I received a brochure in the mail a few days back for a company called TAXI.
No idea how or why I got it, but it doesn’t really matter.
Along with a nice picture of an old school looking Taxi, the
front of the brochure says in large bold letters, “THE
SECOND BEST WAY TO GET A RECORD, PUBLISHING, OR FILM &
TV DEAL”. Alright then, now they have my attention.
TAXI is the world’s leading Independent Artist and Repertoire Company
and according to their brochure, they claim to have invented
independent A&R over a decade ago…1992 to be exact.
TAXI is composed of over 150 industry veterans ranging from Zander Schloss
(member of The Circle Jerks and The Low and Sweet Orchestra)
to Marshall Altman. (former A&R Director at Capitol Records
and Hollywood Records.) The list goes on and on and on. TAXI’s
staff combined could easily take over the music industry with
one swift punch, but instead choose to be independent and
help out the small guy.
As far as I knew, if you wanted to score a record deal, this
is how you had to do it.
- Get together and jam with friends in a garage or home
- Once you get good enough, start performing at house parties
around the neighborhood.
- Once you get good enough at that, start performing at your
local hick bar and dodge flying debris. (Also, have friends
selling your CD for 4 bucks outta the trunk of your car)
- Once you get good enough at THAT, pack your bags, pack
your gear and move out to sunny California, dreary New York,
or slack jawed Tennessee.
- Once you’re there, get
a shit day job and play at local clubs during the night
- If you’re brave enough at this time, send your demo
to a label that ACTUALLY ACCEPTS DEMOS!
- Hopefully through an act of god, an agent of a record label
will listen to your CD or hear you perform live and then approach
you for a deal.
Wheeew. That’s all you have to do?
Assuming those are the logical steps to getting a record deal, give or take
a few shit jobs, low rent crawl spaces which you call your
apartment, and night after night of playing in bars where
nobody knows your name, it’s no wonder why getting somewhere
in the music industry is tough. This is where TAXI comes in.
After browsing around TAXI’s website I emailed them to see if someone
wanted to chat for a bit about their company and what they
do. I was fortunate enough to speak with the company’s
founder, president and CEO, Michael Laskow. We chatted about
the industry, why TAXI is essentially speeding up the process
of “flavor of the month”, gramophones, and how
he went from scrubbing toilets to producing artists such as
Eric Clapton, Cheap Trick, Crosby Stills and Nash and eventually
starting TAXI which is now the worlds leading independent
A&R company. But most importantly he’ll tell you
why he thinks TAXI is the worlds SECOND best way to get a
Before we get into TAXI, I’d like
to get to know your background in the music industry and music
in general. When did you know you wanted to be involved with
music for a living?
When I was nine years old, I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan
Show. That was the moment that I knew that I wanted to be
in the music business. I also knew that I didn’t want
to be a rock star. For some reason, I knew right then and
there that I wanted to be the guy on the other side of the
glass. I wanted to be George Martin. I guess I’m a bit
of a control freak.
When I was nineteen years old I talked a delivery guy from
Ace Music in Miami to let me go with him on a run to Criteria
Studios – it was one of the top studios in the world
at the time. As luck would have it, the owner walked through
the lobby and said to one of his employees, “We need
a new kid to sweep the floors and clean the toilets.”
I jumped out of my chair and yelled, “I’ll do
it!” They threw me out – literally.
I called Criteria five times a day for five days straight.
Mack Emmerman, the owner, came on the line and said, “If
I interview you for the job (which was an “internship”
that paid NOTHING), and you don’t get it, do you promise
that you’ll never call here again? You’re driving
my receptionist crazy!
I got the job, and worked my butt off. I eventually became
an assistant engineer, then a first engineer, and a couple
of years later I began to produce records.
What previous work experiences have you
had revolving around music / business and how have they shaped
your life’s timeline to your current position as founder,
president, and CEO of TAXI?
I was extremely fortunate to get to work with artists like
Eric Clapton, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Firefall, Cheap
Trick, and many more. On several of those gigs, I was the
assistant engineer, then as we would get deeper in to the
record, the engineers would let me sit in the hot seat and
do overdubs or set up rough mixes.
I would also bring in bands and artists on my own time and
engineer and produce their demos as a learning experience.
