4 Keys To Prince’s Creative Genius

I wrote this the day after Prince died, tragically, at Paisley Park from an overdose of fentanyl. On the third anniversary of his death, we are all still grieving. I've embedded a Twitter Moment compilation of tweets about Prince from fans all over the world at the end of this post.

Midjourney image of Prince playing a Telecaster with a dove flying in the background

🖼️ David Erickson/Midjourney - image of Prince playing a Telecaster with a dove flying in the background

Minnesotans and the world heard the sad and shocking news yesterday morning that Prince, our hometown hero and perhaps the most brilliant musical artist of our time, had passed away at a mere 57 years of age. Minnesotans gathered at Paisley Park and flooded Minneapolis in mourning and celebration of his life and the joy he provided us all.

The city he called home painted itself purple in tribute.


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And Minnesotans danced the night away to Prince at First Avenue, the nightclub he put on the international map:

As a proud Minnesotan, yes, Prince is a favorite son, but I also have enormous admiration for him professionally because creativity and innovation are integral to my work as a digital marketer.

Prince wrote, composed and produced his own music, so he understood the creative process from songwriting, to recording and mixing his songs. His mastery of different instruments was legendary; on his debut album he is credited with playing 27 instruments.

His artistic genius was in part due to the innovative manner in which he blended musical genres seemingly effortlessly, from funk, rock, R&B and pop to soul, blues, jazz and psychedelic.

Prince sold more than 100 million records, won seven Grammys, a Golden Globe award, an Oscar, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for which he turned in this remarkable performance on While My Guitar Gently Weeps:

The man churned out hit after hit after hit.

Artists often anticipate intuitively where a culture is headed and are therefore ahead of the curve, so to speak. Thus it was with Prince.

His pushing of the boundaries of gender and racial identification pre-dated a society that had yet to accept gay marriage and the election of a black president. His use of language anticipated the condensed characters of texting as reflected in the title of songs like Nothing Compares 2 U, the hit he penned for Sinead O’Connor, and his own I Would Die 4 U.

His infamous changing of his name to an unpronounceable glyph pre-dated the emoji.

Tweet by Anil Dash of Prince's floppy disc

Prince not only rode MTV revolution by exploiting the then-new music video format for all it was worth, he took it to its logical conclusion by bundling an album release with a feature-length music video. The result was the album, movie and song that propelled him to superstardom, Purple Rain.

Purple Rain album cover

So how do you make sense of such overwhelming creativity, innovation and genius?

Surely a lot of it you have to simply chalk up to natural talent and ability but there is plenty that we can learn from Prince’s example to try and improve our own attempts at innovation and creativity.

4 Keys To Prince’s Creative Genius

1) Immersion

Prince was born to parents who were themselves working musicians, so literally from birth he was surrounded by music and, perhaps more importantly, musicians. These are people who understood how music works and would have either by example or directly through teaching, explained to him the construction of music.

That environment certainly contributed to his precociousness, producing his first song at seven years of age.

His parents separated when he was ten years old and he would switch between living with his father and his mother and stepfather; he eventually moved in with a neighbor friend. Music likely served as an escape from such tough circumstances.

Prince was also famous for marathon rehearsals, for staying behind to practice while bandmates took breaks from rehearsals, and for showing up for impromptu concerts at small clubs immediately following performances at packed arenas during his tours.

He built his own studio at his Paisley Park home, so he could record whenever he wanted.

When you devote that much time to practicing and thinking about your craft, your brain becomes tuned to that activity as a result. Just as endless practicing of an instrument creates physical muscle memory of where to place your fingers on a fretboard, for example, musical thought rewires your brain to make it easier to write lyrics and melodies.

In short, practice makes perfect.

2) Obsessive Curiosity

There’s a difference between curiosity and obsessive curiosity.

Curiosity is the condition of being interested in learning about something new and taking the time to discover the fundamental aspects of that thing. Obsessive curiosity, on the other hand, is being so curious about something new that you feel compelled to thoroughly learn each and every aspect of that thing.

You don’t master as many instruments as Prince did without obsessive curiosity. You aren’t able to brilliantly mix and match and merge as many different musical genres as Prince did without first mastering each one, and you don’t do that without obsessive curiosity.

3) Broad Based Knowledge

The obsessive curiosity that drove Prince to master not only a staggering number of instruments and musical genres but also such diverse fields as acting, fashion, dance, and even religion all contributed to a broad base of knowledge from which he could innovate.

Innovation often comes in the form of connecting dots no one thought to connect before and the broader base of knowledge you have, the more dots you’ve got at your disposal.

4) Passion

It goes without saying that you cannot achieve the success Prince earned without absolutely adoring what you do. In order to have the drive required of that success, you need the passion that will sustain that drive.

It only takes a few seconds of watching a Prince performance for it to become clear that he plays with joy. You don’t write a song a day if you don’t have an undying love of music.

Prince’s musical legacy is profound and will be long-lasting. Though sadly he’s gone, this is likely not goodbye because it is said he recorded enough unpublished material to release a record a year for the next 100 years. His lasting legacy may be that he will continue to be an influence for literally generations to come.

We’ll leave you with this performance at the Capitol Theater from 1982, just as Prince’s star was on the rise:

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