Prince's Unreleased Material—How to Treat the Artist's Legacy

An Interview with Prince's Audio Engineer Dr. Susan Rogers, Part 3

Artist Stories  | 

This is the third part of a three-part series. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

susanrogers

In this third and last post of a three-part series of interviews with Dr. Susan Rogers, Prince’s long-time audio engineer shares her thoughts on the artist’s unreleased archives.

Following up on her immense success as an engineer, producer, and mixer, Dr. Rogers has carved out an equally impressive name for herself in the academic and research communities. She holds a doctorate in Cognitive Psychology from McGill University (2010). Her research focuses on auditory memory and the influence of musical training on auditory development. She is also an Associate Professor at the Berklee College of Music, where she teaches music cognition, psychoacoustics, and record production, and is also the director of the Berklee Music Perception and Cognition Laboratory.


What to do with Prince’s unreleased material

“When Prince passed away, he left a lot of unreleased material, material the public has never heard. The question being debated is what to do with that material. What should happen with it? I got an impassioned letter written on behalf of a group of fans who are arguing in favor that Prince’s material should be curated and preserved. People should not make any money on it—we should consider it like a museum. They think of it that way, preserving his legacy in that way.”

“Other members of his former band and colleagues that he’s worked with are being extremely protective of the material. They don’t want to release outtakes and stuff that Prince never intended to have heard. Other people say release it all. ‘He’s gone and he won’t know.’”

“What he belongs to now, what his music belongs to now, is scholars, historians, and fans. He is no longer alive to benefit from the release of his recordings. His next of kin already have as much money as they’re ever gonna need. His label doesn’t need to make any more money off of him. The only people who need his material would be scholars and historians and fans. People who would say, ‘Oh my god, there’s an unreleased Prince song!’ Just like one would say, ‘Oh my god, there’s unreleased Beatles’ material,’ or Led Zeppelin or whomever.”


The Paisley Park dilemma—How to treat an artist’s legacy

“A question for any of us that work in music, is what should happen to an artist’s recorded legacy after they’ve moved on—especially now in the digital era. In the past, tape was expensive, so you’d have to have your mind made up before you hit record, but now in the digital era, there’s going to  be a lot of unreleased material from artists who are undoubtedly going to become very influential and very successful.”

“Prince never demoed a thing. There was no such thing as a demo. If we were going to record we meant business, and we made records with the intention of releasing them. But there was some material that either didn’t serve his vision or was exactly what he wanted to say. Then he’d write a song right after and would say the same thing only better. As with all artists, sometimes a song comes out like a sneeze. It’s something you want to get out, but it’s not something you want to share. There were plenty of those.”

“Artists write songs to solve a problem for themselves but not necessarily to share. Music is just a portion of your life, and the music you release is just a portion of the music of your life. You select what to share to convey who you are at the time. But after you cease to be, does this concept of who you were need to be preserved? That’s the rhetorical question that is being debated between I and my colleagues, former Prince colleagues.”


Release it all

“The way I feel about the argument is I say release everything. Release it all, release it all. Music doesn’t exist unless it’s heard! It doesn’t exist. A box of tape, rearranging electrons on a hard drive, it’s nothing. If a tree falls in the forest and there are no ears to hear it, it didn’t make a sound. It moved air molecules, but it didn’t make a sound because there was nothing to receive it. So it only exists when it’s received. I say release it all and have fun—historians and scholars and fans. Have fun. Then the next Prince out there in the future can listen to early works and go, ‘Ah, I see what he was thinking.’”

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