28 March 2016

'Artifact' and the Art of Screwing Artists

As much as I love video games and music, I tend to go through periods of preferring one over the other for a year or two. My high school years mostly had me listening to all kinds of bands Pandora and my online friends recommended. After finding a nearly a hundred, only ten or so are bands I still frequently listen to as I play video games during my days at college. One of them is Thirty Seconds to Mars.

They're not one of my all-time favorites, but I've enjoyed enough of their work to have the majority - if not the entirety - of their discography (along with Lacuna Coil, Bentley Jones, Breaking Benjamin, and HIM). I generally like Thirty Seconds to Mars' take on alternative rock with lots of melodies, a touch of harsh vocals, and occasional periods of building atmosphere to set a song's unique tone. Most of their songs tend to stand out to me because the band occasionally changes up the "format" of a song. They tend to follow the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus pattern, but sometimes they throw in an instrumental break near the middle of a song that typically happens in the progressive rock genre. Throw in lyrics with tons of references to literature, religion, and mythology, some pretentious and philosophical music videos, and a tiny bit of self-awareness and that's Thirty Seconds to Mars. If more "ambitious" people who sing, act, direct, and be a celebrity who don't make huge holier-than-thou asses of themselves and their work like Jared Leto, I might be less of a skeptical person.

Or maybe Jared is an elitist asshole who hates his fans. Haven't seen or heard of any meltdowns yet on Twitter, so I'm staying optimistic.

Since I bought Thirty Seconds to Mars' 2012 album a few years ago and used it to help my creative writing juice flow, I went back and re-listened to all their albums I owned. Then I realized I never purchased This Is War from 2009. After watching Artifact, which details the making of that album, I felt the obligation to smack the past me on the head and buy This Is War.

To some degree, I'm thankful I shifted back to my gaming hobby. In these past few years I have become far more aware of the ways the internet has impacted various branches of entertainment industry. I still think the gaming industry is pretty suicidal and making a ton of stupid mistakes, but at least the Indie market is doing reasonably well (minus Steam's flooding of half-assed projects due to horrid testing and similar bureaucratic filters... and Gamergate). At least consumers have an easier time investigating the game's quality via chat groups, user-based review sites, and let's players on Youtube. At least some people are willing to buy a game after watching someone play it. At least the more tech-savvy folks are the ones pirating games and tweaking their consoles and PCs to steal and emulate games rather than any John or Mary across the street.

I'm saying this because, in comparison to the music industry, gaming seems pretty damn stable -

Yeah... As someone with wild curly hair, I have no sympathy.
- ok... sometimes. Fair enough.

Anywho. Regardless of frontman Jared Leto's motivations, Artifact describes how the state of the record industry has made the job of making music more of a nightmare than I was told. I remember back in 2008 when Thirty Seconds to Mars got caught in a middle of a lawsuit with their record company EMI, and I dismissed it at the time because I hardly understood what was going on. After watching this documentary twice, I realized how bafflingly ignorant and in the dark I was about the music industry.

At this point I now wonder if the benefit of taking different classes in a variety of fields of study in college is that one can become more educated on the basics of how convoluted the world is. Take a class that improves reading comprehension, take another that gives you a foundation in logic, and another to improve your ability to investigate and research issues before you make a decision. You can't afford to drop out of high school, form a band, create music, get laid, and live happily ever after. The company that gives you a deal will have so many papers written in a language only a lawyer can decode and requiring your signature under the assumption you understand everything perfectly. At this point, nearly every career field you enter will likely have lots of confusing paperwork to peruse and so much money will be at risk.

Even if there is no giant conspiracy theory about how record companies never pay the performer a cent off their album due to a busload of expenses, some of the aspects of packaging an album seem really bizarre and stupid - even in theory. Common sense would tell you - or at least me - that if a song is released digitally, it's price shouldn't be influenced by packaging insurance for physical CDs, right? WHELP, NOPE. Let's keep packaging costs on a non-physical product just in case someone sits on it and breaks it because their ass is bony. Let's have that clause and a thousand others snuck in on page 498 of the contract so there is no way a sane human being, or an ignorant "all about the art" musician would understand or read due to chronic fatigue.

I am so glad I'm studying in the social sciences field. At least my debt won't be in the millions because the industries I might work for get off on making people their bitch for life.

As for This Is War, it's an ok album. My favorite might still be Love, Lust, Faith, and Dreams, but This Is War still had solid enough tracks that watching a "making of" movie was interesting. But this might just be me talking, a person who likes behind-the-scenes footage and commentary on things I find interesting, like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Unlike two fantasy epics with rich lore and hundreds of ideas scrapped and never implemented in movie adaptations, This Is War's backstory - so to speak - may only be interesting because of Thirty Seconds to Mars' lawsuit insanity. Even with how mundane and boring the idea may be to many, I still found this movie fascinating because of the insight into making an album while the company in charge of Thirty Seconds to Mars is treating its laundry better than the band it offered a contract to.

While it was nice hearing other musicians and former record industry employees talk about their experiences, Artifact still holds some bias... understandably so. Because it spends so much time bashing the industry for its legitimately terrible and nonsensical elements, there is no doubt another side to the story is missing. Anyone who could bring the other side of the issue did not wish to be interviewed or talked to, thus leaving the discussion somewhat one-sided.

This might be due to EMI and its people realizing what they did was indeed crazy and they refuse to let their reputations be burned, or because they are keeping their mouths shut with unspeakable horrors being threatened upon them if they speak. Or maybe they feared Jared Leto and co would skew their words and paint them as villains. Who knows? At some point it'd be nice to know what goes behind closed doors, be it via a leak, an investigation, or a public announcement. I hope more for the latter two options, because I still want to believe that justice and fairness can be served legally.

I learned to pay more attention to what's going on in the entertainment industry thanks to Artifact. There are important issues worth discussing if only stories like this come forward and give a small window view of reality behind "fun". People's livelihoods will always be affected by business, legal, and political nonsense, and denying such problems exist diminishes the legitimacy and importance of the people involved. I don't know the men in Thirty Seconds to Mars personally, but they and other artists deserve better than what the music industry does to them. As much as I'd love to boycott in protest, it'll drive them into more debt. I'd love to know the right answer to fix all the problems in the entertainment industry, but nothing can be accomplished unless more people take these problems seriously enough to demand change.

Maybe the band not getting paid well is the reason Jared Leto takes on a wide range of other professional opportunities, for better or worse.


...Maybe if I'm bored, drunk, and miserably unemployed by the time it comes out. Otherwise, I'll stick with his music.

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