If you want to understand the modern music industry, Artifact makes for essential viewing. The film follows the band Thirty Seconds to Mars as they fight a brutal lawsuit with their record label EMI, write songs to follow their hit album A Beautiful Lie, and struggle with big questions over art, money and integrity. Jared Leto, the band's lead singer and an accomplished actor (Requiem for a Dream; Lord of War), embraced the idea for this documentary as a producer and opened his life to the camera during months of excruciating pressures. We watch Jared, working in makeshift home studios, collaborate with his brother Shannon along with Tomo Milicevic and the superstar producer Flood, to create the album This is War. Between recording sessions, they meet with lawyers to negotiate for the band's survival.
The troubles started in 2008 when Thirty Seconds to Mars tried to exit their contract with EMI. Despite a platinum record, the band hadn't received any royalties. The label turned around and sued the band for $30 million. Many industry watchers viewed the suit as a punitive harassment meant to scare other musicians. Compounding the problem, EMI had recently been bought by the UK equity company Terra Firma for an inflated price of $4.2 billion. Former EMI executives give candid interviews in Artifact describing how the sale resulted in massive upheaval and staff cuts. Once esteemed for its catalogue ranging from the Beatles to Coldplay, EMI appeared to be headed off a cliff.
Leto and his band unexpectedly find themselves poised as a test case for the future of music business. Should they fight the corporation or is it a battle they can't win? In the film, we live through the band's decision-making against the backdrop of the 2008 economic meltdown.
After years in the making, this documentary is a true artifact of our times.