Evolving Through His Music: 24 Lessons From Prince's Journey Of Creative Expression

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Recently I served as a juror in a civil case. As part of the juror selection process, the judge asked each potential juror a series of questions with the final one being, "If you could have coffee with anyone (alive or deceased and non-religious) who would it be?" Without hesitation, I answered, "Prince." 

I chose Prince because after learning more about him since his passing in April 2016, I have questions-- questions that were not asked of him during any of the interviews I've come across on YouTube.

Questions like, How did you get so much done? How did you alter your life so you remained in your creative flow? or Do you think you cracked the code on human potential when it comes to creativity?

When Prince was interviewed by the media or show hosts, the conversations typically turned to the usual controversial topics such as his dispute with his record label, Warner Brothers. Or, the interviewer tried to get Prince to open up about his "secret vault," where he stored his unreleased music.

Sadly, the answers to these questions shed no light on how he worked every single day of his 41-year career to become the master that he was, producing 39 studio albums (of various genres,) 4 live albums, and 136 music videos. He also won 8 Grammys, 6 American Music Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award for Purple Rain and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

More important than any of the awards, Prince consistently created new material for his entire career and performed his new material live in a fresh production every time. He also evolved not only as a musician, songwriter, and performer, he evolved spiritually and as a person through his music.

Interviewers, in my opinion, missed opportunity after opportunity to gain a better understanding of how he was able to accomplish what he did. How many hours did he practice? What was his daily routine? Did he recognize and avoid the things that blocked his creativity? What about a follow-up question after he often said, "I am the music" or "I dream in music?" Why did he believe he evolved as a person, an artist as well as spiritually through his music?

I've been wanting to write a post about Prince for some time to possibly piece together the answers to some of my questions while also shine a light on just how rare he was.

Initially, I wanted to write about Prince because he's a stellar example of how to live a creative life. But there's more to him than that-- there's the still very much alive legacy he's left. And I don't mean his estate; I'm talking about the impact his music had on his fans. That's what became most important to him as his career moved forward and what he was nurturing during the second half of his career.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s when Prince's career first achieved commercial success, his music is part of who I am.

But somewhere around the time he started to have disputes with his record label, Warner Brothers, and dropped his name and began referring to himself with the unpronounceable symbol, (which the media morphed into "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince,") I began to lose touch with his music.

During this time I was exposed to his music less and less because the distribution and promotion of his music were no longer mainstream.

In the 90's I remember hearing an occasional pop single from Prince like "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World" or "Diamonds & Pearls," but I did not purchase any more of his albums after Purple Rain.

In the early 2000's, some of his 80s videos crossed my mind, and I tried to find them on YouTube, but couldn't find any of them. Being the big star that he was, I couldn't believe what little Prince footage was out there.

Then I heard that because didn't believe in his music being hosted and shared freely on the internet, he hired a company to make sure everything was scrubbed from YouTube. Ahh, that made sense since he was all about freedom and control of his art.

Then I came across this video from one of his latest albums, Musicology and I was floored by his evolved talent. He was more polished than ever as a performer, and he was singing fresh catchy tunes. His music and talent had obviously reached new heights. I got curious about what he had been up to since the 1990s.

But only until he passed on April 21, 2016 was I able to piece together his life and career because immediately after the news was out that he died, fans uploaded what seemed like endless footage of his performances spanning his four-decade career.

I also discovered that his fans kept a very active forum about Prince on Prince.org. After he passed, I spent many nights before going to bed reading the forum. From his very knowledgeable and most loyal fans, I learned a lot about music that I never knew existed and was fascinated by how he touched their lives. Within a short time, I felt mournful of his death like these long-time fans because I was coming to realize just how special he was-- for many reasons that went beyond his talent.

Below I share a series of videos that attempt to answer some of my questions by showing what Prince stood for, how he mastered his creative abilities, how he evolved through his music, and how he accomplished so much during his life. 

I hope these videos shed light on ...

  • how he didn't let early nerves stop him.
  • how his early vision guided his actions through his life's journey.
  • how he approached his life and work with a sense of purpose.
  • how commitment to his craft through the decades brought about his mastery.
  • how his creative expression was an evolutionary process.
  • how he left a legacy after serving his fans.

Without further ado, enjoy Prince's journey!

1 | Despite being nervous at first, he was unwavering about how he would work with record labels. Here is Prince in his first television interview with Dick Clark on American Bandstand about two years after he signed his first recording contract with Warner Brothers. While he appears shy and a little nervous, he shows determination to work with record companies on his own terms. As Prince continued to do during his entire career, in this early video Prince chose his words carefully and maintained some degree of mystery in what he would reveal.

2 | His belief in his vision was stronger than any degree of doubt. This video contains footage of Prince's FIRST public performance of Purple Rain. It was recorded at First Avenue, the Minneapolis club where the movie was eventually filmed. This is one of my favorite videos because musical history was made here. This recording went on to be the official recording of the song (more explanation in the video.) After Wendy's beautiful intro, at 3:28 see how nervous he was as he was about to sing. This goes to show how the power of having a strong vision helps guide one's actions in the face of nervousness.

3 | He knew who he was and what he wanted. After knowing how Prince's career eventually unfolded, it's incredible to hear some of his earliest public statements where he stated exactly what he was going to do-- and went on to do. In this video Prince attempts to clear up some confusion about who he was by saying, "I'm just like anyone else."

