Before The Music Dies

Before The Music Dies


Reviewed by: George Williamson

Modern music is rubbish, or at least it is unless you're into the plastic-faced, pubescent orators that fill the airtime these days; that's what Andrew Shapter's brother declared on his deathbed and now Shapter has made a documentary to show us exactly why. It's a shame that it makes them come across as narrow minded, grumpy old men.

Before The Music Dies is a collection of interviews and short fragments of music that tells a story of the near impossible challenge facing genuine, soulful, ordinary looking musicians trying to build a career. The main culprit for the difficulties in achieving stardom is revealed to be money. Those more interested in profit than art are now the ones running the radio stations and signing the record company cheques - they bow to the shareholder and instant returns over long term artistic integrity. The argument runs that if artists cannot be allowed to develop their work at their own pace - without the pressure of regular, crowd pleasing releases - there can be no new Dylans, Claptons, Beatles, or Hendrix, as there is no time for new artists to find their sound.

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While its making an interesting - and applaudable - point about the industry, Before The Music Dies feels blinkered. Firstly, it only seems to care about US music and secondly, it only really closely focuses on a portion of the musical spectrum - blues and blues rock. It nods towards soul, country, folk and - briefly - hip-hop to get a broader view, but there appears to be no attempt to encompass electronic or indie music - which represents a large proportion of the successful music of the past 10 years.

It's omissions like this that make the filmmaker's pontifications about the death of music in general seem more like a complaint that their favourite genres of music are no longer modish, indicating that the problem is not with modern music but with the filmmaker's inability to enjoy it. This is compounded by several interviews that actually state that, in this digital age, music has never been easier to produce, and that the rise of the internet as a means of distribution actually helps smaller artists and labels, therefore diversity is thriving.

The film's argument that manufactured pop is dominating radio and television is undeniable, but they sabotage this idea's importance by stating that the purity and heart of music are all that matters; if money is unimportant, then why should anyone care whether they have airtime - and, through it, cash and fame? The film reeks of a need to preach and educate, an idea that people won't be able to make decisions about the quality of music on their own; they need democracy on the air to be able to choose their own tastes (as long as it's adequately 'soulful'); it comes across as extremely condescending.

People are always saying that we are in the end times of music, that there's nothing good being made, however, this usually indicates that they are looking in the wrong places. There's always good music, it's just that you might not like it when you hear it.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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Before The Music Dies packshot
Modern music is going to hell in a handbasket - or so this documentary would have us believe.

Director: Andrew Shapter

Writer: Joel Rasmussen, Andrew Shapter

Starring: Eric Clapton, Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews

Year: 2006

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2006

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