SCREENED AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL, WORLD PREMIERE
documentary which focuses on the current state of the music industry as depicted by several interviewees involved in the music industry; people like dave matthews, bonnie raitt, questlove, ex-label executives, small artists, unknown songwriters like david poltz (who co-wrote the jewel hit “you were meant for me”), and many others. forest whitaker narrates.
they begin by giving a brief overview of the music scene of the last hundred years. they begin with blues, jazz and the black experience’s effect on popular music. they contend that strife and urban dwelling make for a good environment for the development of quality music. as an aside, the documentary “metal: a headbanger’s journey” makes a similar contention, but for suburbia and the disaffection that it fosters. for metal artists, it is said, being away from everything leads to strife which makes some turn to heavy metal as an outlet. in “before the music dies” the contention is that the poor, urban setting is a perfect catalyst for artists coming together and making great music. either way, hardship creates good music. all this is contrasted to today’s artists who are portrayed as, largely, having it too easy and being more about image, youth, beauty, style and fashion rather than heartache and musicianship.
the filmmakers obviously have an axe to grind here and, as a music lover and someone worked in the industry for four years, i can’t blame them. that said, my major gripe with the film is that it gives a rather simplistic view of the music industry – a view that is in many ways 5-10 years outdated. they spend ample time telling the story of the 1996 telecommunications act, which essentially took the ceiling off of radio ownership, and the windfall that that created. they characterize the music scene as being ruled by radio and don’t really give much mention to the minor artists who have made it big outside of radio. they also portray the music scene as being extremely pop-centric when i think that now, more than ever, this is untrue. the internet, ipods, limewire, myspace, etc. have increased the breadth of music this generation is into quite a bit. granted, you’re still probably not going to hear teenagers talking about amadou et mariam or sun ra, but they do listen to more stuff now than they did 10/20 years ago because it’s so readily available.
while they do mention that there is money to be made outside of the major labels towards the end of the film, the film still seems to be stuck in 1998. what i mean is that the filmmakers view the music industry as being about spins, pop music, and mtv, when popular culture has disproven this with such successes as bright eyes debuting at #1 on billboard, wilco, death cab for cutie, the increase in minor labels, mars volta, arcade fire, outkast, etc. these artists either don’t fit the pop mold that the filmmakers depict as so dominate, or do well in spite of not being on clear channel’s 40 song playlist. implicit in their representation of the music industry is an elitism that turns many people away from so-called indie music. phrases like “some people don’t like music they have to think about” add to this elitism and detract from the cause. erykah badu provides another perfect example. she distills the debate this way (roughly): “there are three kinds of artists – the bleeders who sweat over their work and feel it in their bones, the imitators who try to act like the true artists, and those who just do what they’re told. they ask ‘how do you want me to dance? what chord do you want me to play? oh, you want me to wear a wig? okay.'” of course she thinks of herself as belonging to the first group and, judging by the crowd’s pleasant reaction to her explanation, most others do as well, but i have to wonder how many people in the audience know that she wears a wig. to me, she’s as much about image as anyone else in music. granted, it’s a different image, but i found her remarks throughout the film to be incredibly hypocritical. towards the end there is some discussion of the role of the internet but it seemed, in my estimation, to be given less import than it deserves.
the film essentially boils down to the ubiquitous struggle of art and money. while i agreed with some of their sentiments i found that the film was often hypocritical (badu and the rock-centric viewpoint being my two biggest points of contention) and didactic. there were certainly some high points – the illustrations of just how simply a pop song can be written or how easily a pop princess can be made were great; as were the interviews with branford marsalis, bonnie raitt and questlove.Watched in theater Watched on TV