Wednesday, 4 September 2013

A warning to the people; the good and the evil: This Is War...

One girl.

One band.

3 hours of sleep.

11 hours of VyRT in all its VyRTing glory.

3 cans of sugarfree RedBull.

3 screenings.

One documentary.

This.

Is.

A R T I F A C T.



For those of you who don’t know, ARTIFACT began its life as documentary about the making of Thirty Second To Mars’ third studio album, ‘This Is War’. However, it quickly turned into something else. In 2008, the band were sued for $30 million dollars by their record label EMI for breach of contract. The documentary, directed by Bartholomew Cubbins, chronicles the David and Goliath battle between Mars and EMI, and gives us an insider look at the way the music industry works. And that look is damn frightening, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

 
The documentary begins by giving us the background to the lawsuit. Thirty Seconds To Mars had been signed by EMI for nine years, and had sold millions of copies of their first two albums ‘30 Seconds To Mars’ and ‘A Beautiful Lie’. However, they were yet to see any of the profits. They found it ‘bizarre’ (is that really the word you want to use, Jared? How about ‘fucked up’??) that all of this revenue was being generated, and yet they were still $2.7 million dollars in debt. When they approached EMI with their concerns, they were basically told to shut up and go make another album. They decided to terminate their contract with EMI, as under Californian law they could not be held to bound to a contract for more than seven years. EMI fought back, arguing that the seven year statute was not applicable as the band had a commitment based on the number of albums delivered and the amount of money EMI had already spent. And so began the epic battle between Mars and EMI, spanning 211 days and, I’m sure, countless sleepless nights.

 
The thing that struck me the most about this documentary was Jared’s strength throughout the whole process. He took the burden of the lawsuit onto his shoulders, and did his best to shield Shannon and Tomo from the worst of it. He was very transparent in his thought process, and fought like hell to find a deal that was fair for everyone involved. Well, fairER than the deal they had originally made. This proved to be close to impossible, as it seems like the music industry is fundamentally designed to screw over the artist. The following is an excerpt from the film, and it explains how an average record deal works:

 

JARED: A typical record deal is structured something like this:

The record label gives an advance; say $250,000, to the artist to record an album.

The artist then records the album. Suppose the album sells 500,000 copies at $10 each, yielding $5 million dollars. The record company then takes their cut out of the $5 million, typically 85% of the total sales, leaving the artist with $750,000.

But before the artist receives any payments, the label first deducts the advance [now leaving $500,000].

In addition, the label recoups other costs, such as:

·         Recording costs (-$300,000);

·         Half the promotion costs (-$75,000);

·         Half the video costs (-$300,000), and;

·         Tour support (-$250,000)

This leaves the artist $425,000 in debt to the record label. And then this debt gets carried onto the next album, and the next album, and the next album [total of $1,700,000 in debt].

 

Jared also goes onto to detail other hidden items in the contract, which can deduct up to another 45% of the profits.


Now I personally find this TERRIFYING because as a person aiming to pursue a creative life, I know that something like this could very well happen to me. I mean obviously I know that book deals are different to record deals, but the two are not so far removed. A book deal can still royally screw over an author: Just ask L.J Smith, who was fired from writing her own YA series, TheVampire Diaries. The fact that something like that is even a possibility makes me want to crawl into a dark hole and stay there for a very long time. So I honestly don’t know how Jared not only fought this battle, but did so with such grace, integrity, and humour. One of my favourite moments of the film was when EMI told Jared that they were willing to re-enter negotiations, but only if they had final cut of the documentary DESPITE the fact that Mars had filmed it, edited it and done EVERYTHING to do with it on their own. INCLUDING financing it, and believe me, it was NOT cheap (not sure that Jared would want the number advertised as it is never mentioned in the film, so I won’t post it here. But it made me choke on my RedBull.) EMI said that if Jared refused to let them have the final cut (read: suck the profits out of the film, too) they would not allow the band to include any of the music they wrote while signed with EMI, because apparently it belonged to EMI. This meant that all of the music, including all of the shots of the band rehearsing and recording ‘This Is War’, would be cut from the film. Jared told this to Shannon and Tomo, before announcing he was going ‘do it right now, just for fun’, and promptly sitting down at his piano and playing a piece of ‘Alibi’. My God, I love this man. And now I’m getting distracted because Alibi feels. FOCUS!

 
Another thing that really struck me about this documentary was the passion demonstrated by all three members of Thirty Seconds To Mars. They were all completely committed to fighting for what they believed in, despite the very real possibility that they would lose everything. As Tomo put it – they were the black square in Vegas. They put everything on black and rolled the dice, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Although it is not mentioned in the film, during the commentary screening Bartholomew spoke about how EMI tried their best to scare the band out of pursuing the lawsuit by threatening Jared with being blacklisted and telling him that the band’s entire musical career would be over forever. Again, I am in awe of Jared’s ability to push through the fear and continue to fight, especially because he did not share this information with Shannon and Tomo until after the battle was won. He carried the burden of all three of their careers alone.

              
Although I began watching the documentary already knowing the how it would all turn out (it’s not hard to guess!) the ending still wasn’t as triumphant as I had hoped. I had my fingers crossed for a scene in which Jared channelled Angel Face and went all Fight Club on Guy Hands’ ass, but no such luck. But, the band still won in the end. Well, as much as you can win when battling against an archaic system designed to suck you dry*. They re-signed a new, better deal with EMI (which is now part of Universal Music Group) and released the album they had been fighting for – aptly named ‘This Is War’ (seriously – the scene where Jared tells Tomo the title gives me honest to God CHILLS).

 

Towards the end of the film, Jared says this to Tomo:

“Don’t you just want to make something that lives forever? Something that’s phenomenal; something that’s great; something that’s undeniable. That touches the core of every person that hears it. I want to make something beautiful; something moving, something provocative…Something that’s pure and true.”

 Well, Jared, I think it’s safe to say you did it. ‘This Is War’ went on to sell nearly 2 million copies, and the associated tour landed the band in the Guinness World Records for the longest consecutive tour by a rock band in support of a single album. It is the source of inspiration for thousands of people around the world, and I know for me personally, it is the REASON I will NEVER give up on my dreams. If there is only one reason to watch this documentary (which there’s not: there’s actually at least 30 million) it’s because it will inspire you. It will motivate you to fight for what you believe and it will make you realise that it is okay to bet on yourself. Be the black square. Put all your chips on yourself and roll the dice. Fight to the death…In defence of your dreams.

 

TITLE LYRICS: ‘This Is War’ by Thirty Seconds To I’m About To Cry Again

 

*The band has still never been paid for the sales of any of their albums, and according to EMI, they are still apparently $1.7 million dollars in debt.

 

To purchase the DVD or download ARTIFACT (and seriously, DO IT), check out VyRT.
You can watch the trailer HERE.