Though the film is based on the fraught period that led to the making of 30STM's 2010 album, “This Is War,” the band is newly unsigned after fulfilling its contract with 2013’s “Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams” -- and better for it, Leto says.
“We’re free and clear and excited about the future,” he says on the phone from Los Angeles, on a brief break from 30STM’s exhaustive touring schedule. “It’s the most wonderful place to be.”
“Artifact,” which Leto also directed, pulls no punches about the realities of the modern music business, particularly the ill-fated sale of Virgin’s parent company EMI to investor Guy Hands. Leto and bandmates Shannon Leto and Tomo Milicevic appear throughout the film, alongside powerful industry figures like the band’s manager Irving Azoff, Beats Music CEO Ian Rogers, music journalist Bob Lefsetz, producer Flood and fellow frontmen like Incubus’ Brandon Boyd and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.
Though plenty of criticism is leveled at major record labels throughout the documentary for their outdated business models, Leto says “Artifact” is “not anti-record label, it’s anti-greed. It’s about artists examining the difficulty between the conflict of art and commerce, how corruption can kill dreams.”
He recently spoke with the frontman of an un-named “huge band,” who was excited to be recording the last album of the group’s current contract. “What a strange business that you’re more excited to leave your label than you are to be working there,” Leto says.
With streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Radio and Beats Music still on the rise, Leto is cautiously optimistic a new business model is in the works for the industry, even as those services continue to sort out their economics and royalty rates for artists.
“We’re all trying to figure out ways to share our music with the world, in new and exciting ways that don’t force us to have to sign some convoluted record contract that’s designed to keep us terminally in debt for centuries,” he says.
In the meantime, 30STM will continue to be tireless touring musicians, enough to have already set the Guiness World Record for most live shows played in support of one album (more than 300). Though all that roadwork has helped supplement the limited income brought in from recorded music, Leto hopes other bands in similar situations as his in 2010 will take heed from “Artifact.”
“We weren’t the Rolling Stones or some supergroup, otherwise maybe we could afford to battle a corporation for some time," he says. "We were a small band who had a little bit of success who believed in the fight for fairness. Hopefully, the technology industry and the labels will continue to take a look at how they operate and make deals and realize there’s plenty to go around.”