Why Prince wants you to pay for art

“Get off your ass and go pay to have someone entertain you.”

In the Internet age, the death of a great musician has its own pattern.

First comes the tweet.

Then the confirmation tweet.

Then the Facebook post.

Then the Youtube clip and the Spotify list.

But when Prince died yesterday, it came to an abrupt halt after the tweets.

Fiercely protective of his music, he’s not on Spotify, and there’s not much to be found on Youtube either.

Much was made in the obituaries of how staggeringly prolific he was, and virtually all of them mentioned his clash with Warner Brothers and the music industry in general.

In truth, he was the first to see where the business was going – towards a marketplace where everything was free, nobody wanted to pay and the only money being made was going into the pockets of the least creative people in the room.

He rebelled, and you should too.

Prince could rebel by giving away his music with concert tickets or newspapers, by scrubbing it from streaming sites and pulling it off video services.

He rebelled by releasing his music whenever it suited him, in whatever format and at whatever price he saw fit.

He rebelled by touring on his own with a piano, or by announcing shows a few hours beforehand, and then torching the venues with his electrifying brilliance and a never-ending mountain of hits to choose from.

You can rebel by sticking your hand in your pocket and going to see a band, or funding a Kickstarter, or buying a CD, a download or – and this might sound a little crazy here – a vinyl record.

You will be disappointed. There is an inordinate amount of rubbish out there, and you will waste money on shit live bands. You will get CDs with one decent song that are filled out with tripe, and stuff that you will listen to once before converting the disc into a coaster.

But you will be breathing life into art again, and whether artists, musicians and writers like to admit it or not, the audience is an essential part of the whole relationship.

Prince arrived on the scene almost fully formed, but there are few artists that do so. For the rest, they must hone their craft over thousands of hours of gigs and rehearsals and recordings.

The creation of any kind of art or journalism takes time, and if all the audience is prepared to pay is peanuts, then all they are going to get is a never-ending stream of monkeys who should never be let near a mic or a word processor in the first place.

Worse still, we will be limited to the mindless droning of the over-privileged, the only ones who can afford to document and project their experiences.

Many of those who mourn Prince most lambast the youth of today for sitting in front of their computers, happier to play FIFA on a Playstation than real football on a playground. When it comes to art and music, we do exactly the same.

Spotify is great, as is Youtube and iTunes and Twitter.

But nothing online can replicate the raw, visceral feeling of being in a dark room and seeing a comic or an artist or a poet on a stage performing something they have created themselves.

If we ignore the corporate whores filling the stadiums at staggeringly over-inflated prices, music and comedy and art has never been cheaper. For a few bucks you can see one of the world’s best improv groups at Dublin’s International Bar, and Stockholm’s music scene is full of promising artists in interesting spaces.

We mourn the passing of a great musician and songwriter, but at the same time, whether we will ever see his like again is now up to us.

We can either sit at home and take what this world spoon-feeds us, or we can take it upon ourselves to go out and invest the time and money necessary to give future generations something to marvel at.

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