During a career spanning almost four decades, Prince broke with his record label, changed his name and yanked his songs off popular streaming services to prove a point — no one could tell him what to do with his music.
Though the impulse to control his catalog inspired fellow artists, it limited Prince’s exposure and hurt the value of his music. Now, because he failed to leave a will, his wishes are taking a backseat.
His estate, represented by music industry veteran Charles A. Koppelman and entertainment lawyer L. Londell McMillan, is racing under a court mandate to get the most from a catalog of about 1,000 songs including “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry.”
The two have selected some of the music industry’s most powerful companies, including Universal Music Group, as stewards of Prince’s legacy. His music, absent for the past year and a half from most major streaming services, is expected to be available in time for the Grammy Awards next month, while Prince’s name and likeness soon will be showing up on merchandise.
Given his catalog, the estate could be worth $50 million to $200 million.
“We are putting the estate and the entertainment assets in the hands of the best companies and the best people to create the biggest value,” Koppelman said in an interview. “Each new deal is state of the art with the best companies, and the best terms and conditions.”
Koppelman, a towering music industry figure who led EMI and has worked with legends including Billy Joel and Carole King, is under pressure to act quickly for a variety of legal reasons, including a looming estate tax.
Valuing estates can be a contentious process. Michael Jackson’s estate is still fighting the Internal Revenue Service almost 10 years after the pop star’s death. Actor Robin Williams made it easy. He left his intellectual property to his foundation, eliminating any tax issues, and still asked that no one exploit that IP for several years.