Prince's passing shocked many. Just a few nights prior to his death he performed to a happy audience, minimizing circulating uncertainties regarding his health after an emergency plane landing in April. His status alone as one of the best pop culture icons ever is sure to live on for the next few decades. Should his unreleased collection be revealed?
With no will yet to be found, now comes the difficult case in the distribution of his remaining estate. Prince's assets, consisting of music rights and wealth accumulated from tours, album sales, and several international properties, fares an estimated net worth of 300 million. This places Prince along the likes of fellow musicians Jon Bon Jovi, Ringo Starr, Gene Simmons, Bruce Springsteen, and Julio Iglesias.
Interestingly enough, what sets his estate apart from most deceased musicians is what he left behind: a personal vault of 2000 works of unreleased music. To put it in perspective, there is enough music to release one album every year for the next century.
I know what you're thinking: What will happen to all of this music, and will we ever hear it?
Prince's sister, Tyka Nelson, alongside Bremer Trust, appeared in a hearing to be temporarily appointed as the "special administrator" to handle his estate. The order to drill open the vault with the recordings was given, as Prince did not leave behind an entry code.
Now that the works have been obtained, what will come of it all? Although many would love to hear even a snippet of the goodies hiding in that vault, the fans' excitement towards "the findings" overshadows what the artist's wishes were.
Unreleased works have been found with many different artists after their passing -- Michael Jackson, for instance, who left behind more than 100 tracks.
Nirvana's frontman Kurt Cobain's first "solo album" Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings was released last November -- pieced together from Cobain's home recordings only to be hit by mixed reviews. As writer Jayson Greene critically indicates, the Cobain solo album "marks the point where that exploitation enters the absurd".
On the other hand, there are cases where unreleased songs have been handled more in line with the artist's wishes. As we recall, two months after Tupac Shakur's death, his posthumous album was released under the name "Makaveli." From 1996, six studio albums were released over the next ten years -- with hundreds of songs still waiting to be released with the help of JAM Inc. His mother Afeni Shakur, who just passed away on May 3rd, worked with Warner Bros CEO Tom Whalley in ensuring Shakur's estate would be distributed between charity and family, claiming "Tupac's money and music will be virtually untouchable."
However, when recordings do not have a posthumous roadmap to follow, the artist's integrity is also considered. In the case of Amy Winehouse's unreleased tracks, Universal Music U.K. chairman and CEO David Joseph ordered her demos to be destroyed. "It was a moral thing. Taking a stem or a vocal is not something that would ever happen on my watch. It now can't happen on anyone else's."
What have past artists' experience shown us? We haven't seen dozens of posthumous albums, which may be telling of why unreleased songs are unreleased. If the artist wanted to keep copies of the songs in their vault for personal reasons, that isn't necessarily something that warrants the public eye. The findings of Prince's vault does have its oddities, as not only were 2000 unreleased tracks discovered, but also at least 50 fully-produced music videos that the public has never seen. We will have to keep watch on this developing story, as the outcome may shape future artists' estate issues.
Would you like to see the works released, or do you believe that Prince's wishes should remain bound?
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