It's been a year since the icon's death, and during his lifetime, Prince amassed a fortune worth over $300 million. Many believe that is death might prove to be even more of a windfall.
Two years ago it became public that the mysterious singer left behind a trove of unreleased songs in his vault.The release of these songs could translate into substantial sales and revenue for his estate in the future. In fact, the release of a new album was scheduled to release on April 21st, 2017 — the one year anniversary of his death — but was blocked in court by Prince's estate.
The presence of a vault of unreleased Prince songs has been rumored for years. Its presence was confirmed last year by a BBC documentary maker, who said that there was enough material in the vault for Prince to put out an album every year for the next hundred years. In addition to this, the vault contains two feature length movies and an assortment of promotional videos. How much is that worth? Let's do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Given that Prince's album sales--prior to his post-mortem surge--averaged over 2.7 million albums sold, and assuming a cost $10 per album, with 8% royalties (the typical artist's cut), 100 new albums would theoretically net $216 million for Prince's estate. And this is most likely a very conservative estimate.
Prince’s own intentions for the vault is publicly unknown, his estate does not want the songs released. George Ian Boxill — a long-time producer for Prince — wanted to release the album titled Deliverance on Friday, but the estate took him to court claiming breach of a confidentiality contract. The judge blocked the release until the hearing on May 3rd, and the millions of fans that pre-ordered an album will have to sit tight — at least for now.
This will not be the last battle over the unreleased songs and videos, as it could represent a considerable sum of money. The several people have claimed right to Prince's estate, and the settlement will likely take years, as will the potential release of the vault.
A Post-Death Resurgence
Sales of Prince's albums had flagged in the recent time before his death. But, death seems to have brought about a resurgence of interest in his work. Prince sold 1.1 million songs and 231,800 albums the day following his death. He was responsible for the top 16 recordings on Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes store and 19 of the top 20 albums on Amazon’s (AMZN) digital music store. In 2016 Prince was Billboard's Bestselling Albums Artist — which means Prince sold more albums across the board than any other artist (best selling album only counts one album).
To be sure, Prince is not the only artist whose estate is raking in the moolah after his death. His contemporary Michael Jackson has earned more than $1 billion since his death in 2009. According to a Forbes article, a majority of that money came “from two Cirque Du Soleil shows, his own music and publishing revenues and his half of the Sony/ATV publishing catalogue.” The earning amount becomes even more dramatic, when you consider that Jackson was bankrupt when he died.
How the Vault Could Help Prince's Estate
In Prince’s case, his estate will also benefit for his stance towards copyright. Throughout his life, the Minneapolis-based star was an avowed supporter of artiste rights. He maintained tight control over copyright for his songs and was a one-man band in that he played most of the instruments in his band. He had come out against streaming services, such as Spotify, which failed to adequately compensate artists. Analysts estimate that the value of his estate will soar in the future.
If it is commercialized, the vault could represent a significant part of that fortune. Unreleased songs will form a major chunk of that fortune. Music videos using unreleased footage from the vault will attract audiences and drive sales. In addition, Prince's personality and songs immediately lend themselves to broad possibilities, including live shows celebrating his life and holograms and virtual reality shows using footage from the vault. In turn, they could turn out to be money spinners for his estate.