that if his team could put together a list of the urls where his music is located, we would gladly remove it straight away.
A silent pause makes me think he’s turning Hulk green on the receiving end.
He then begins speaking about his distaste,
“Copyrighted music continues to be recklessly posted online.”
I agreed with him and mention to him that it has not only been an ongoing battle for us, but for every UGC music-based website.
I give him my take on the digital music landscape — I realize this is an epidemic for all artists across the globe and has spread for more then a decade and is still an ongoing, uphill battle.
History has shown that solutions put in place to combat piracy are always a step behind piracy tactics. Pirates always seem to be full strides in front of the Music Industry.
I mentioned to Prince, “Instead of directly trying to combat piracy, we should explore and implement various tech solutions that will enable him to take more control of his music in order to monetize it more efficiently.”
At this point Prince jumps in before I could get to some of the ideas I had in mind.
He did not want to discuss any ideas I had in mind until we addressed the matter at hand: removing his music from our website.
He firmly disagreed with me and felt that piracy was something that can and must come to an end.
“Scott piracy is something we can and will put to end. People like you and I can help win this battle.”
He shares with me that some of his music had recently been stolen and his live shows are now being illegally recorded and distributed online. He mentioned that his 30+ years of timeless music and shows are being distributed frequently online without his consent.
He gets into the Digital Music landscape and asks me, “Are you aware that my entire catalog of music has been removed from most of the major digital platforms, such as: Spotify, Tidal, Pandora?”
He mentioned that the digital music industry is making it tough for musicians to make a living off of their hard work and talent and I couldn’t agree more. One example he mentioned was that Spotify was only paying approximately $0.14 cents per 1,000 streams.
He then asked me if we were monitoring each and every single upload on our platform. I don’t get star struck often but let me remind you this is Prince, a legend.
With caution, I had to tell him that, unfortunately, no.
That despite our company being around for 7 years, we are still a small yet growing team without the resources to do so.
After hearing his insightful (and informative) view on the business side of his music and the music industry for 15 minutes, he then proceeds to tell me he was sorry for being so long winded…
Keep talking Mr. Prince. Gather up some more of that wind and continue on :)
All jokes aside, after listening to him, it is evident that he is not happy with the current digital music landscape and what he described a couple of times as his music being “Pimped.”
And he’s right.
What I also took out of this conversation was that he is not just one of the most talented musicians of all time, but a “very” smart and savvy businessman. For those not in the music industry, or those who don’t know too much about the music industry, Prince owns his entire music catalog.
He actually owns the rights to all of his music.
After hearing him speak about the business side of his music and hearing the passion and importance that a lifetime worth of work means to him, it became less and less of a surprise that he personally called me.
While I realize there was a business component to him calling me personally, it is also impressive that he has such a passion for protecting his work. He could of easily had his legal team or employees reach out to address the issue.
Back to the call
After hearing everything he had to say — I now had an opportunity to present him with solutions. “Piracy is an ongoing battle with no end in sight, so the mind set of our company as well as others is figuring out long term solutions that will minimize the impact piracy has on artists.”
I then presented to him several ideas I had in mind that he could utilize to give him a 100% control of his music and how it would be distributed and monetized on our platform.
Despite the strong solutions I presented to him, it was not a conversation that he wanted to have.
The fact of the matter is that Prince has problems with the way his music catalog is being used by his fans online.
Prince, without a doubt, needs a better solution to fix the problem at hand.
Despite spending, what he said was “a lot” of money on this battle, he didn’t want to hear it.
His solution, which naturally pushes away the online community, has not been working out to well for him.
It was obvious, even with the ideas I presented to him, Prince was going to stay course.
We ended the conversation there.
We removed his music just as we have every other time we have received a DMCA notification on copyrighted material for the past 7 years.
I attempted to schedule a follow up call but we ended the call with no set day or time to further discuss working with Prince and his team.
Regardless, I will follow up with Prince and his team with the personalized solution we can offer for his music catalog.
At the end of the day, while this article is about little ol’ me running a relatively small music and audio website and getting the attention of Prince, this topic is bigger then Prince — It’s about the bigger issue of the Music industry and the effects of online Piracy as a whole.
How do we make the Digital Music space a playground, where musicians are happy with not only their exposure, but also their monetary returns?
At the same time, keeping in mind the tech companies, and their ability to still provide the tools and resources for artists to distribute their music effectively, through the process of managing to create a successful, profitable business.
After I got off of the phone with Prince, it was hard for me to get back into a normal work routine.
I was pinching myself, asking myself, “Did that just happen?” I began soaking it all in, calling my friends, telling them about the call — it was one of the more surreal moments of my life.
After the shock factor went away, the business man in me kicked in and I started thinking of the larger picture —
what we can do to solve the problems that Prince and thousands of artists are currently experiencing?
The Music-tech space has without a doubt made leaps and bounds in the last few years with the advent of streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Youtube, Apple Music, and others… providing not only the technology for artists to distribute their music, but also new ways for musicians to monetize their work.
Being directly involved in the music tech space, it seems as if almost on a daily basis, there is a new article about artists angry about their pay from these services. Taylor Swift being one of the biggest and most recent examples.
So it’s obvious that there currently is no clear answer or solution to this outstanding problem, but it is beyond obvious that there are some serious players and companies busting their ass every day to strive towards figuring out this issues.
We, ourselves, are trying to do it, one day at a time.
While you might not of heard of our website before reading this article, our platform has close to 1 million registered users and we host over 1 million music and audio files. We are also streaming a quarter of a million plays every day. We are continually coming up with, and creating our own solutions to provide artists and content creators a platform to meet all their needs and concerns.
I get where Prince is coming from in regards to protecting his music.
The world we live in and how we access music has changed since the “hey days” of the 80's and 90's.
Since the launch of Napster in 1999, global recorded music revenues have fallen from $21 billion to $7 billion per year. No matter what laws, regulations, and technologies implemented moving forward, digital piracy will continue to exist just the way non digital crimes have existed for centuries despite rules and laws being put in place in every society since the dawn of man.
Technology needs musicians, and musicians need technology. Musicians need platforms to distribute their music and music-based websites and apps need artists content in order to attract users.
Justin Bieber probably would not exist had he not been discovered on Youtube. Youtube would not be as large as it is now if it were not for musicians (and other content providers) sharing their work, which has now become the largest music streaming service in the world.
The music industry and Tech industry need to both come together and establish their formal relationship — not as a battle, but as a collaboration in order for everyone to win.