December 24, 2013

A Conversation with Thirty Seconds To Mars' Jared Leto

Mike Ragogna: Hey Jared, let's jump right into Artifact, because that debuted recently on iTunes worldwide. I'm imagining this is one of the most passionate projects you've been involved with because it hit you so personally. It seems like a strange scenario for anyone to be in.

Jared Leto: It was a very strange scenario, one of the strangest scenarios of our entire lives. Thirty Seconds To Mars had a tremendous amount of success with an album called A Beautiful Lie. It sold millions of copies around the world, we finished up a tour and were about to start making a new album when we found out that not only would we never be paid a single penny, but that we were also millions and millions of dollars in debt. We decided to look into it and were shocked by what we found.

MR: What did you find?

JL: We found that there's a very convoluted system at work that makes it very difficult for artists to make a living from their work. It's a system that leaves the corporation in complete domination of the artists, a system that doesn't encourage partnership. It's a system that, in my opinion, is really not ideal and one that we didn't agree with, so we decided to go to war. We decided to fight for our creative lives and we risked everything to do that.

MR: And when you turned in your next album, it couldn't have been a very pleasant experience. How did you get through that period?

JL: All of the people that were responsible for suing us for thirty million dollars left the company, were fired, or lost control of the company. That would be the person who owned EMI...and he ultimately ended up losing control of that company when he defaulted on a loan to Citibank. So in a sense, it was the same shell of a company but completely different players.

MR: Right, it was the Terra Firma investment company that bought EMI.

JL: I think they made some bad decisions, I think they underestimated the business, I think they underestimated many of the people in the record business who do a great job for artists and for labels, I think they underestimated their ability to deal with artists, they assumed that artists are like products and they can move them around on a spreadsheet and make things work. But artists don't belong on spreadsheets, they belong in creative worlds. So this film examines that uneasy relationship between art and commerce. I'm excited for artists and creative people to see the film. I think that they may be surprised to learn how this business can really work.

MR: What's become popular now are 360 deals that signs over to the entertainment entity virtually all sources of income by the artist. Might these 360 deals be a result of years and years of a kind of corporate arrogance?

JL: I wouldn't say that. A corporation has a certain amount of inhumanity. They're designed to be concerned about one thing--the bottom line, and that's great for the corporation, but it's not so great sometimes for the employees or for the partners of the corporation. It's hard to quantify in terms of returns on investments on the creative contribution from an artist or a designer, so ultimately, a lot of creative people get treated probably less than well in that structure. But sometimes, that's not the case. I think that a 360 deal is an attempt for the corporations to make more money. It wouldn't be a bad thing if the corporations happened to be good at doing some of those other things in that 360 area. Unfortunately, a lot of the record companies are not experts at things like merchandise, they're not experts at things like touring, they're not experts at some of the other areas of revenue, so you end up making a deal with these companies who aren't necessarily experienced in the areas that they're looking to take a piece of revenue from. So that becomes a questionable business model. If they were great at it, then that could be a great business model. If they happened to excel in those areas and really help artists to achieve some of their goals, then great. I think we're in a very strange period right now. There isn't really a clear indication of where the business is going still, and this has been a number of years now. People have been experimenting with a lot of different models and it's an interesting year to see some acts doing great and some acts not doing great, even some of the biggest acts in the world.

MR: You've taken a lot into your own hands in order to advance the career of Thirty Seconds To Mars. I normally ask "What advice do you have for new artists," but to that point, what are some of the things that have been successful for you? What are some things that you think an artist can do for themselves?

JL: That's a good question. One of the things that I've learned is to be really entrepreneurial, to not wait for permission, to be proactive. Thirty Seconds To Mars has been a great guinea pig for other businesses that I got involved with as a founder, as a CEO, and that includes technology, e-commerce, VIP ticketing and packages. We're really proactive in those areas. I would encourage other bands to not sign a record deal until you feel like you have to, until you feel like it's the right time. You want to walk into a record company with as much leverage as possible, so I would tell young artists to focus on building community, to focus on building awareness, playing shows, touring, working on their craft, on writing, on performing, being the best that they can be. Don't be desperate for a record deal, that's not going to solve all of your problems. In some cases, it may add to them. You want to be completely clear about what kind of deal you're signing, you want to be clear about why you're signing a record deal, and be clear about your expectations. There are also a lot of things you can do if you're already an established artist, like we do. We get involved and be proactive and cut out the middleman when we can. There are a lot of great platforms. We started one called VyRT, that allows us to broadcast concerts, and instead of commercials and sponsorships, we make an arrangement directly with our audience, we sell individual digital tickets. So we have this online concert venue now where we can broadcast anything and everything and we use it quite a bit. We premiered Artifact through VyRT and it was a great success; we just broadcast our Hollywood Bowl show there and it was a great success. There are other avenues to look for additional sources of revenue rather than the traditional record label model, and I would encourage other artists to explore those.

MR: That's great, practical advice. It's really up to the artist these days since the old school way of doing things is almost gone.

JL: There are no rules, and it's up to artists to break them, if there are any left. We do what we are inspired and motivated to do. For us, community has always been an incredibly important part of Thirty Seconds To Mars. You have to work hard, you have to be tenacious in order to survive these days. We'll see what the future holds, I'm optimistic about it. It's certainly going to be interesting to watch. I'm really proud that Artifact is finally out after five years in the making and we're able to share our story with the world.

MR: I appreciate your time, thank you so much, Jared.

JL: Thank you, I appreciate your time.

Source: The Huffington Post.

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