Before The Music Dies looked at the current state of the music industry. Once there were hundreds of record labels and radio stations operated by local owners. Now there are four major record labels and some conglomerated businesses owning a large portion of radio stations. At the same time, there are more musicians with more avenues of distribution available. The movie reflected on these shifts and how they affect the music being released to the ordinary listener.
One strength of this movie was the composite of interviews shown. The producers equally voiced the opinions of musicians, industry insiders, critics, and average music fans. The musicians were from differing genres and varying levels of popularity. ?uestlove bluntly explained the disparity between commodity and art. As commodity gains control, art disappears. Erykah Badu explained that there are 3 types of artists: the one who is in pain to express themselves, the one who knows how to imitate that, and the one who does what they are told. She continued to say that the first one will be more popular than rich, the second will be richer than admiration entitles, and the third is ever replaceable.
For the modern music fan, it has been easy to be cynical about the current state of the music industry. With that said, this film could have easily ended on a down note. Instead, it left a very positive impression of the future of music. The movie did an excellent job of explaining the new roles of the record labels. They are no longer the only way to release music. Now musicians can do it themselves. Rather than disapproving of the deterioration of the role of A&R in modern music labels, Before The Music Dies explained that the musician is now in control of their career development. As Branford Marsalis explained the function of the modern day A&R rep, “It’s just a useless middleman.” The movie left a strong understanding that the major labels are designed to release music to the masses. Most music fans and musicians need and want more than the instant gratification of a 3-minute pop song and there are now more paths available to fulfill these desires.
The audience at The Carnegie in Covington, KY, was very enthusiastic to this one-time screening. After notable performances, such as the opening scene of “Agent Double-O Soul” by Billy Preston with Ray Charles and “Harmonica Improvisation (105)” by Guy Forsythe, the spectators broke into applause as if they were at a live performance. There were also many humorous moments. From Erykah Badu sarcastically declaring that a musician needs to be naked with nothing but glitter and a pager to Dave Matthews announcing that his band doesn’t test well with focus groups, the theater was filled with laughter.
The final message of the film was to stay true to your passion. A musician does not need to feel trapped by the shortcomings of the label system. Find a way to make money doing what you love. That message allowed the viewers, whether they are a musician or a music fan, to be optimistic about the musical future. The local musicians I talked to after the screening wanted to go home and write or play music. The writers wanted to write. The artists were inspired.
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