MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 04: Musician Prince performs during the
Prince performing at Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears in Miami Gardens, Florida in 2007 © Getty

Prince’s estate is gearing up to unleash his music catalogue to Spotify and other digital music platforms this weekend, bringing one of music’s highest-profile holdouts back to streaming services at a time when they are helping the industry reverse its long sales slide. 

Music companies and Spotify are planning a splashy marketing campaign to debut the return of hit albums such as “Purple Rain” to streaming sites, almost two years after the late musician pulled his music from most online services. 

Prince’s songs are set to return to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Deezer, iHeartRadio and other sites around the time of the Grammy Awards on Sunday, which is expected to pay tribute to the late musician, according to people familiar with the plans. 

Warner Music holds the licensing rights to the majority of Prince’s hit songs recorded before 1996, through a deal the singer-songwriter struck with its Warner Bros label in 2014. 

The rest of his music, including his albums after 1996 and unreleased songs, are being auctioned off by Prince’s estate, with offers in the range of $40m to $50m, said one person familiar with the matter. The three major labels, Vivendi-owned Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner are vying for the coveted catalogue. “It’s a very hot auction,” one executive said. 

Liverpool, UNITED KINGDOM: Copies of the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday are seen 15 July 2007 with the new album by US artist Prince. The album comprises the entire 10 tracks from the new album and is free with the newspaper, the first time this has happened. The album is not due to go on sale until 24 July 2007, but Prince plans to give away copies to fans attending one of his 21 concerts at the O2 arena in southeast London in August and September. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Copies of the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday are seen on 15 July 2007 with the album Planet Earth by Prince © AFP

Charles Koppelman, an administrator of Prince’s estate, declined to comment. Spotify also declined to comment, although the company has put up purple billboards in New York subway stations, prompting speculation of Prince’s return. 

Prince, one of the most successful pop stars of his generation, had clashed for decades with record labels, and later digital music companies, as he sought to fiercely protect his work. In 2015 he pulled his music from Spotify and other streaming sites except for Tidal, the company led by Jay Z. “Spotify wasn’t paying, so you gotta to shut it down,” he said at the time. 

Other big stars have also hit out at sites such as Spotify and YouTube, which offer music for free — notably Taylor Swift, who pulled all her songs from Spotify in 2014. Her work has still not returned to the service. 

A picture taken on July 22, 2010 in Paris shows issues of French weekly newspaper Courrier International distributed with US singer Prince's new album "20Ten" for free. Readers of Europe will be offered the album with their newspapers in the same original manner, as the UK?s Daily Mirror and Daily Record, for example. AFP PHOTO MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on July 22, 2010 in Paris shows issues of French weekly newspaper Courrier International distributed with Prince's album 20Ten for free © AFP

However, the record labels and some artists have warmed to streaming as more people sign up for access to 30m songs on services like Spotify and Apple Music. Sales from digital streaming grew more than 50 per cent last year, powering revenue growth at the big music companies, which receive royalty payments each time their songs are streamed. Some analysts say the growth in streaming will drive a turnround for the industry after more than a decade of falling album sales. 

Prince’s contract with Warner Bros expired in 1996, after which he released several albums using his own label and experimented with selling music directly to fans through his website. In 2014, he re-signed with Warner and regained ownership of his catalogue, leaving the music label in prime position to benefit from his music becoming more available online. 

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