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How to binge on Prince today

And why it's harder than it should be.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

There’s a good chance you want to hear and see more Prince today.

That’s harder than it should be. Or, at least, harder than you’re accustomed to when pop icons die. More on that in a minute.

First, some (relatively) easy ways to get more Prince in the next 24 hours:

  • The Current, a nonprofit alternative radio station based in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, is playing every song in Prince’s catalog, in alphabetical order, right now. This is old-fashioned linear radio, so you can’t hear a song you want on demand, or even skip ahead. But it is free, and it’s going to run through the evening.
  • Saturday Night Live” is running an all-Prince episode tonight. Gothamist has a good rundown of his three appearances on the show and a smattering of Prince parody sketches the show ran. Fred Armisen did a very good Prince.
  • The second weekend of Coachella has turned into a Prince tribute event. Sufjan Stevens covered “Purple Rain” last night; LCD Soundsystem did “Controversy”. If you tune into the YouTube livestream, you’re definitely going to hear/see some more today and Sunday.
  • If you want to leave the house, you can go see the movie “Purple Rain” in some theaters in some towns for the next few days. Parts of the 1984 movie have most definitely not aged well. But it’s still a marvel in many ways, and it was mind-blowing when it came out.

Here’s the thing: All of this is great, but it’s also not what we want.

Not in 2016: Today, when we lose a music hero, our expectation is that we can hear, and see, as much of that hero as we’d like. On-demand music services like Spotify give us instant access to some artists’ official catalogs, and YouTube gives us much of that, plus oddities like talk-show performances.

Prince has denied us most of that, because Prince was one of the very rare music stars who both controlled his own music and who didn’t want that music available to everyone whenever they wanted.

So if you want legal, unlimited Prince right now, you have very limited options: You can give Tidal your credit card, sign up for a free trial and hope the streaming music service delivers what it promises. You can go buy individual songs and albums via retail outlets like iTunes and Amazon. (There’s vinyl, too. If you insist.)

Those aren’t terrible options, by the way — certainly better than the options available in the 1980s and ’90s, when Prince was at his peak.

And if you believe in the notion that people who make art (or even “content”) should be able to control how that art is distributed, this is a good thing: Prince wanted people to jump through particular hoops to get his stuff, and Prince got what he wanted.

Maybe it’s even a plus that it’s harder to make this stuff accessible with a click or a swipe and no thought. Maybe you should have to think about how you get the stuff you love.

But sometimes you don’t want to think about the music — you want to feel music. Prince certainly knew about that. Too bad we can’t all feel it right now.

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