Maybe we didn't quite get this right. Much has been made of Prince's reluctant relationship with the internet: how is vigilant copyright protection of recordings and live performances, his rigid control of distribution, and an on-again, off-again relationship with social media suggested a Neo-Luddism out of character with an artist who broke the mould in most other regards. The newly launched Prince Online Museum suggests he might be better remembered as one of the net's early innovators.
Opened July 4, the new website archives the artist's 20-year web presence, beginning when he first ventured into cyberspace on Valentine's Day 1996 with a portal called TheDawn.com, which featured a chat room, a guest book, a virtual store, streaming video and audio content, and curiously, the 8-page program from his wedding ceremony with Mayte Garcia. This when most of us were still putzing around AOL.
In the time since, Prince maintained a dozen different social media accounts and launched 20 websites. The Online Prince Museum has working versions of nearly every page, including the various iterations of the NPG Music Club, which operated between 2001 and 2006, presaging Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal (with which he'd later align) with digital music and video content accessed via monthly subscription. In 2006, it won a Webby Award for best celebrity/fan site and Prince was given the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award.
"Prince was a fierce advocate for artists rights," Prince Online Museum director Sam Jennings writes in a statement posted to the website. "He saw injustices against musicians being carried out by corporations that treated their art as meaningless commodities to be bought and sold, and he spoke out against it whenever he could. With the spread of the internet in the mid-90s, Prince saw a path forward that could completely circumvent the established distribution channels that had been monopolized by these corporate structures for decades."
The archive documents Prince's considerable efforts as an independent artist to eschew the corporate middleman and connect directly with an audience of fans around the world.
Prince's first online store.
"The Prince Online Museum was built by the people who worked directly with Prince on these projects," Jennings writes. "We are the originators, we are the experts. It is a labor of love, no money has been exchanged. There will be no downloads sold and no membership fees required. But we do have working versions of almost all of Prince’s official websites. Take a virtual walk through the timeline and remember when anything was possible."