Electronic Musician M83 Broke Union Rules to Keep New Album Under Budget


Last weekend at New York Comic Con, during a panel on the anime series Robotech, speaker Kevin McKeever played a clip from a new documentary on the making of the groundbreaking show, mostly culled from interviews with the series’ American producers and voice actors. One anecdote that stuck out at me was that the voice actors constantly used pseudonyms in the credits because they were breaking union labor rules–the hours they worked, the pay received, it was all in violation of their actors’ guild’s regulations.

Stories like that always bring a tear to my eye. There’s nothing quite as stifling to art and creativity than arbitrary rules placed on artists by disinterested third parties, and labor unions are a major offender. Thus, it’s heartwarming to see union members rebel against their leaders because of the passion they have for a project–going the extra mile to make it an outstanding product and to make it feasible by charging less than their standard pay.

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That documentary’s story also stuck out to me because a recent Pitchfork interview with Anthony Gonzalez, frontman for the French electronica group M83, revealed a similar story, this time involving his newly-released double album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”:

Pitchfork: When I spoke with you last year, you said you were worried about having enough money to make a double album.

AG: We had a good budget to make a 10-track album with good sound, so we had to find ways [to stretch that out]. It was difficult. But [producer] Justin [Meldal-Johnsen] did an amazing job putting a lot of artists together who worked for no money, just because they were in love with the project. I always wanted to play with strings and brass, and Joseph Trapanese, who did the arrangements for the album, didn’t get paid. We didn’t put the real names of the string and brass players on the album because they’re part of a union, and it’s illegal to work for shitty money. They’re credited, but with fake names. [emphasis added]

Though Gonzalez is an established artist who does receive funding from a record label for studio time, his story is but another anecdote in the continuing democratization of the music business. Because of the amazing technology available to artists for cheaper than ever before, songwriters and performers are bypassing the arcane rules and unfair nepotism of existing power structures such as labels and unions. They have virtually complete control over their final product and its distribution if they want it, and we are therefore seeing the firstfruits of a truly free music market where anyone can become someone and no idea or product gets buried without a fair chance to attract an audience.

As such, the world of music is being much more personalized, much more experimental, and, to those who explore beyond the world of Top 40, incredibly rewarding. I can’t think of a better example than “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”‘s first single, “Midnight City,” which you can view above. While the song evokes the dark soundscapes of ’80s New Wave, something this ambitious would never have been feasible at that time for an artist with such a small audience. Thus, it’s a fitting welcome to the music world of 2011; this will be the decade of the individual toppling the gatekeeper.

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