Prince was a once-in-a-lifetime artist. Like his contemporary, Stevie Wonder, he was working at a unique level, a talented composer who could also perform at a professional level on virtually any instrument he happened to pick up.
Prince required supreme levels of control over his sound, and, as a result, there are an entire bunch of Prince records that were recorded without the help of a single session musician. This level of administration has come to define Prince’s legacy. He is regarded as one of the most meticulous, authentic, and uniquely gifted musicians of the late 20th century and continues to inspire ambitious young musicians to this day. So, what advice does Prince have for musicians looking to make a name for themselves?
Well, back in 2000, Prince sat down for an exclusive interview, in which he described what he believed to be the most essential qualities for a musician to have. Prior to that, he also gave some advice on traits to avoid: “I’m competitive, and I’ve definitely let my ego control me,” he began, before adding: “But I’ve discovered that when it comes to music, ego has to sit down.”
Clearly, Prince understood the danger of his own ego. For him, music was at its best when it was free from self-indulgence. If a song has been crafted for oneself or to make the artist look good, he seems to suggest that it’s doomed to fail. Musicians should place the song above all else. It was Prince’s trust in his own music that allowed him such longevity.
So what were some of the qualities Prince believed a musician needed to have? “You have to respect your spiritual base,” he noted. “You have to respect the instrument. The volume and tone of an instrument is so important.” There are two important nuggets of wisdom to be found here, so let’s unpack what Prince was talking about. What he means by “spiritual base” remains unclear, but it’s possible he’s using the term to describe what motivates a person to pursue music-making. Respecting these foundational motivations, Prince implies, will guide a musician to creative fulfilment, whereas ignoring them will lead to dissatisfaction.
In regards to respecting “the volume and tone of an instrument”, it’s possible Prince was suggesting that a well-rounded knowledge of the unique sonic qualities of one’s instrument(s) is absolutely essential. For Prince, a talented musician is one who knows their instrument like they know their best friend. A brilliant saxophonist, for example, will be able to find the gaps in a sonic landscape and fill them with just the right colour – recognising that the instrument has a very specific timbre that works well in some places and not so well in others. It’s about understanding the limitations of an instrument as well as its potential—all very good advice.