Though most artists aren’t quite as grandiose with their unreleased music storage as Prince was (leaving it in a bank vault that had to be broken into because he was the only person who knew the access code), it’s likely that most musicians will leave unfinished albums, songs, and ideas. It’s a potential boon to fans and to lawyers who indirectly help to define the legacies of artists through court-room combat, but does actual good come from sifting through the creative scrap pile of artists who may have had reason to bury those works?
We don’t yet know the exact contents of Prince’s vault, but the rumors are spectacular. One is also quite heartbreaking — a 1996 children’s music project authored by Prince and his then-wife in celebration of the birth of their son. Unfortunately, the boy died a week into his life and the project was reportedly hidden in the vault. Do we need to hear those very personal songs? It almost feels like an invasion, but it’s impossible to know Prince’s stance on such things since he inexplicably didn’t leave a will or other instructions (despite an obsession with the digital rights management of his intellectual property) and vacillated between reportedly wanting to burn the vault’s contents and accepting that they would one day see the light of day after he died.
Adam Yauch (aka MCA from The Beastie Boys) was not similarly ambiguous when it came time to plot a course for his music after he died. Whereas other artists have been exploited after their death, their images used in commercials or other products (Kurt Cobain’s appearance in Guitar Hero springs to mind), and their music feasted upon by advertisers, Yauch’s will is restrictive and respectful of the footprint that he wanted to leave on the world.