Begin Again was the surprise-hit indie film of 2014 showing that you don’t need a record label or a studio to make great music. A disillusioned music executive (Mark Ruffalo) crosses paths with an aspiring artist (Keira Knightley) and decide to record music together on the streets of New York City – in the back alleys, on rooftops, in subways, even on a rowing boat on the lake in Central Park. The city becomes their studio.
Gretta: You mean record outside?
Dan: That’s right.
At the heart of the film is its philosophical rethink of the music industry – a revolution of sorts headed by two characters disenchanted with commercialism and over-produced songs. The film offers a keen critique of business getting in the way of authentic musical talent.
Dutch singer Esmée Denters made a surprise appearance on UK singing talent show The Voice in 2015 with a rendition of Coldplay’s Yellow. The judges expressed shock and surprise at her appearance on the show, usually a scene reserved for people wanting to break-out into the music industry. Denters had been signed to Justin Timberlake’s record label Tennman Records producing hit songs like Outta Here and even collaborating with Timberlake himself – so in many ways she had already made it.
So why did such a talented and famous young singer have to prove herself again?
Well, there’s one word that answers this question and it’s business.
Denters acknowledged in her backstory that while she had a sure passion and talent for music, she was not so clued up about the business side of the industry. Her voice passed all the tests but her knack for bringing in money wasn’t so keen so she was dropped from her record label.
‘Unfortunately things didn’t work out. It’s called the music ‘business’ – it’s all about selling things as well.’
Her audition caught the attention of all four judges with glowing praise over her vocals and determination. Rita Ora stated: ‘It just goes to show that you never know what this industry is gonna do…it can swallow you up, spit you out’.
Luckily some artists have been thinking up alternative ways to spread music and love while cutting out the middle-man in the music industry, namely the record label.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis formed their own hip-hop music group in 2008 and have gone from strength to strength with hit songs like Thrift Shop, Can’t Hold Us and Downtown. They have some choice words in their song Jimmy Iovine to explain why they rejected the labels and decided to go solo:
‘I appreciate the offer, thought this is what I wanted. Rather be a starving artist than succeed at getting f*cked.’
For them this move paid off. Did they just open the door to the future of music? I mean they did just prove that you don’t have to be signed to a record label to sell a hell of a lot of tunes – great ones at that.
Their songs clearly take an anti-commercialism stance, something refreshing to hear in the 21st century. And after scooping a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2014 I think we can expect to see a surge in Macklemore-inspired independent artists hoping to rival the corporate music scene and prove that there is another way to make, record, produce and sell music successfully.
This won’t mean the end of mainstream, corporate media but it will mean the rise of independent creative freedom for singing artists.
Gretta: You can’t sign me and I don’t want to be signed.
Dan: That’s right! What’s not to like?