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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

7 Music Creation Tips that I Learned from Prince

We all know Price Rodger Nelson was a musical genius and it is hard to believe that he passed away roughly a year ago, but you've got to give the man his props.  He signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. at the age of 18 in 1979 playing all of his own instruments.

Fast forward 5 years later in 1984 with the release of Purple Rain, which won him two Grammy's an a Academy Award for best original score. The album stayed consecutively at number one for 24 weeks on the Billboard top 200 charts. Prince simultaneously had the No. 1 album, single, and film in the US;
it was the first time any singer had achieved this feat. He has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artist of all time. 

His repertoire integrates styles as varied as funk, R&B, new wave, soul, pscyhedelia  and pop.Countless hits and another chart topping score for Tim Burton's Batman, firmly cemented him into our collective conscious. Let's not forget the awe inspiring Super Bowl halftime performance in 2007 which hit a record 140 million television viewers. 

See it here:

But enough of the accolades. What has Prince, the genius taught us as far as music creation. 

Check out these Seven Tips:

The Three - Four Chord Masterpiece

Have you ever been able to create a masterpiece using the bare minimal?  Prince made simplicity look easy with the tracks “1999” and “When Doves Cry”. If you listen closely you hear only about three to four major chord changes, but both tunes rock. Being able to find the bare essence of a song and make it a hit takes true creative muscle. Prince was able to find that essence and let it roll, proving less is more.

Drum Syncopation

One of Prince's main signatures was the way he handled the drums.  A strong back beat with a syncopated synthetic rim shot counterpoint and hand clap accent. He started this technique with the album 1999 and perfected the technique on Purple Rain soundtrack. You could always tell a Prince tune because of that signature sound. If you listen carefully to rhythm of “When Doves Cry' or “Raspberry Beret' you will hear it.  It's interesting how he changed things up with “I Would Die 4 U” where the hi-hat and synth bass combo sounds like a choo-choo train. What about that hi-hat cowbell syncopation combo on Alphabet Street? Very cool. See some examples below.

How you start your song will distinguish you from the pack. Prince knew that instinctively. “When Doves Cry” has the most original and unconventional intro's ever and was ranked as Billboards number one single in 1984. Guitar riff, drum syncopation, gruff vocal loop and synth lick. Only Prince could get away with something like that. “Let's go Crazy” has the organ sermon with deep reverb, “Take Me With You “ with the drum roll cadence intro, “Purple Rain” has the solemn somewhat country bluesy guitar melody, “Diamonds and Pearls” with the pluck string and guitar riff followed by that cool melodic phrase, and “Pop Life” slowly revs up  and suddenly transitions into full tune. “Controversy” starts with that cool synth stab and bass before the rhythm starts. “Batdance” has the guitar riff, the use of vocal samples from the movie plus a tip of the hat to the old TV show with sung harmonic vocal refrain, ...classic.

What about endings
“Let's go Crazy” has an ending how long? 35 seconds!  But you don't want it to end. What about the wonderful transition to strings at the end “Purple Rain”. Prince knew how to make an entrance and keep em' hanging.

More strings
While we are on the subject of strings how about the tunes, “Take me with you “, “Purple Rain” and Raspberry Beret'”,. There is no doubt that the string section made these tunes instant classics. Somewhat  Beatle-esque in a way..

Solo's and Riff Candy
Lets Go Crazy”  and  “Purple Rain” has guitar solos that seem  to fit so naturally but just can't be beat.  Check out the Hall of Fame link below which features a Prince solo that blew everybody away. Prince also had a way of creating riffs that you did not want to end that I nicknamed riff candy. “I Wanna be your Lover” has a super cool riff that ends the tune. Alphabet City has a riff that is reminiscent of Parliament Funkadelic and so does "Working up a Black Sweat" on the 3121 album. “Controversy” is another example of an infectious riff that grabs you. "Lolita" on 3121 also has a synth riff  that is very catchy. Obviously “When Doves Cry” falls into this category as well as “Pop Life”.

Drums only and No Bass
Did you ever notice that “Kiss” and “When Doves Cry” start with no bass-line. The melody that is sung and the minimal accompaniment with that signature rhythm is so strong, it catches your attention immediately  and sweeps you right in.

Fun Fact:  Did you know that Prince predated iTunes with his own digital distribution network? He launched the NPG music club website in 2001. For a subscription you had access to new music, video clips and more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NPG_Music_Club 

And one Pet Peeve.  
I hate when a compilation edition uses a radio edit. Bear in mind if you do check out the new Prince 4 Ever compilation discs you will get the radio edits on  “Let's go Crazy”, and “I Would Die 4 U”, a 3 minute version of “I Wanna be your Lover”  minus extended ending. Get the full album versions for the best experience.

Here are a few links to remember the man:  


Prince on Arsenio 2014

Prince Plays Guitar for Maria Bartiromo. Fun starts at 48 seconds in. Wow!

Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and others perform "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at the 2004 Hall of Fame Inductions.

3 examples of the signature drums of Prince:

What are your thoughts on Prince.  If you like, post a comment.
We would love to hear it.

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