I left Criteria a couple of years later and struck out on
my own. I ended up discovering a band called Wild Oats, got
them a record deal, and co-produced their record. I think
I was about twenty-one when that happened. A year later, I
became the senior engineer at Triiad Recording, and it was
there that I engineered an extensive amount of songs for Neil
Young. That lead to me becoming even more in demand, and it
was the classic story of feast and famine.
I would work on a major project for months on end, then have
nothing for two months. I began to do bread and butter gigs
between the big projects, and noticed a trend. Local bands,
artists, and songwriters would spend their life savings on
their demos (home studios didn’t exist yet), then have
no way to get their music to A&R people at major labels.
That’s when I made a mental note to solve that problem
some day. There was a lot a great talent that never got to
see the light of day.
When and how did the idea of TAXI come about
and what were the first steps taken to reach your goal.
I got the idea for TAXI when I quit my job as General Manager
of a large post-production company in Hollywood. I quit making
records a few years before because I got burnt out. The hours
were ridiculous, and there were times when I didn’t
see my family for weeks on end.
I began to do audio post-production work for TV shows and
commercials, and found that I could make a six-figure income
and be home at night. I liked it, but missed working with
bands and artists. Ironic – the very thing that burned
me out was what I began to miss the most.
When I sat down to figure out what I was going to do with
my life, the business model for TAXI literally popped into
my head. It was an epiphany of sorts. The whole picture was
very clear to me, and the company is still entirely derived
from that vision – but we’ve added a lot of cool
features along the way.
The first steps were to turn in my company-owned BMW, and
to move into a one-bedroom apartment. I worked eighteen hours
a day, at least six days a week. I went from having an apartment
in NY and LA to eating beans and rice to stay alive. We were
literally never more than a couple of weeks away from being
homeless at any moment. To this day, I can’t look a
bean in the face. I’m not kidding.
I can remember begging God to give me the strength to keep
going. I begged a lot, and I wasn’t particularly religious
at the time. It’s funny how we “become”
religious when we are desperate
If there’s any part of this story that I hope sinks
in for the people who read it, this is the part. If you’re
willing to work eighteen to twenty hours a day, stay focused
like a laser, give up all the comforts you’ve grown
use to, and tough it out when everybody else would have thrown
in the towel, you can succeed at anything you desire.
Don’t fool yourself in to thinking that you ARE working
that hard. I’m talking about no TV, no time off, no
life! If you’re awake, you’re working. You can’t
fail if you have that work ethic. To do anything part-time
is like sentencing your goal to death.
You literally have to quit your day job and focus entirely
on what it is you want to accomplish. If you’re willing
to settle for partial results, then work at your goal part-time.
For those who don’t know, briefly
tell us what TAXI is.
TAXI is the world’s leading independent A&R company.
We help unsigned artists, bands, and songwriters get their
music in to the hands of the people who have the power to
sign deals. We’ve been doing it for eleven years. My
staff is incredible, and the relationships we’ve made
are industry wide. Even I’m amazed at how well-connected
TAXI has become. It’s exceeded my own expectations.
Why is TAXI the way to go for a record deal?
Truthfully, TAXI is the SECOND best way to get a record deal.
The FIRST best way is to do what Dave Matthews and Hootie
did. They toured constantly for years until they built up
an undeniable following and sold tens of thousands of CDs
to their fans without a label behind them. That’s the
ultimate. It almost a guarantee that you’ll get labels
The problem is that most people can’t afford to quit
their day jobs, go on the road and gig five days a week for
the next three years. If they could, they’d find success.
With TAXI, my goal was to create a realistic way for people
to get heard by the powerbrokers. That’s our job! It’s
NOT our job to get you signed. That’s YOUR job. You’ve
got to write great tunes. You’ve got to develop your
artistry. We don’t promise to perform miracles. We can’t
get a mediocre act signed just because THEY think they’re
But if you’re not good enough, the written feedback
our members get from our A&R staff will dramatically help
them get better. It’s like a membership to a gym. Most
people sign up, go a few times, then quit going because it’s
too much work. The same is true for your TAXI membership –
if you use it to the fullest extent, you’ll increase
your odds of meeting with success.
