In 2004, Prince took part in a ceremony honoring George Harrison at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sharing the stage with such rock luminaries as Steve Winwood, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne, Prince joined the group in a rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by providing firepower on the song’s guitar solo, and he did not disappoint. About halfway through the six minute and fifteen second YouTube video, Dhani Harrison, George’s son, smiles at Prince, knowing what is to come. Prince then launches into a three-minute performance in which he doesn’t just play notes, but makes the guitar an extension of his body. Great guitarists make it look easy – it just flows, and that night it did for Prince. By the time the last note rang out, with Prince tossing his vintage Fender Telecaster into the audience, the members understood what a singular talent he was.
Most people don’t think of Prince as a great guitarist, they remember him for his songs, and not just the songs he made famous like “Little Red Corvette,” "Purple Rain,” and “1999,” but also the songs he wrote for others. “Nothing Compares 2 U” made Sinead O’Connor a star – briefly. He gave the Bangles arguably their biggest hit with “Just Another Manic Monday,” a tune he wrote under the pseudonym of Christopher.
Prince did not have a home studio, he had a 60,000-square foot entertainment complex as his home - he literally lived in the studio. He put out 39 albums and contributed to many more recordings during his lifetime, but the vault he left behind included even more than that. He battled throughout his career to manage the creation and the delivery of his music on his terms – passing up millions to ensure that he alone controlled his art.
He was a prolific songwriter and like anyone prolific in his or her craft, among the many gems there will be clunkers. Which is why it was upsetting to read that his estate had signed a $30M deal giving Universal Music Group access to the vault.
Many articles have been written about the estate planning mistakes Prince made as he did little right in that area. His money, estimated at more than $150 million (2), may not have gone to the right people or causes, but I imagine it is the possible tarnishing of his music that would be most disturbing to him. I suspect we will soon hear songs Prince never intended to see the light of day – at least not without his special polish.
In the end, that is his estate planning failure - someone who spent his life attempting to control the most important thing in his life, his music, lost control in death.
Estate planning focuses on lowering taxes and maximizing assets for the next generation, but for many the most important asset left behind is legacy. Let’s hope his lives on as he would have wanted.
- Auctions for Prince’s Music Leaves Some Bidders Feeling Left Out, WSJ, March 27, 2017