I watched the band Thirty Seconds to Mars’ documentary this weekend: Artifact.
I thought it would be interesting to see mainly because I’ve read so much about the changes to book publishing that have come with the advent of digital distribution (e-books, etc) – and there are obviously some parallels to be made with the changes that have taken place in the music industry. But I only have a really superficial understanding of how record companies work, and of what the professional climate is like for working musicians. I don’t understand the nuances of that world at all. I thought this documentary looked promising for fleshing out my knowledge base a little bit.
And wow…did it ever.
This was a really, really interesting film. And not just for the reasons that drew me to it in the first place.
If you’re interested in the business of the music industry in any way…or if you are interested in things-indie and/or entrepreneurial…or if you’re interested in experiencing a depressingly excellent example of the way big companies can take advantage of people…I think you would find this film worthwhile to watch.
It was also a depiction of the struggles artists face when trying to maintain integrity and a purity of vision while also balancing the demands of commerce (without which nobody would be able to experience their work).
This was really inspiring, actually. These guys clearly care deeply about the ART of what they’re doing (expressing something real, connecting with people, etc.) It’s impossible to watch this and not feel that – and respect that.
I have no idea, feeling like they obviously do about what they do, how they managed to put a whole album together under the circumstances.
The circumstances being: They chose, in 2008, to opt out of their contract with their record label EMI – and the label turned around and sued them for the insanely large sum of $30 million. Artifact is the documentary they made (completely independently) chronicling the experience.
Here’s the trailer:
Let me stress that you don’t have to be a fan of the band to find this documentary very worth watching. I do like them – but I’ve only starting listening to them in the last two months or so. I have their Unplugged EP and a few random songs. I follow Jared Leto (the songwriter/lead singer) on Twitter – but that’s because he tweets really interesting art links (and I’m trying to find more of those).
I lay that out because I think it might be easy to ignore this documentary if you don’t care about the band or don’t like the music. And that would be a shame. The infographic illustrating the way music industry royalties are distributed alone makes it worth it to watch this.
That infographic was actually SHOCKING to me. Not that authors don’t have legitimate things to complain about in regard to the way book publishing works…but musicians must look at complaining authors and just roll their eyes. Book publishing has NOTHING on the music industry.
So my only complaint after watching this film is that I rented it on iTunes, and now my 24 hours is up – and I’d like to watch it again because I’m still thinking about it. And I can’t!
I suppose my most lingering questions after-the-fact here wouldn’t really be answered by watching it again anyway. These are questions I’d have to actually ASK somebody.
A few examples (and these will give away certain parts of the film, so you might want to skip this next bit if you are planning to watch it!):
1) They had been planning to get started making their album before they got hit with the lawsuit – and when they did, they went ahead and began recording anyway, financing it themselves.
I’m curious about what drove that decision. A need to focus on something (and not let the lawsuit have power over their professional goals)? Or was it more that it was a strategic move (a bargaining chip of some sort)?
2) This was (they noted) the first time they’d made an album without input from industry people. It was just them and their producer and a few tech people.
Probably the thing that appeals to me more than any other aspect of independently publishing books is the artistic freedom of the act. All of the content, and the way you choose to present that content, and the way you package the product (the formatting, the cover art), and anything else you choose to do with it (audiobooks, etc.) – it’s all up to you. I LOVE this. (I wrote more about why here.)
But Thirty Seconds to Mars had this freedom pretty much dumped on them, without preparation for it – and I’m wondering, in those circumstances, whether that actually felt very liberating…or if it was more intimidating. It seemed in the film to be a little of both (which stands to reason.) I’m just curious about which way it was more heavily weighted.
3) The way they used their music against the events of the film was really powerful. I mean, I don’t think they could have written a better soundtrack for the film. But some (all even?) of those songs had to have been written prior to the lawsuit. I’m curious about how (and if) the songs that were written beforehand changed in the circumstances. And I’m wondering which songs (if any) were written directly FOR the circumstances. (“This is War”?)
4) There was a point made at the end that Thirty Seconds to Mars’ international presence made a difference to the band’s decision to re-sign with EMI. I’m know I’m really ignorant about how this stuff works…but I’m wondering HOW exactly the international aspect affected the decision. I mean, is it simply because it’s just very time-consuming to deal with the commercial aspects (selling product, touring) when you’re talking about regions all over the world? I looked at their current touring schedule; they go not just to Europe, but to Russia and South America. One of their videos was filmed in China – so I assume they play there. They’re REALLY an international band.
I’m just curious, if they didn’t have this big international following, if they would have been more likely to go indie.
5) They did some recording in an AMAZING Frank Lloyd Wright house (which is now on my list of places I want to see someday. Check this out…absolutely stunning place.) I’m curious as to what parts of the album were recorded there.
6) This last has nothing at all (almost) to do with the film – but, as I said above, I follow Jared Leto on Twitter. He’s been tweeting a lot lately about this line of products he makes featuring these odd little figures called “Creeps.” They all look like they’ve been through some rough times!
I didn’t like them at first. I liked the bold lines and the primary colors – but I didn’t like the figures. I wanted them to be happy, I think, to match the bright colors, and it was disconcerting to me that they weren’t.
But somehow they grew on me – just recently. (I especially like Rocket Boy.) I’ve been having this weird month (chronicled here.) And I think these strange little guys LOOK like I’ve been feeling – a little beaten up, a little disconcerted, but yet still plugging along through life.
And, now that I feel this little bit of kinship to them, I’m curious as to WHAT ARE THEY REALLY??? What’s the point of them?? IS there a point to them?
Anyway, there’s this two-second moment in Artifact where Jared Leto is actually drawing these guys. Which is why I thought about this.
And, as it is now nearly 3AM and I’m falling into tangents that only narrowly relate to the topic I actually started writing about, I think it’s time to wrap up this post!
I will just say again in closing: Artifact was VERY worth watching. It’s only $3.99 to rent through iTunes (here’s a link.)
Definitely money – and time – well-spent.