Prince Understood the Value of Technology for Music Early On

Prince Understood the Value of Technology for Music Early On

Prince, who died to the surprise of the world this week, was always astute and experimental enough to incorporate the latest technological innovations into his art.

[Related: BE Staff Share Their All-Time Favorite Prince Songs]

“What may not occur to many is his innovative use of recording and production techniques,” said platinum-selling, Grammy-winning music producer, Bjorn Soderberg, aka Polarbear (aka Soul Mainframe).

“He did revolutionary things with drum machines; creating his own style by combining different sounds, using effects like phasers, gated reverbs, heavy compression, and pitching the sounds up and down more than most,” Polarbear, who has worked with luminaries including George Clinton, Kendrick Lamar, Quincy Jones, Krayzie Bone, DMC of Run DMC, and Coolio, said of Prince, who died on Thursday.

“When some of the sounds were pitched down on those older drum machines the bit-rate would degrade and that would create a distinctive sound.”

“He also would record drums on the reel-to-reel tape-machine at a faster speed so when he played it back at regular speed the drums would be at a lower pitch. This would create a big, warm sound with the good original bit-rate maintained.”

“On the song “When Doves Cry,” he didn’t even feel the need to have a bass-line like most conventional songs, so he just let the kick drums alone be responsible for the bass. He also used the reel-to-reel tape machines to record some vocals at a lower speed and then speed it back up to the original speed creating a pitched up sound,” Polarbear said, adding,

“The world lost a musical genius, writer, producer, musician, artist, and more. I will definitely draw some inspiration from Prince for my first solo album, which will be released later this year under my artist name, Soul Mainframe.”

Earl Douglas, a long-time former radio producer and the executive director for the NY chapter of the Black Rock Coalition, said that Prince set a music standard via technology.

“Prince’s uses of drum machines, [and] synth keyboards, set a new standard which is now the norm.”

Prince also embraced more standard technology. In 2006, he received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for his then-unprecedented decision to distribute his songs online.

Adweek reports:

In 1997, Prince sold a three-CD set called Crystal Ball directly on the Internet, making him one of the first major pop stars to embrace e-commerce.

In 2013, a YouTube account surfaced for his band, 3rdEyeGirl.

In 2015, he yanked most of his catalog from music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music and shifted the lion’s share of the content to Jay Z’s Tidal app because he liked the business model.