The artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince is on our fair shores at the moment, reminding me of what a roller coaster it was to work with him 15 years ago. His set on Tuesday night at the Electric Ballroom in Camden may have seen only 1,000 fans in the comparatively tiny room, but the excitement it has generated has been huge. The singer has refused to reveal details of other venues on his tour, presumably preferring to keep fans guessing via Twitter clues, as he did before the first show.
A pure showman with relentless dedication, Prince has much to teach brands about exciting the crowd time and again.
1. Know your limits
There’s nothing wrong with ambition, but there’s a difference between extending your audience and overreaching it. Prince is and really always has been a cult proposition, and he knows it. A performance to 1,000 rabid fans with queues snaking round the block is preferable to an anodyne arena tour in terms of driving interest. Often, stirring your core demographic up to fever pitch works better than prompting a lukewarm response from a wider audience – though beware of becoming trapped in the ghetto.
2. Let the work do the talking
There was a time when Prince went in for stunts (remember the squiggle?). No more. Tuesday’s gig was, by all accounts, an old-school slice of hard, unadulterated funk. It was delivered straight to the fans with no interviews and no nonsense. Brands can learn from the ecstatic response: what you produce, not what you say you produce, is what matters in the Now Economy.
3. Different, but the same
Prince’s latest jaunt to London is supposedly not just another solo tour, it’s as frontman of an all female band 3RDEYEGIRL. Obviously nobody buys this; I’ve yet to see a single lead photo of the gig which actually includes the women. That said, a little confusion as to Prince’s current musical status is a clever way of bringing mystique to the artist-fan relationship, nowadays too often ruined by over-familiarity. By varying their approaches to their audiences while keeping their core narrative the same, brands can stave off boredom and maintain interest.
4. No distractions
For a hypersexualised male diva who is rumoured to be of alien origin, Prince has kept himself remarkably far from scandal. Aside from personal fallout, the impact of salacious headlines on a superstar’s career is to divert attention from their art. All at once, the person onstage is not a conduit for the music of the spheres, they’re a slightly grubby man. Few brands will have to deal with a sex scandal in their time, but they can learn from Prince’s focus; think twice before embarking on any project likely to provoke media controversy. Usually, the short term gain isn’t worth it.
5. Leave them wanting more
Prince’s arrival was calculated to leave audiences gloriously unsatisfied. A period of uncertainty was followed by a flurry of astonishing activity, as Prince not only popped up in his intimate nighttime appearance but supposedly played in the living room of the still-relatively-hip Lianne La Havas. Then, all at once, just as the headlines hit, he vanished again. Whether you’re planning to unleash a set of blistering funk classics or release your latest deodorant on the world, learning to master the controlled burst of publicity is a must for any brand manager.