As a musician and funk artist, Prince Charles Alexander can light up a stage. But as a passionate teacher with a career filled with amazing successes, he can also light-up a classroom to inspire future music producers.
By continually following his passions and staying self-aware of what makes him happy, Alexander has filled his career with big leaps and challenges that have kept his love for music at the forefront of his livelihood. From front-man musician to Grammy-award winning producer and engineer to highly regarded professor, Alexander seems to have figured out how to stay both relevant and energized in the ultra-competitive music industry.
That’s why he’s the perfect subject for our series of Men in the Arts.
“The key is to create the change you want to become. This is what true creativity means for me.”
About Prince Charles Alexander
Prince Charles Alexander is a sought-after recording and mixing engineer whose clients include Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, Faith Evans, P. Diddy, the Notorious B.I.G., Usher, Boyz II Men, Brandy, Babyface, Sting, Aretha Franklin, Usher, Brian McKnight, and others. Alexander has garnered more than 40 Platinum and Gold certifications from the RIAA and has multiple Grammy Awards and nominations. He holds an adjunct instructor position at New York University’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, has taught audio technology at the Institute of Audio Research, and is a frequent lecturer at the City College of New York in Manhattan.
Alexander currently teaches advanced production and mixing at Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory. From the early to mid 1980s, he produced, wrote, and recorded on Virgin Records with his group, Prince Charles and the City Beat Band. Alexander was an early innovator of wind synthesis and a part of the “punk-funk” generation that incorporated many of the devices that would propel rap music to the forefront of the American music scene.
“I never felt that the career was demanding. I was simply driven to be the best I could possibly be.”
Raising Nerd: Tell us about how you found your career in music. What got you started and motivated to pursue such a demanding career?
Prince Charles Alexander: I found my career by taking clarinet lessons in the 7th grade. That led to saxophone and eventually flute throughout high school.
One of the ways to learn your instrument is to listen to great records of people playing your instrument. Little did I know that the skill of listening was grooming me for an occupation beyond a single instrument, because one of the people I listened to was also a record producer. I listened to Isaac Hayes over and over until my mom took me to his concert shortly after he had released the soundtrack to the movie SHAFT. I’ll never forget it, I was 13 years old and told my mom that’s what I want to do with my life. When I graduated college, I released an album that found local and then regional success, which led to a distribution deal with Virgin Records. When I went to London, Isaac Hayes greeted me at my “Welcome to Virgin Records” party. I never felt that the career was demanding. I was simply driven to be the best I could possibly be.
RN: What advice would you give to the parents that have children that are interested in pursuing a career in music — either as an artist, engineer/producer, or other area? Do you see your own children following in your footsteps?
Prince Charles Alexander: A career in music is an entrepreneurial pursuit. One must understand the business of music in order to have a career in music. If the creativity is balanced with entrepreneurship, then a career in music will happen. I do not want my children to enter the music business because it is a tough and grueling business. With that said, if I can convince anyone that they don’t need to do this, then they never really wanted it in the first place. I really wanted this life.
RN: Music is such a challenging career and takes years to reach success. There are thousands of stories of frustrated artists that gave up. At what point did you realize that you had “made it” and had achieved a career as an artist?
Prince Charles Alexander: Well, I have been an artist as a front man, and an artist as a producer, and an artist as an audio engineer. The idea of “making it” is fluid because success is fleeting. My engineering career helped me sort out my humanity so that I would not have to define myself by my latest “hit.” I am now married to a successful process that I teach to my students. Within this process are short-term and long-term goals, including sales, streams, awards and financial compensation. If one trusts the process, then one is always successful. Yes, platinum records and Grammys live within the process. So, the real answer is, I’m still making it and have no desire to stop.
RN: At Raising Nerd, we believe that failure is an important part of finding success. Talk to us about how you had to handle failure or frustration in your life or career and how you managed through it.
Prince Charles Alexander: As an artist, I was living in Boston and had grown successful enough that everyone knew me. But I was not making a livable income. I decided to move to a place where I could explore more options within my musical creativity. I moved to New York with 13 dollars and within 2 years had a deal with Virgin Records.
Moving to NY was the best thing I could have done for my artist’s career. I was, at that time, a funk artist. But Hip-hop’s birth and growth participated in the decline of funk. I handled that by taking audio engineering classes and studying hip-hop as a science from behind the scenes. That was the best thing I did for my career as a record producer because audio engineering was a more tangible skill than record producing. This garnered me my platinum and Grammy winning accolades.
Finally, successes alone cannot sustain a fertile mind. I needed growth. I did not feel like there was growth potential for me as a human being by remaining a producer/engineer within the music industry. I sought out a role in academia, and that has been the best decision for me at this point in my life. It is age appropriate and far less stressful than playing a young man’s game with a mature body. I feel like a professional athlete that is now a coach. I’m having a blast!
RN: You’ve had several transitions in your career. At what point did you know that it was a time for a change?
Prince Charles Alexander: Creativity can be tough, but it can also be “the most fun you’ve ever had with your clothes on.” When being an artist was no longer fun, I needed change. When being a producer/engineer was no longer fun, I needed change. When being a faculty member is no longer fun, I will need change. The key is to create the change you want to become. This is what true creativity means for me. I have been fortunate and prescient concerning the changes in my life. They have all yielded upward growth. My goal is to continue in this fashion with no end in sight.
RN:You’ve done so much in your career: Musician, Recording Artist, Producer/Engineer, Teacher. What keeps you creative and moving forward?
Prince Charles Alexander: Passion. I am passionately driven to communicate the joy of life to as many people as possible. This was communicated to me, through my television set, by Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was a child. What he gave me, I wish to give to as many people as possible. It is a self-perpetuating and continuous inner drive to better the lives of other human beings that some people are born with. I have it in abundance!
RN: Lastly, if you could have dinner with any two people, past, present, future or fiction, who would it be, why, and what would be the topic of discussion?
Prince Charles Alexander: Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The topic would be “race relations in America.” The topic will never get old until is in no longer a topic.
Enjoy our focus on Men in the Arts as we share the diverse stories and perspectives of some incredibly talented artists, designers, photographers/videographers, and musicians whose creative careers all have been influenced in some way(s) by the STEM disciplines. We hope you and your Nerds will find inspiration and encouragement through the eyes of these artists.
This is our Nerd series on Men in the Arts!