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'Artifact' Documentary Review

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Jared Leto, frontman of the band ’30 Seconds to Mars,’ directed a fascinating and eye-opening look at the music industry titled, ‘Artifact.’ Anyone who has a friend in a garage band should make it required viewing. This documentary chronicles the legal dispute between Leto’s band and record label EMI. In 2008, the band was sued for a whopping $30 million dollars. Fast-forward today, the lawsuit was resolved and the band continues its business relationship with EMI. Ingeniously, Leto decided to take this opportunity to intimately document his struggles and self-reflect during this trying period for himself and fellow bandmates, brother Shannon Leto and Tomo Milicevic.

The end result is one of the most candid glimpses into the embattled recording industry. There is a startling scene that sums up the woes of the music business trying to survive the digital age. The band is on tour playing to a sold-out concert venue. On stage, Leto asks the question in his mic, “How many people have a copy of our new record?” Hands in the audience go up. His follow-up question asks the young crowd, “How many people stole that copy from the Internet?” Practically everyone’s hands fly into the air. It’s a sobering moment for artists who depend on royalties for a portion of their livelihood. It’s also a commentary on how big music companies missed the boat. They took too long to adapt to the new technology of downloading music from the Internet. One artist sums it up best when he points out record labels missed a trick by not developing digital distributions. “iTunes should have come from Universal, not Apple,” he laments.

This is not a typical music documentary focusing on the making of their third album, ‘This is War.’ What makes it pop is the added comments from industry insiders and fellow artists such as Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, Serj Tankian of System of the Down and Brandon Boyd of Incubus. They all agree with Leto that the major record labels are not always working in the best interests of the artists. ‘Artifact’ breaks down the unfair recording contracts in a shocking infographic. They purposely use confusing legalese so you practically have to be a lawyer to make any sense of it. The music industry has the advantage. They know that struggling artists are broke and out of desperation will sign any bogus deal for a chance at stardom. The infographic shows the stark reality of how bands go into debt with every album release due to the high recording and promotional costs. When the band finally achieves success and wants to renegotiate their contracts, the record label explains to them they have to pay back millions in debt. The bands are essentially indentured servants to their antiquated contracts and see little future profits.

The band hires music producer Flood (U2, Depeche Mode, Smashing Pumpkins) to help them get through the ordeal and make the album. Tucked away in the Hollywood Hills, the band hashes out their songs and whether it is in their best interest to break away from EMI and promote the album independently. You’ll have to see for yourself how the lawsuit plays out. Leto is not a temperamental artist. He simply stood up against the company because he felt the band was being treated unfairly. He fought for what he believed in and hopes up-and-coming bands will heed some of his advice so they don’t make the same mistakes.

‘Artifact’ premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the People’s Choice documentary award. It is one of the most revealing documentaries about the music business. It is now available on DVD and VOD. Visit FilmBuff for more details Check out the official trailer

Jard Leto is also an accomplished actor in films such as 'Requiem for a Dream' and 'Dallas Buyers Club.' Here's my review of his Oscar-worthy performance


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