It’s also important to know that TAXI isn’t just
about getting a record deal. Let’s face it, major label
record deals are extremely hard to come by. A&R people
are often scared to sign anything at all. If they sign an
act that goes to hell in a hand basket, their career could
be over very quickly. Goodbye house. Goodbye Mercedes. Goodbye
private school for the kiddies. Goodbye trophy wife. They
have to be willing to risk all of that when they sign an act.
TAXI members get a lot more publishing deals and film and
TV placements than they do record deals. Film and TV placements
are great. They’re much easier to land, and you can
make some decent money from them, not to mention the exposure
Those deals are also a great way to keep food on the table
while you pursue that major label deal you’ve always
In your brochure you list many companies
you have worked with including the BIG 5 (BMG, Universal,
Warner, Sony, and EMI.) You also mention you have worked with
independent labels. Which ones?
Virtually all of the indies who count. Too many to name after
eleven years of doing this. But I’d like to give your
readers some advice. Many people say, “I’d rather
sign with an indie because you get more attention.”
That’s true. And that’s the up side. The down
side is that many indies are a one man show, and they don’t
have the budget or the distribution to get the job done. While
it might be an ego stroke to sign a deal, ANY deal, and be
able to tell your family and friends that you GOT a deal,
it may also tie you up in a deal that won’t help you
go anywhere. You’re stuck and out of luck. Be sure you
are signing a deal with a company that has had previous success.
I just recently finished Dick Weissman’s
book “The Music Business” 2nd ed. Upon completion,
TAXI seems like it’s too good to be true. How difficult,
in your opinion, is it to score a deal with let’s say,
Virgin, who does not accept demos.
It’s really hard. Nearly impossible, and that’s
why TAXI exists.
Weismann’s book also stated that even
if your demo makes it to the desk of an A&R rep at a company,
there are still several obstacles before it is even heard
by the people who have the power to “make the deals”
Is there any validity to this claim?
Yes, absolutely. We hear that complaint from time to time.
“TAXI got my material to a label and I didn’t
get signed. TAXI sucks!”
We delivered on our promise of getting the best material
to the label, but nobody bit. It happens all the time. We
don’t claim to be able to force a label to sign you.
All we can do is get you in their hands. After that, it’s
your talent and many other factors that will determine if
you get signed, and a hundred other things that will determine
if you have a hit.
94% of all acts released by the majors never break even.
I think the majors release something on the order of 6,000
records per year. How many can you name that were released
last year? How many have had big hits? The odds are staggering.
That’s why I recommend going for film and TV placements.
It’s a more realistic goal. One that can put money in
Would TAXI be a good idea for a
musician who composed more experimental music? Something that
wouldn’t be “a hit”
Probably not. Their odds of having success are decreased
because what they’re doing is less likely to be accepted
by the public.
In your opinion, is it necessary
for an artist to have a manager, agent, publicist, lawyer,
ect, knowing that the more of these people you have, the less
royalties you as an artist will see?
It’s the classic double-edged sword. It’s
good to have the right team, but yes, you will have to pay
for that in the end. And getting the RIGHT LAWYER, PUBLICIST,
MANAGER, etc. is very hard. Really, it’s just as hard
as landing a record deal.
I’ve looked over a fair amount
of your industry listings and I’ve noticed that almost
everyone, especially from the “MAJOR record companies”,
has included a description of what kind of music they are
looking for by listing numerous other successful acts. Is
this a sign that major labels are still seeking to rip-off
or jump on the bandwagon of others artist’s sounds just
for the sake of competition and money instead of trying to
find new and unique styles of music?
There’s no doubt that record labels want to
make the best bet possible. If a style of music is hot, they
WILL try to jump on that bandwagon. Look at the grunge era.
It didn’t stop with Nirvana, it BEGAN with Nirvana.
Labels WANT to find acts that are new and different, but when
they find them, they’re often afraid to sign them because
they’re worried that radio won’t play them, effectively
killing the record. Of course, there are always exceptions
to the rule. There are exceptions to ANY rule.
What would you say to someone that
says “TAXI is only accelerating the idea of flavor of
the month into flavor of the week”?
They’re right in a sense. Our job is to give
the industry what it asks us for. But not every opportunity
that comes through TAXI is looking to fill a pigeon-hole.
If somebody is looking to buy a new pair of red shoes, would
you try to sell them a blue pair of shoes, or would you show
them the red pair you have in stock? We’re only guilty
of giving them what they asked for – it increases the
odds of success for the artists.
