Before the Music Dies (Featuring Dave Matthews, Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, and Branford Marsalis) Review

by Constance Tucker

Before the Music Dies is an exemplary documentary and cautionary overview about the state of the music business in America. Written by Andrew Shapter and Joel Rasmussen (and directed by Shapter), each of whom lost loved ones who happened to be musicians, Before the Music Dies is a journey through a vital music scene in the U.S.—-artistically speaking—-that is no longer nurtured and supported commercially but offers the substance and historical background rooted in American music artforms. Shapter and Rasmussen take a chapter-like approach to demonstrating how every phase of getting music from artists to consumers is under the control of conglomerates and bottom-line analysts primarily concerned with keeping investors happy. Thus, we see musicians with enormous potential eschewed by the handful of major record labels that are still around. Meanwhile—-as Eric Clapton, interviewed for the film, puts it—-“entire teams of makeover people and technicians exist to turn tone-deaf but attractive women into pop stars.” Gee we haven’t seen any evidence of that in our industry have we….Brittany!
Also highlighted is the record industry’s love-hate relationship with file-sharing and downloadable music stored on sundry listening devices, which threatens control over commercially-packaged content as well as the enormous profits reaped from highly-priced CDs.
Several case studies—-especially the story of singer-songwriter-bluesman Doyle Bramhall II and how he survived ill treatment by a major only to find success on the same independent label as Dave Matthews-—is fascinating. Interviewees include Branford Marsalis, Bonnie Raitt, Matthews, Elvis Costello, and Erykah Badu all a part of highly desired genre’s again not supported by the establishment.
For those not familiar with the explotation of major label stories this could well be an educational journey to explore.

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