Friday, April 22, 2011

What does it take to "break" in today's music industry?

If you're looking to see artistic works that will blow your mind, you'd be hard pressed to find a better place for that than the Nashville Film Festival, which wrapped up at the Green Hills Cinema Thursday.

But one of the best films of the week had to Broke, which made its world debut at the Festival on April 20. Broke is a documentary tracing the rise of Will Gray, an independent artist on a journey to establish himself in today's ever changing music industry

What's so special about Gray? He blends hip hop and R&B with folk music, and pulls off this mix of styles flawlessly. One minute you might see him spitting rhymes at warp speed, while the next he might be crooning a ballad, all while violins, banjos, mandolins, and other assorted instruments create music that wraps around Gray's rhymes.

The film, self directed by Gray, encapsulates his journey from the time he was a simple high school student, experimenting with sounds by dropping chains on a table, all the way up to his near miss at a record deal with Warner.

Along the way, we watch as he digs himself into a financial hole to fund his own tour, grows tighter with his group of friends/advisers/bandmates, and takes aim with T Bone Burnett to flirt with that elusive major label record deal.

Broke highlights Gray's story, and also briefly showcases several other independent artists, to open a narrative on much larger issues, such as the conflict between the artistic side and the business side in the music world, and discusses the merits of major labels vs. DIY approaches.

The argument the film goes for is that in an ever changing music industry, the influence of major labels will dramatically decline, or perhaps even vanish altogether, in favor of a more organic do it yourself approach.

Is it necessary to redefine what the definition of success is for artists in this new, upcoming model? What exactly is necessary to break an artist? Broke argues that an artist doesn't necessarily need to attain massive superstardom and kajillion dollar profits to consider themselves a success.

To be sure, Broke serves as a nice marketing piece for Gray and the artists he features.  He's a very charismatic figure, and you'll likely find yourself being able to relate and empathize with him.

In all, it proves itself to be a very insightful and informative film on one idea concerning the future of the music industry. It's chock full of interviews from industry insiders, along with Gray's personal story of perseverance. And hey, you even get an occasional Kanye diss.

Since its still making the rounds at film festivals, Broke isn't yet available to the public at large. But Gray, who was present at the Nashville Film Festival screening, hosted a short Q&A session after the movie and said he plans for a DVD release at a later date.

From watching the audience reaction during the show, it seemed like a sure bet that Gray earned himself a legion of new fans right there on the spot. Check out this film if you have the chance, and you may find yourself among them.

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