Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Artifact": Jared Leto documents who the old business relationship between record labels and artists needs to crumble away (story of "30 Seconds to Mars")

Artists have a particular gift: what they think of inspires other people.  It is difficult to merge art and commerce.  And the new gatekeepers in the world of art are not the moneyman beancounters, but the fans. What human beings crave is two things: sex and music, both of which transcend space-time. 
Those are a few paraphrases from the new (2012) indie documentary “Artifact”, by Jared Leto, who directed it with the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins, because of litigation – a $30 million lawsuit by EMI for “breach of contract” by his group “30 Seconds to Mars”.  (Actually, at the speed of light, it’s more like 15 minutes.) 
The film explains the old business model for the record industry in popular music.  It would provide an advance to the artist to produce the album, and then claim about 85% of the revenue from album sales, and try to charge the artists for all kinds of promotional expenses, keeping the artist indentured.  
This plantation model (it sounds like Reconstruction, and it seems to treat artists as their slaves) developed in the 1950s, and carried forward, but really began to fall apart with the rise of the Internet.  The industry says that it’s illegal downloading and piracy that has destroyed it (hence the battles over Protect-IP and SOPA in 2011), but it’s also the fact that consumers want to buy single songs, which they normally can do legally from iTtunes of Amazon for something like $1 a piece.  Really, though, singles (as MPG files) are rather like the old 45 RPM records with the big turntable spindle.  Remember those?
The film points out that younger adults, however, have grown up in a world where they expect to get their music free.  Under this kind of pressure, old business models cannot survive.  And probably service platforms that enable free content cannot live forever if the public is too persnickety about ads and abut being tracked.  Reid Ewing’s satirical short films based on the “it’s free” concept (May 13, 2013) seem to apply here. 
Part of the story behind the litigation is that EMI got taken over by corporate raider Guy Hands, who then tried to bilk the company, which at first refused to settle with “Mars”, which claimed that in California artists were held only to seven year contracts.

At some points, the company seemed to be trying to control everything the Leto brothers did, with supposed "360 contract logic".  That explains the pseudonym for the director.  I've never had an advance for any work, but imagine if a company tried to control my blogs and the content of my own books.  It sounds unbelievable. 
There is some factual history on Wikipedia about the lawsuit against “Thirty Seconds to Mars” here.  The record label had been Virgin, which then had belonged to EMI.
The film is told largely from Jared Leto’s viewpoint, but he shares the stage with his older brother Shannon. Both were raised poor in the bayous of Louisiana, and the film has an impressive shot of the swamps and beaches.
The group’s album “The Is War” would become a success, but still the group had not been paid by the EMI carcass (after Citibank bought it and split it up) as of the time of filming.

The official site is here.
Leto, about 38 or 39 at the time of the filming, looks more like a perfect 25, partly because of his lean appearance.  At the time, he had not yet made “Dallas Buyer’s Club” where he would have to shed his external trappings of manhood and play a totally committed transgendered person.  Leto also was heavily made up to be the old man in "Mr. Nobody".  I wasn't aware before of that most of Mr. Leto's career energy have gone into his music.
If Leto has his "30 Seconds to Mars", I have my screenplay "69 Minutes to Titan".

Just tonight on the CBS Grammys, the awards a mentioning producing successful music releases independently without record labes and still getting the audience numbers. That's what this movie is all about!

Leto appeared himself (a man again) at the Grammy's to announce the appearance of a performance of "One" by Metallica from his band (from "This Is War"?)
Pictures:  mine, NYC (2014), Gulf Coast of MS (2006).

Don't confuse this film with the Belgian experimental horror thriller "Artifacts", reviewed here March 20, 2014. 

No comments: