During his lifetime, Prince amassed a fortune estimated at more than $300 million. Many believe that his tragic death on April 21, 2016, might prove to be even more lucrative for his heirs.
As his fans now know, the enigmatic artist left behind a vast trove of unreleased songs locked in a vault. It took more than a year to get the vault unlocked, but it is now paying off handsomely for the Prince estate.
- Prince’s death created a surge in demand for his past work, and he was back at the top of the Billboard albums chart within hours.
- Prince was the best-selling musical artist of 2016, surpassing Drake and Adele.
- Two years after his death, his estate began releasing a mix of remastered old material and new material from his vault.
The third of his posthumous album releases, Originals, was released in June 2019. Called by Variety the “best and most accessible” music to emerge from the vault so far, it includes Prince’s own versions of songs that were recorded by others, including “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Manic Monday.”
A Posthumous Sales Surge
Within hours of his death, The Very Best of Prince, a greatest hits collection first released in 2001, reigned again at the top of the Billboard 200 albums charts, with 179,000 copies bought, streamed, or downloaded. He also claimed the second slot on the chart with Purple Rain.
The top 16 recordings on Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes store were from Prince, as were 19 of the top 20 albums in Amazon’s (AMZN) digital music store.
In the year after his death, Prince sold about 3.5 million album equivalents, a figure that reflects single downloads as well as album sales.
As it turned out, he was the best-selling artist of 2016, surpassing Drake and Adele. When Doves Cry alone sold 2.2 million album copies. His estate made an estimated $2.5 million in the months after his death.
An artist’s sales often spike by 50% or more after their deaths. On the Forbes list of top-selling dead celebrities of 2016, Prince came in at number 5, after Michael Jackson, Charles Schulz, Arnold Palmer, and Elvis Presley. (Elvis died in 1977.)
A Prince Renaissance
At the time of his death, many of Prince’s older recordings were difficult to track down, and for good reason: Prince detested the internet. He withdrew all of his music from legal music sites during the early internet days when fans were inclined to consider music as free for the downloading.
His back catalog was available for sale online months after his death.
However, it was two years before the Prince estate and Sony began releasing and re-releasing Prince recordings in a mix of remastered past material and vault finds.
The number of copies of a Prince greatest hits collection that were purchased in the days after his death on April 21, 2016.
Since his death, authorized releases have included a greatest hits collection that included one new song, and a remastered version of Purple Rain with a bonus disc of previously unreleased material. A deluxe edition that included a Purple Rain live performance debuted at #1 on the Billboard R&B Albums list.
By July 2018, Prince ruled the Billboard 200 again, with 5 of the top 10 albums. That’s a first for the chart, created in 1963, according to his hometown newspaper, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Release of new music from Prince translated into substantial revenue for his estate. In all, he sold 4.41 million albums in the 14 months after his death.
What’s In the Vault
The long-rumored existence of the vault and its contents was finally confirmed by a BBC documentary maker, who said that there was enough material in it for Prince to put out a new posthumous album every year for the next 100 years. The vault also contained two feature-length movies and an assortment of promotional videos.
Three years after his death, Prince’s estate had not yet been settled. He died without a will.
How much is it worth? Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Prince’s album sales prior to his post-mortem surge averaged more than 2.7 million sales each. Assuming a cost of $10 per album with 8% royalties (the typical artist’s cut), 100 new albums would theoretically net $216 million for Prince’s estate. That is most likely a conservative estimate and doesn’t consider any merchandising or licensing deals that could be made.
The Prince Estate
Prince Rogers Nelson died without making a will, and three years after his death his estate was still in limbo. Lawyers for his sister and five half-siblings were squabbling over his possessions, so the estate has not been officially valued and his money has not been disbursed.
Some progress has been made. Dozens of alleged half-siblings and descendants have been summarily dismissed. And administrators of the estate have opened his home outside Minneapolis as a museum and memorial to Prince.
The Prince estate is managed by Paisley Park Enterprises and Comerica Bank & Trust. Paisley Park Enterprises operates a museum and memorial at his home in Minneapolis, where he died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at the age of 57.