When did you get the idea for “Road
About seven years ago. I had been to nearly every
other music convention and found that most didn’t deliver
much value to the people who attended. The panels were populated
with less than stellar panelists, things didn’t start
on time, and most musicians went home feeling a little bit
We do advisory board meetings with our members from time
to time. One of the things that they asked us to do was a
convention. So we decided that if we were going to do one,
that we’d do it better than anybody else. Ask anyone
who has ever been to our convention and they’ll tell
you that it’s much better than the rest. And the best
part is that it’s FREE to our members AND a guest.
So for your $300 membership to TAXI, you get TWO tickets
to an incredible event. Other convention cost as much as $600
per ticket. That would cost you $1,200 for two tickets. The
Road Rally is FREE and better. Much better! Oh yeah, I forgot
to mention that you get a full-year membership to TAXI in
Your website (www.taxi.com) says
that TAXI members can perform in front of music industry big-wigs
and also in front of the entire convention audience. How does
a TAXI member accomplish this?
We draw names randomly from a box for the listening
panels and the open mic nights. Deals have come about as a
result. Some really good deals.
Where would you like to see TAXI
in 5 years? 10 years? And what do you hope to have accomplished
by that time which you haven’t already?
All of our competitors including Tonos have gone
out of business. The reason? I don’t believe their hearts
were really in it. We bust our butts to deliver a level of
service that is far and away better than what our competitors
have offered. We offer a money-back guarantee that we will
deliver what we promise. We have to blow our members away
with what we do, or they won’t stay members for very
long. Our theory has always been that if we exceed our members’
expectations, then we will get to earn our living doing what
we love to do. People always tell us that they can feel the
“vibe” when they call here. That’s because
we love what we do. We all feel pretty lucky to go to work
every day, and love it.
Five or ten years from now? Hmmmm. I have a plan, but I can’t
tell. Sorry. What I can tell you is that we’ll keep
adding things to TAXI that benefit our members. We want to
see them succeed. Some people think of us as an extra layer
to go through. But without TAXI, most of those people would
get no chance at all.
Can you quarterback the Superbowl just because you think
it would be neat to do that? Hell no! Well, the same is true
in the music business. You have to prove yourself to somebody
that has the industry’s “ear”. TAXI has
earned that right.
Last 5 albums you listened to:
The Thorns, Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits Box
Set, Wired (unsigned TAXI band), Coldplay, and Jason Mraz.
Top 5 albums
That impossible! There are so many that I couldn’t
live without. But five that I listen to regularly would be:
Beatles; White Album, Beatles; Abbey Road, Eagles Greatest
Hits, Steely Dan; Greatest Hits, Motown’s Greatest Hits,
CSN’s first album; Neil Young, Harvest; Led Zepplin,
first two records, Sheryl Crow, Tuesday Night Music Club…
there are so many. Did you say FIVE?
And don’t let the list fool you. I also think the Ataris
are awesome, Eminem is the best at what he does, I listen
to a lot of Country acts. I love Bonnie Raitt… this
list could be endless.
And for the people who might say, “I’m not joining
TAXI, this Laskow idiot doesn’t like the kind of music
I make, so I’ll never end up getting sent to a label,
worry not! I’m not the person who listens. We have a
huge pool of people who are all music biz heavy weights, and
they specialize in every genre of music one could imagine.
That’s what makes TAXI so good. Our members always get
heard by people who are experts in their type of music, and
they get incredibly helpful feedback from the very same people.
To you, the most important movement
in music history and why:
I would have to say that the invention of the Gramophone
because it made it possible for an artist to reach a huge
audience, not just people who got to see a live performance.
If you were looking for a musical style and a time period,
I’d have to say Motown. That was the genesis for so
much of what came later. And it saved us from listening to
Perry Como for the rest of our lives;-)
1700hz would like to thank Mike for spending
some time with us. Maybe we’ve convinced some people
to check TAXI out while at the same time repelling people
away. Regardless of your stance in music and what is in-just,
TAXI is helping out the small independent nobody and they
love it. Check related links for more information on TAXI,
Dick Weissman’s books and Laskow’s Studio Buddy,
a tutorial and how to for the home studio owner. P.S. It’s