Remembering Prince: Captioning his Lyrics

By: David Titmus
Prince playing guitar

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How Prince once Saved VITAC’s Captioning of his Songs

People all over the world this week are sharing stories and memories honoring the life of musician, Prince.

With a career spanning almost four decades, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and seven Grammy awards, his music touched millions. After reading so many wonderful accounts from celebrities, and personal friends, coworkers, and family of mine, I feel compelled to share my own Prince anecdote:

It was March 1, 2013. I was a realtime production coordinator here at VITAC at the time. One of my duties on that particular evening was being in charge of script preparation for one of my absolute favorite programs, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Before every show taping, the production assistants from Late Night would send us the rundown for the program, sometimes even scripts for the pre-written segments, and lyrics for the musical guests’ performances. This would get sent to the realtime captioner to prepare for the show, and assist in perfecting the file afterwards for the 12:35 AM airing. Preparation material like this is now part of the FCC’s Caption Quality Best Practices, but wasn’t mandatory at the time. Late Night and a few other shows were dedicated to caption accuracy ahead of the Report and Order.

The show’s guests that night were Mariah Carey, and the hilarious Billy Eichner. The musical guest was Prince.  A big show! Prince was going to be performing two of his new songs that were previously unreleased.

When I reviewed the preparation materials, the song’s lyrics were missing. At the time, I didn’t think it was too big a deal. We would be recording the show, and could at least transcribe the lyrics if we had to.

Prince’s performance didn’t happen until a little later, after the taping. I can’t recall if we missed it for our recording, but I do know that the songs in the rundown were completely unavailable on the Internet. The songs had never before been released, anywhere. Prince had been very secretive about his new music to this point, and their debut was going to be on the show, and was even unavailable to those at Late Night. Our team was in a panic.

After some emails and phone calls, we received the lyrics. From what I can remember, it was Prince himself who was consulted and approved; once he found out they were for the closed captions!

With all of the Prince tributes that have happened this week, including this past weekend’s SNL, we’re glad that we receive musical lyrics ahead of time to ensure that everyone can enjoy them.

By Brittany Bender