Last week, two days before the second anniversary of Prince’s death, his estate released a bounty of new stuff celebrating his work and his relationship with his fans: Not only the previously unreleased — and largely unheard — original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and an accompanying video of remarkable rehearsal footage, but also two new websites, one of them a deep dive into his discography including rare photos, videos and loads of information; the other a site where fans can share their remembrances called “Prince2me.”
It was a strong first salvo of “mind blowing” material to come from the new caretakers of the artist’s estate, led by entertainment adviser Troy Carter and his company Atom Factory (Carter is also global head of creator services for Spotify). Prince was fiercely protective of his music and kept a large percentage of it — even some of his most popular videos and songs for which he didn’t feel he was properly compensated — locked away in his much-vaunted “Vault.” In the year since Carter took charge, the musical archives have been transported to a climate-controlled Iron Mountain facility in Los Angeles, where they’re being archived, restored and in some cases prepared for release.
And on Sept. 28, Carter tells Variety exclusively, there will be an album of previously unreleased material. For more details, eyes below:
The two new websites seem designed for two different kinds of fan experiences: Prince2me is more emotional, where the Discography seems more for music nerds.
Yes, that was very intentional. I think the old way of doing websites was “let’s put everything on one platform,” and those platforms can become very complicated for fans to navigate. Now, between for example Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, there are multiple products, they’re not all jammed into one platform, and that was the thinking behind it: How do you extrapolate different features for different fan sets? We hired a company called Base Design to work with us on some ideas for the web platform and one of them was the Discography, where you can go down a rabbit hole for a couple of hours, and also Prince2me, which is a platform for fans to express themselves. There’s a few more things in the interactive space to come as well, a couple of fun projects to work on. [He declined to elaborate.]
What’s coming next?
The last year was really about information collecting: meeting with various partners, meeting with the heirs and [estate executor] Comerica and figuring out what partners we need to bring on to help execute that vision. First and foremost, it was about organizing the vault and finding out what music exists, what footage exists, photos, personal notes, letters. Prince basically saved everything, so there are decades of music and video and artefacts, but it takes long time to go through each one of those and research the historical context: where is this from, who did he collaborate with, where was it recorded, what year, was it the final version?
Last week, the release of “Nothing Compares 2 U” was the first piece of music to come from our collaboration with the estate, and now we’re working on a release for the fall — a full-length album.
Is it from a specific time, or is it a compilation of material from across years or decades?
This will be more time-specific. Michael Howe, who’s been working with us on the archive, has done a tremendous job of finding some special pieces of work, and one of the pieces that he found, all of us fell in love with it and decided this was special enough for fans to hear. So we’re putting the final touches on it — it’ll come in the fall.
That makes it sound like a single piece of work — is it a suite or concert or a collection of thematically linked songs or something like that?
I don’t wanna give it all away, we still have to preserve some surprises, but after the excitement around [“Compares”], we felt, “Let’s give the fans something else this year.”
Is it coming out on Warner Bros.?
What’s the status of the non-Warner music, the material included in the $31 million deal with Universal that was rescinded last year?
I can’t comment on it. But what I can say is there’s been a tremendous amount of interest around it and right now we’re weighing our options.
Are there suitors who aren’t major labels?
I was really …. taken aback by all the types of suitors that came: some traditional, some non-traditional. But when you look at the history of Prince’s work there’s a lot of people who fell in love with the music and want to figure out ways to partner with the estate, so we’re just figuring out what the best option is.
Do you feel like you’ve found and catalogued nearly everything in the vault?
Prince recorded and rehearsed and performed constantly, and he taped everything, so once you think you’ve gotten close [to finding everything], you find new things. The vault was just one room and that room ran over into multiple rooms, and this was [mostly] before digitization so you have hard drives, and tapes and things like that. So we’re still in the process, and the fun part of my job is finding new things — every week I’m getting a new call about something special. Just two weeks ago we were doing a tape transfer and in one of the two-inch boxes we found the original lyrics to “Kiss”! It’s amazing, the things that are starting to surface.
What are some of the most exciting things you’ve found?
He wrote down his thoughts and plans and how he ran his business, so he pretty much left a blueprint of how things should go. So listening to the music, the demos, seeing some of his notes and tape notes, you really get an idea of how his mind worked, and I’m honored to get a glimpse of his process. A little bit of what you saw in the “Nothing Compares” video — those were rehearsal tapes, so just seeing him work in rehearsal as if it was Madison Square Garden, performing for his bandmates like there were 100,000 people there, that was a beautiful process to watch.
There was some concern about the condition of some tapes in the vault — have any been irreparably damaged?
Certain things happen with age, but Iron Mountain is probably one of the best in the world at restoration, so they basically have any machine that was ever invented for recording, and they have proprietary ways of being able to restore tape. So we haven’t run across any real issues in terms of the condition of material.
Are there plans to re-release the long-out-of-print “Sign O’ the Times” concert film, or any of the many concerts he broadcast on television over the years?
We’re basically looking at all options. We have a very specific plan around the music, because we don’t want to just dump things into the marketplace and have things out just to have them out. Prince was very thoughtful in the way he released music and toured, and being able to preserve and protect that is important as well.
What about things like clothes and instruments?
The [Prince] museum oversees the wardrobe and artefacts, and they’re charged with archiving and preserving.
Are there plans to do a musical based on his music, or new any creative works based on his music?
We’re in conversations with several projects now that we’ll be talking about later on, but nothing to talk about today.
What does it feel like to see and find all these things, and be entrusted with them?
You know what? It’s emotional. I’m very cognizant of how important this role is. I took a trip to Paisley Park to go through the archives, lyric books and letters and photos and mementoes, and I had to stop several times in the process just to breathe a little bit, because it’s heavy — you can still feel his energy in the work. And there was one piece of video that we came across — I got home and popped it in, and it was 11:30 at night, and I had tears running down my face watching this video. It was just incredible that I was witnessing what I was witnessing, just beautiful. His spirit and his creative energy are in the work, and I think you can feel it.
I guess this was a video of a performance?
Yes — the most special one that I’ve seen. I can’t wait for fans to see it. You’ll see!