In the three-sided bidding war that ignited over Prince in Los Angeles, Warner Bros. undoubtedly held the edge. As we mentioned last time, Prince’s manager Owen Husney had a prior association with Russ Thyret, at that time the label’s Vice President and Director of Promotion. Husney told biographer Dave Hill that he considered Thyret “a friend and a man of heart” (Hill 41). “While everybody was wining, dining, giving us lunches, and promising us homes in Beverly Hills, Russ was the man who took us back to his house, sat on the floor, and talked music with us,” he later elaborated to Per Nilsen’s Uptown fanzine. “And in the back of my mind I was always going toward Warner Bros., because of Russ” (Nilsen 1999 33).
Sure enough, it was with Russ, and Warner, that Prince ultimately signed on June 25, 1977. Personal connections aside, the decision made sense. Warner had a reputation in the industry at the time as an artist-friendly label: its chief executive, Mo Ostin, encouraged a culture of receptiveness to artists’ creative development that would have been appealing to Prince and his management, who insisted on not only a long-term deal but also the ability for Prince to produce his own records. On the latter point, as we’ll discuss next week, Ostin would need a little convincing; but he was willing to invest a considerable amount of time and money in Prince, and that was the most important thing. “Columbia would only give him a two-LP deal, so we decided that we would give him a three-LP deal because we believe[d] in him so strongly,” Ostin recalled to Billboard earlier this year. “And also, because we valued artists, he signed with us” (Aswad 2016).
The actual dollar amount of the contract Prince signed with W.B. has been disputed, and indeed exaggerated: in his interview with Hill, for example, Husney called it “a multi-million dollar deal,” with an initial sum “well into six figures” (Hill 41). The truth, as Nilsen reported it, was quite a bit more modest: an $80,000 advance, with an additional $225,000 if Prince delivered three albums within 27 months. There was also a second option for renewal, entitling the artist to a quarter million for another two albums, delivered within one year. The promised recording budget for the initial, two-year period was $180,000: $60,000 per album. It was, according to Warner Bros. representatives, the biggest recording contract to date for a solo artist–with the exception, randomly, of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Winter (Nilsen 2004 18).