The Last Songwriter is a new documentary about the back bone of the music industry featuring Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Jason Isbell and Jim Lauderdale that showcased at the Nashville Film Festival 2017 in April. It is directed by the award-winning filmmaker Mark Barger Elliott. It’s a thoughtful look at the potential degrading of song quality in the age of streaming music.
According to country legend Garth Brooks, ‘Writing a song is the most important step in music.’ His concern, along with many in the industry, is the devastating effect the digitalisation of music has had on full time songwriters. Many say it is the death knell of a treasured craft that is responsible for so many inspiring and superior songs throughout the years. The Nashville Songwriters Association International has reported a cut of 80 percent of all full time songwriters.
The producers and writers felt the film’s purpose is to shed clear light on the plight of the burgeoning songwriter. As an artist, they could see their chance to grow into their trade disappear before they have the opportunity to discover their feet in the industry due to the radical change streaming music has brought.
Songwriters have been governed by long standing copyright laws that were in place before streaming music would become an issue. Unlike the artist and record labels, songwriters and the publishers as well, have their royalties regulated by the US government and do not have the leverage to change that, despite how unfair it may seem now the digital age has brought big changes to earning potential in the industry.
And with that monetary value decreased, it has become increasingly difficult for a songwriter to be employed full time by a publisher, to be invested in as an apprentice. And, it stands to reason that their development may be diminished or at the very least delayed when devotion to their songwriting skills will have to take a backseat while they earn a living elsewhere. Their full attention cannot be on songwriting when there are the day to day concerns of securing an income.
Historically, a young songwriter would have come to Nashville and learned to hone their skills in the industry under the watchful eye of a publishing company. In the current market, that is becoming less and less possible, even for the most talented young writers. Therefore, that is the issue that the film seeks to bring to the fore, in the hope that some change can be made to save what could result in the art of songwriting being fatally damaged.
Songs have the power to delight, empower and relieve pain and to have that art diminished in any way would be a tragedy we would all feel the loss of the filmmakers say.
‘The Last Songwriter asks-“In the future, who will write the soundtrack of our lives-songs we dance to at our wedding, sing at sporting events, and play at a loved one’s funeral?”… This is a film for everyone who has been moved by a song to step out onto a dance floor, to give it one more try or to fall in love with the stranger across the room. The Last Songwriter is for those who love music and care about its future.’