Prince was a creativity machine.

Prince was a creativity machine. He might be the most prolific musician that ever lived, and even though you may never reach even a fraction of his output in your own lifetime, there are six lessons that you can extract from his creative process that will give you an edge over everyone else.

Lesson number one, work fast. Back in those days, people didn’t make albums on computers. You had to rent a studio for a few hundred dollars a day if you wanted to record music. And the studio came with an engineer. In Prince’s case, God help that poor engineer. If you did anything that slowed Prince down, you were out of there. That’s why Prince preferred working with women in the studio. They worked with zero friction. And zero friction equals speed. He’d come in and I’d hand him a bass and he’d play the bass, and he’d put that down and then he’d either go to the keys or he’d pick up the guitar. Susan Rogers witnessed him making a song a day for five years. Sounds like kiss and sign of the times. He’d play all the parts, sing his lead vocals, sing his backing vocals, add the final stuff. I’d be mixing it as the song was coming together. And usually a day later, it would be done. We could do and we did do an album in a week. And all he had when he came in was lyrics that he had jotted down in his hotel room. He came in with Stationary from La Park with the lyrics on it. And he would emerge with a fully written, fully recorded and fully mixed song by the end of it. He’d jump out of keyboards, you know, guitar. Eeeeeeewww! It was just funky, you know. It’s like, man, it’s like, how do you come up with this? He plays all the instruments on it. He played everything and he mixed it too. And he mixed it. In one day. Everything was basically one take. Prince was in constant flow. He was like a funnel. It was as if somebody was pouring these songs into him and they would just continue to come out the other end. He raised the bar for how fast you could create a hit song. I’ve spoken with some of his engineers who were worked with him later in his career as well. And we all say the same thing. You know, after, after Prince, you try to not feel disdain for a person who needs to take all day to do a guitar part. You’re thinking, why do you have a record deal? The other woman engineer that worked with Prince was Peggy McCreary. She did controversy 1999 and purple rain. I mean, we did a song all in one day. Some of them were huge hits.

This brings us to lesson number two, become a finisher. Peggy McCreary was right there in the room when Prince recorded the biggest song of 1984, the biggest song of his career in only two days. You know, like we cut when Doves cry, just the two of us. It was nice to watch that process. He usually started with a drum track and he did with that one. And then he started building raging guitar and the raging sense and everything. It seemed so overproduced to me. was the last night we were mixing it. As the night went on, things started coming out. And he kind of unproduced it if you can possibly do that. And then the last thing he did is he punched that bass out and he smiled at me and he said, ain’t nobody gonna believe I do this. And he did. He stuck with one idea while it was burning hot until it was finished. But how do you do that? How do you develop that kind of tenacity? Well, you’ll need to internalize and live by this next lesson.

Lesson number three, stop trying to be a perfectionist. Do you remember they used to spend a week on a fucking snare sound? It’s like, give me a break. And I literally had five minutes to get a drum sound. He taught me another side. You know, that little picky, cocaineed out shit doesn’t matter. If it’s a good song, you get it down. It’s a good song. Don’t overthink things. Keep it moving. In the overproduced 80s, this was unheard of. In that era, everybody was kind of doing the sterile music where you do 20 takes of one thing. And he didn’t work like that. A lot of times he would take the first take, even though there were maybe mistakes, you go, oh, I know I can do it better. Let me perfect it. He said, no, he wants the feeling. There was something about the first emotion that he wanted. And he’d mix into it. And you go, oh. Prince knew that leaving the mistakes in was also leaving the emotions in. He himself could not have functioned if he’d been obsessing over every little detail. His work was gesture sketches. His music would come out like a sneeze. It was just bam, bam, bam, bam. He understood that the most important aspect of the creative process is momentum.

