The Prince Online Museum Archives 16 of Prince’s Official Web Sites, Spanning 20 Years

PrinceOnline Lotusflow3r

In March of 2015, The Guardian pub­lished a piece on Prince’s vault, begun by his for­mer sound engi­neer Susan Rogers before his Pur­ple Rain super­star­dom: “It’s an actu­al bank vault, with a thick door,” she said, “in the base­ment of Pais­ley Park. When I left in 87, it was near­ly full.” That was 30 years ago. Com­pos­er and Prince orches­tra­tor Brent Fis­ch­er spec­u­lat­ed that “over 70% of the music we’ve worked on for Prince is yet to come out.” Already able to release “in a decade what most musi­cians couldn’t put out in a life­time,” Prince stored in his vaults enough to reveal him as thrice the pro­lif­ic genius we knew in life.

PrinceOnline TheDawn

Now that Prince has depart­ed, the vault has been final­ly been opened. What’s in it? Spec­u­la­tion, rumor, and hoax­es abound; we could see a posthu­mous album a year for the next cen­tu­ry. As they trick­le out we’ll like­ly see more con­ven­tion­al, less Prince-like releas­ing strate­gies, now that he is no longer per­son­al­ly in con­trol of his out­put. This will sure­ly make it eas­i­er on his fans, but will also strip the music of much of its curi­ous mys­tique. “A stream­ing skep­tic before it was fash­ion­able,” writes August Brown at the L.A. Times, and “a born futur­ist,” Prince excelled at “cre­at­ing new dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tems under his purview.” As an ear­ly adopter of web tech­nol­o­gy, he began giv­ing away and sell­ing his music and mer­chan­dise online as ear­ly as 1996, when he cre­at­ed his first offi­cial web­site, “The Dawn” (above).

PrinceOnline NPG2003

Prince’s web debut hap­pened in the midst of his pitched bat­tle with Warn­er Broth­ers, and three years after he changed his name to the “Love Sym­bol.” Brows­ing through the his­to­ry of his inter­net strate­gies allows us to see how his per­son­al­ized dis­tri­b­u­tion approach­es and online iden­ti­ties evolved over the next two decades as he regained full cre­ative inde­pen­dence. We can eas­i­ly sur­vey that his­to­ry all in one place now, thanks to the Prince Online Muse­um, an archive of 16 of Prince’s var­i­ous web­sites, each one with its own pro­file writ­ten in Prince’s dis­tinc­tive idiom, with “tes­ti­mo­ni­als from the peo­ple who were involved in cre­at­ing and run­ning them for Prince,” writes The New York Times, and “links as well as screen shots and videos” of each site, none of them cur­rent­ly active.

There’s even a pre­cur­sor to Prince’s online world, Prince Inter­ac­tive, a 1994 CD-Rom “cou­pled with Prince’s under­ground film, The Beau­ti­ful Expe­ri­ence.” This ear­ly attempt makes clear that “Prince was fas­ci­nat­ed and excit­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties of con­nect­ing direct­ly 2 his audi­ence through their com­put­ers. It would be sev­er­al years until that became a real­i­ty 4 him, but the idea start­ed here.” (See a slow video walk-through of the CD-Rom above). After 1996’s “The Dawn” came the first offi­cial online retail store, “1–800-NewFunk,” and an online lyric book, “Crys­tal Ball Online.” Suc­ces­sive sites each had a dis­tinc­tive focus: on Prince’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion with “Love 4 One Anoth­er”; on var­i­ous iter­a­tions of his “NPG Music Club,” an “online dis­tri­b­u­tion hub”—including the “vir­tu­al estate” of the 2003 iter­a­tion (see pic­ture fur­ther up); and on rebrand­ing efforts like “”

PrinceOnline 3rdEyeGirl

One of the most strik­ing of all of the var­i­ous sites, “Lotusflow3r” (top) con­tained “vibrant 3D imagery and ani­ma­tion con­nect­ed 2 the music” and design of the 3‑CD album set of the same name from 2009. The last entry in the archive, the “3rdEyeGirl” site from 2013, was cre­at­ed for Prince’s new band and “was anoth­er exam­ple of choos­ing 2 bypass tra­di­tion­al chan­nels and go his own way.” Each of these site pro­files act as “snap­shots in time to expe­ri­ence the Web sites just like when they were active,” writes Prince Online Muse­um direc­tor Sam Jen­nings. They also show­case “his fierce inde­pen­dence” and desire “to con­nect direct­ly with his audi­ence with­out any mid­dle­man.”

You can explore the Prince Online Muse­um here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Life of Prince in a 24-Page Com­ic Book: A New Release

See Prince (RIP) Play Mind-Blow­ing Gui­tar Solos On “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” and “Amer­i­can Woman”

Prince Plays Unplugged and Wraps the Crowd Around His Lit­tle Fin­ger (2004)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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