"I live in a small town and I always will ... because I can walk around and be me." ~ Prince

4 | Losing his first child had a profound impact on his musical and spiritual journeys. On Valentine's Day in 1996, Prince married his first wife, Mayte Garcia. In October of 1996, they lost their first child, Amiir, when he was just 6 days old due to a rare condition. Mayte has since shared that they could not process their child's death, and Prince believed that their son was not gone and would come back. Thus, Prince recorded this heart-wrentching tribute, "Comeback," which was released on Prince's 21st studio album, "The Truth" in early 1998. After losing a second child in a miscarriage, Prince and Mayte eventually divorced. From what I gathered, losing his first child was a pivotal point in his spiritual and musical journey. It seems as though this painful experience caused him to look inward for a greater meaning in his music.

5 | By the late 90s, he no longer served his ego. He served God through his creativity.

In the video below, Prince is alongside his first wife, Mayte Garcia, to promote an upcoming tour.

"I was more concerned with myself in the 80s than I am now. Now I let God take care of me and my affairs."

"My relationship with God has awakened me to a better life, and I no longer believe in idol worship. So rather than give an autograph to someone, I'd rather give them something that's going to mean more to their life."

6 | Through his music he sought personal growth. "Sometimes I think I was born to play music, and when I study (the Bible) sometimes I think that I was born to evolve, and I use music as a vehicle to make my evolution occur."

7 | He believed in the power of words. "Words are more powerful than weapons. They can either harm or help."

8 | He strongly believed that artists should never surrender ownership of their work. "I created the art, and I should reap the benefits." In 1993, while trying to regain ownership of his master recordings from Warner Brothers, Prince wrote "Slave" on his face.

9 | He grew to deeply respect music. "We've lost sight of the fact that, I believe, music was put on this earth to enlighten and empower and make us feel closer to our center. We have to remember to respect the music." He also admitted that early on his career he did not respect music as much and was creating for his ego.

10 | His music was more about helping others than his ego. At 5:00 Prince reveals in an acceptance speech what's most important after receiving all of the awards.

"All that really matters is you gotta help somebody."

"I'd rather give people what they need rather than just what they want."

11 | He dared to be different at a time when it was cool to be normal. At 2:28, listen to Larry King's question to Prince about being "unusual" or "different." Prince's music, androgynous sense of style, flamboyant performances and things he did like changing his name to a symbol in 1993 labeled him as "different," but he was really just standing for freedom. Most importantly, he didn't care what people thought of him.

12 | He believed his inspiration come from God, and he was answering a call from God to create.

"Ultimately all music is or can be inspirational that's why it's so important to let your gift be guided by something more clear." Prince on how he believed he was inspired by God

13 | He eventually chose spiritual well being over fame. "I really searched deep within to find out the answer to whether fame was most important to me or my spiritual well being and I chose the latter."

14 | He believed in staying in the present. "As I go through this journey, I don't look back much at all. I try to stay in the now and live in the now. I think it keeps you young."

15 | He didn't worry. "I don't worry about too much."

16 | He acted more than he spoke. At 1:30 check out this amazing move by Prince as he dodged a 2007 NFL press confernce and just played his music.

"I want my music to speak loudest for me."

"I'm pretty much an open book. People who know my music know me."

17 | He felt like he was living a dream and because his creative options are "so numerous," it was hard for him to go to sleep. At 2:36 hear the amazing response he gave the French press.

18 | He believed that we reflect what's around us and he wanted to reflect peace. In this video, at :28, he explains why he purposely chose to set up his workspace in Minnesota.

19 | He was mysterious & made his own rules. Another one of my favorites. This video shows Prince's surprise 2006 appearance on American Idol. Apparently, he arrived in a limo right before the performance, performed and immediately exited the building without saying a word to anyone. How many men approaching 50 can pull off wearing a purple suit with two beautiful young dancers alongside them and still look classy and hip? Gotta love this!

20 | His won his long fight for creative freedom and to be different. "When I first started out in this music industry, I was most concerned with freedom. Freedom to produce. Freedom to play all the instruments on my records. Freedom to say anything I wanted to and after much negotiation, Warner Brothers Records granted me that freedom and I thank them for that. Without real spiritual mentoring, too much freedom can lead to the soul's decay." Prince during his 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.

"The freedom that I had came from a long, hard fight of trying to get them to understand that I wanted to be different." 

"I just said what I felt. A lot of times I didn't know there was an envelope to push."

21 | He made people feel. In my opinion, this was probably Prince's greatest gift to his fans. He made them feel something and this was his goal. This is why his fans mourn him to this very moment. Here is one fan favorite that I discovered after he passed.

22 | He took us to church. After learning more about Prince since he passed, some of my favorites new song discoveries are ones that have a religious theme. He truly believed in his message and was doing his part to spread it.

23 | He undoubtedly became a master at his craft. His 2013 appearance at the Montreux Jass Festival is my favorite video to drive home this point. The talent on display in this video is proof of how he never stopped learning and creating. My absolute favorite performance that I discovered since his passing is "The Love We Make" at 23:32. That performance is where it all comes together for me. His performance, especially after the 1:33:00 mark, is worth noting too. With everyone on stage with him, shows Prince in his truest element-- literally playing as he's working and celebrating the music. Prince may have died young, but he accomplished what he intended to do!

24 | He lives on through his legacy. This video shows Paul Peterson, the lead singer of The Family, a "project" group that Prince mentored in the 80s. This video of "Nothing Compares 2 U" first aired 7 hours and 13 days after Prince passed.

"Love is the masterplan." ~ Prince

Conclusion

For anyone who seeks to live a more creative life or serve others through their work, Prince's journey is worth studying. His commitment to freedom on many fronts, mastery of his craft, and his personal and spiritual evolution through creative expresssion is rare only because so few choose to intentionally walk that path. On many levels, he's a great example to learn from. I hope that you've enjoyed some of these clips as much as I have while putting this post together! 

Ellie Rezk