Which brings us to lesson number four, make art every day. I’ve never known anyone who had a stronger work ethic. If he wasn’t on a date and he wasn’t on a business call, he was making music. And we made music every day. I was his full -time employee. So if we were not on tour, we did rehearsals during the day. And then we recorded at night. we were on tour, this guy would play a four -hour sound check often. Not a 15 -minute sound check like most rock stars do. He’d get on stage for four hours just because it’s a stage and there’s instruments and there’s a PA, so why not just get up there and play? Play for hours, take the mandatory dinner break while they have doors, the audience comes in, and this is like in a 14 ,000 -seat arena, play a two -and -a -half -hour show, and then he’d get off the stage close to midnight and now it’s time for the night to begin. We would go to a recording studio and we would record all night until the last possible minute when we had to get on a plane or on a bus. You sleep on the plane, you sleep on the bus, you get to the next city, you get on stage and you start sound check all over again. That’s… What we did, that was normal life. If you’re awake, you’re making music. That’s how you have to start thinking about life if you want to be a creativity machine. If he was awake, Prince was recording, I’ve never known anyone else who works like that. You’re right, I don’t think there’s anyone as prolific as Prince in terms of just music creation. Yeah, he had to output some Mozart type shit, you know? You start to understand that using your gift as often as possible is your responsibility, especially if you have something valuable to say. That’s when you possessed, you know what I’m saying? You possessed with a mission from the universe, you know? But how do you do that without burning out?

Lesson number five, sleep. You sleep on the plane. That’s right, sleep. You sleep on the bus. Yep, sleep. Prince valued sleep so much that he even had a bed put into the studio. Did you ever see the bed in here? Oh, yes. I wasn’t working during that time. But you did see it. It was elaborate. It was like really fancy coverings. It might have been brass, I can’t remember. It was a bed with purple sheets. Craig had to go out every Friday and get new sheets, purple sheets. It was once a week that was his duty as a studio manager to go get Prince purple sheets. Find purple sheets in 1984. But the most important lesson you can learn from Prince, something that is particular to only him in the history of rock and roll.

Lesson number six, develop vault mentality. Prince didn’t look at his day like he was recording a song. Or even like he was recording an album. Prince looked at his day like he was crafting his legacy. And that’s why as soon as he built his own recording studio, he also built the vault. I started the vault. One of the things I realized would be smart for me to do, we’d get all his tapes together in one place. My goal was, I want us to have everything he’s ever recorded right here. If we’re going to have a vault, let’s have a vault. Because we get a tornado, if we get a flood, this is his legacy. We need to protect these things. What does the vault look like? Is this this room? in the building that just has like veils and whatnot. And then there’s the door with the combination block. But this wasn’t a vault of sketches of ideas or just loops. This was a vault of fully mixed songs and full albums that have yet to see the light of day. When you say the word vault, it’s really a vault of treasure. I mean, it’s like the Beatles stuff. This stuff is incredible on every level with all different type of artists. You see the amount of recordings he has in his vault. It doesn’t even make sense. You would think somebody’s lived like 300 years and was recording five songs a day. Frequently, he would have very, very excellent songs that for whatever reason didn’t fit the concept he had in mind for a given album. So that song would fall to the wayside. The amount of time that I spent in the studio with him, probably only about five or 10% of it was ever released. And how many songs are in that vault? Ooh, when I was there, I say about 2 ,000 songs. He probably has more now. Vault mentality is something I talk about in the mystery school all the time. It’s the kind of mindset that keeps you thinking about the big picture. You know, the work of art called your career. Even if at first it’s just a hard drive with your beats on it or a storage space for your paintings, having vault mentality puts you in a frame of mind of being output driven. Do you think we’re ever gonna get to hear everything that’s in the vault? No. Why? Because he won’t put it out? No, because I think if you could, you would probably be sitting there for 10 years. Even if you don’t catch up to Prince, by adopting these six lessons, you can still be way more prolific than you’ve ever been. And you could start reaching momentum and flow with increased frequency. And that’s what matters, isn’t it?

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