Prince, the late musical genius who carved out a rich output of pop songs, is also leaving behind a significant financial legacy.
With the artist's death on Thursday at the age of 57 at his Minneapolis-area home, fans are appraising his musical impact and leaving tributes to the influence that songs such as "When Doves Cry" had on their lives. Yet Prince wasn't just a natural musician -- he also was considered a canny businessman, leaving a song catalog valued at at least $100 million, according to Bloomberg News.
The total value of his estate could be higher if reports that Prince controlled some 2,000 unreleased songs are accurate. The website CelebrityNetWorth pegged the late star's total net worth at $300 million prior to his death, while Forbes recently estimated he had generated $270 million in music and concert sales over the course of a decades-long career. (His best year: 2005, with an estimated haul of $50 million before taxes, Forbes reported.) On Thursday alone, Apple's iTunes Store sold 85,000 copies of his greatest-hits collection, The Very Best of Prince, according to Billboard.
The swirl of dollars raises questions about what will happen to Prince's financial legacy, given that the pop star was unmarried without children at the time of his death. Both of his parents predeceased him, although several half-siblings and one full-blooded sister, Tyka Nelson, survive him. If Prince didn't have a will (which seems unlikely, given the meticulous detail he paid to his business empire), his fortune under Minnesota law would go to his closest relatives. Whatever happens to his estate, it's clear that Prince took great pains to ensure total control over his career, including his financial dealings.
"He just never wanted to be taken advantage of," L. Lee Phillips, an attorney who worked with Prince for more than a decade, told Bloomberg. "Certainly, he is going to leave somewhat of a legacy, artists standing up for themselves -- but not as strong as his legacy performing and playing."
That control may have cost him younger fans, however. While Prince is beloved by Generation X and Baby Boomers, he may not be as well known to millennials and Generation Z, the group born from about 1996 to 2010. Millennials and their younger cohort have grown up on digital music, but many of his most popular songs and albums are absent on Apple Music, Spotify, and other sites.
Prince took several stands against the recording industry, most memorably in his battle with Warner Music, which signed him when he was 18. As Prince gained popularity in the 1980s, he renegotiated his contract terms and started his own label, Paisley Park.
That venture proved successful, allowing Prince to release his own records under the Paisley Park/Warner umbrella, while also developing acts such as Sheila E. By the 1990s, however, his relationship with Warner had soured, and Prince took his battle public. He wrote the word "slave" on the side of his face.
"Record contracts are just like -- I'm gonna say the word -- slavery," Prince said at a press conference last year to talk about "HitNRun," a new album release. "I would tell any young artist... don't sign."
His contract dispute with Warner led Prince to change his name to a symbol, which was referred to as "the Artist Formerly Known as Prince." After he ended his relationship with Warner, he took on the digital side of the industry, pulling his music from services such as YouTube.
While that helped Prince keep control of his music, it also means that many younger music fans aren't as familiar with his work as with, say, the late David Bowie, who passed away earlier this year. That might lower the value of Prince's musical legacy, given the rich afterlife that often follows the death of pop icons.
The estate of the late Michael Jackson, for instance, earned more than $1 billion before taxes since his death in 2009, according to an estimate from Forbes. Jackson's posthumous earnings have stemmed from recorded music sales, the Mijac Music catalog, half of the Sony/ATV Music Publishing venture his estate owns, and the show "Michael Jackson: One."
In Prince's eyes, Internet streaming services were simply trying to eat his dinner without paying up first.
"I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else," Prince told a British publication in 2010. "They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it."