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Before the Music Dies
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by Scott Weinberg

"Love Music but HATE FM Radio? Here's a movie for you."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Finally and at long last comes a documentary that asks the question "Why does modern pop & rock music SUCK SO MUCH?"

Parents always seem to hate their teenagers' favorite music. Whether we're talking about The Beatles, Twisted Sister, or Green Day, there's always someone over 40 years of age ready to shake their fist and scream "Turn that crap down!" But the complainers of today really do seem to have a legitimate gripe. Simply ask yourself which rock stars of today's youth will still be admired 25 years down the road, and try not to strain yourself while naming a few.

Andrew Shapter's excellent Before the Music Dies offers several solid reasons as to why the current state of popular music is in such a stunning rut ... and it's not because there's a shortage of talented new musicians, I can tell you that much. Not to point too many fingers, but the problem seems to lie at the feet of two global giants: MTV, which favors tight abs and blonde hair over talent, and ClearChannel, which aims to do to music what Cheez Whiz has done to cheese.

Through a collection of interviews with journalists, musicians, and certifiable superstars, Shapter puts together a bravely insightful indictment of today's music machine. Not surprisingly, most of the more seasoned veterans deliver the wisest insights. Opinions from Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, and Branford Marsalis were met with appreciative rounds of applause at the screening I attended.

One of the film's best sequences comes early on, when a few participants conspire to "create" a pop icon, from song to singer to video, in less than 10 minutes. It quickly becomes evident that Shapter is not laying the blame on any specific performers, but on an industry that's becoming more and more homogenized and heartless with every passing year. "Homogenized and heartless" might work fine if you're a margarine company, but this is the art of music we're talking about here.

Art and commerce have always maintained a tenuous balance, but in the case of today's radio airwaves, it seems that commerce reigns supreme. Here's a fantastic piece of documentary filmmaking that explains how the music world got this way, and offers a few tips on how we might tip the scales, just a bit, in the other direction.

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originally posted: 03/20/06 10:45:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

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  DVD: 12-Dec-2006



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