Before the Music Dies is an extraordinary documentary and cautionary overview about the state of the music business in America. Written by Andrew Shapter and Joel Rasmussen, 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. that is no longer nurtured and supported commercially.
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.
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.