Only a special kind of musician can handle working with a one-of-a-kind artist.
A supremely gifted musician, Prince helped to launch the sound that re-introduced live instrumentation, soul, funk and classic R&B to a generation at a time when hip-hop and other forms of electronic music were gaining ground. His dogged determination to own his music inspired artists to be more business savvy and purposeful with their contracts. Of course, it’s also impossible to discuss Prince without mentioning his legendary work ethic and demands for artistic perfection on stage.
It’s therefore easy to surmise that if Prince was so unique, so are the people who shared the stage and performed with him. One such artist is Rhonda Smith, bassist and member of the famous New Power Generation during a span of over a decade. In a South Florida seminar presented at Church by the Glades, Rhonda shared some lessons she learned while working with such an iconic artist.
The Value of Respecting your Role
When asked about the most important lessons she learned about music from her time with Prince, Smith replied, “playing in the pocket.” She related a story of how the late, great drummer John Blackwell, Jr. once received 3 fines in a row for overplaying (Prince charged his musicians $500 for each time they were guilty of this). In her own playing, she shared, she looks for a delicate balance between creating her own sound and playing only what the music calls for. Repeating Prince’s axiom, she stated, “There are six members in the (five piece) band, and the sixth member is silence.”
The Value of Being Flexible
One member of the audience asked Rhonda if she ever felt tension between being a solo / freelance artist, and being a dedicated member of Prince’s group. She explained that while Prince demanded loyalty and extreme amounts of dedicated time, she never felt that it was a bad trade off. “There are perks to playing with Prince,” she stated wryly. As a freelance artist, her approach is to be ready when the touring season is over and major acts aren’t calling. “Major artists don’t have to tour all the time. They can go months between releasing new material. We (freelance musicians) are professional jugglers,” she said, explaining how she managed her decisions to work with one artist or another. More often than not, of course, she chose to remain with Prince even when new opportunities presented themselves. (And, who could blame her?)
The Value of Knowing the Business
While Rhonda fondly shared memories of working with Prince (“I have trouble speaking about him in the past tense”, she admitted), she was just as passionate in sharing the keys behind Prince’s business sense. She related the need for artists to be just as financially responsible as they are musically skilled, and she gave detailed examples of what that looks like for the modern professional musician. Tips she shared included: finding an accountant that knows the music and entertainment industry; determining if you will do business as an individual proprietor, an S-corp or other business entity; making plans for retirement; and, making sure that the management you hire and the partners on your team are honest, effective and willing to make your career a priority. “Wisdom is doing today what will help you in the future,” she stated, and by making use of sound business practices, she plans to be in a good position throughout and after her playing career.
As a backing musician, solo artist, entrepreneur and musical ambassador, Rhonda Smith seems to know exactly what she wants to achieve and how to do so. After hearing .her perspective on life and music, it’s clear that Prince’s legacy is alive and well in the musicians that were privileged to learn from him.
You can learn more about Rhonda Smith’s music and projects at www.rhondasmith.com.
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