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CMJ recap: 'Broke*' documentary, DOM

Will Gray screened his documentary

Will Gray screened his documentary "Broke*" at CMJ on Oct. 19, 2011. Photo Credit: Todd Pinckney / willgraymusic.com

It wouldn't be CMJ without a dissection of the music industry and a sign of its possible future with a show in an unusual place.

Yesterday, both happened within a matter of hours.

The documentary “Broke*” – referring to the music industry ideal of “breaking” a band, as well as, you know, not having any money – tells the story of Will Gray, a promising singer/rapper from Nashville, as he tries to launch his career, including navigating a possible Warner Bros. record deal.

It's a pretty accurate, sometimes wrenching, portrayal of what up-and-coming artists go through to advance their career. When you see Gray deliver his own eclectic songs – and especially his moving version of Patty Griffin's “Top of the World” – while still getting the runaround from label reps and promoters and venue owners, it's a painful reminder about how hard artists have to work simply to get heard.

That drive is what leads to unusual shows like DOM's appearance at the Puma Store at Union Square yesterday afternoon. The Worcester, Mass., band blends soaring New Order synths with lo-fi indie rock on its debut “Sun Bronzed Greek Gods” and they have been touted as one of the festival's most likely to succeed.

Watching them overcome being cramped onto the tiny makeshift stage in the back of the Puma store made them seem that much more determined. (Actually singer Dom didn't fit on the stage and stood on the floor, while their bassist bounced around on the floor as well, careful not to knock over the women's boots display.)

Dom took it all in stride, though, joking, “This is such a great neighborhood. There's a little restaurant around the corner called 'McDonald's,' and they serve an amazing filet of fish.”

As far as Gray, in “Broke*” and in his Q&A afterward yesterday, he and his business team offer a pretty good argument for “the new normal” in the music business, where being able to make a living is the goal. They outline the current “1,000 true fans” model, where artists try to actively cultivate a passionate niche fan base that will support their work. (Gray was able to finance the documentary through crowdsourcing. His fans paid up to $100 for a T-shirt in order to help the project.)

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“Broke*” also has plenty of flamethrowers. Author Seth Godin talks about how the music industry will soon be extinct. And Chopmaster J talks about how today's musicians are like slaves after being freed.

The most effective spokeswoman for music's future, though, is Gray's friend, Reva Williams, who makes great music with the band Gretel. “I always forget about the money,” she says. “I just want to keep making things.”

Chopmaster J // Artists As Sharecroppers from Mindfree Entertainment on Vimeo

Here's Gretel's video for "Car Bomb Times"

Gretel Performing "Car Bomb Times" from FoG on Vimeo.

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