Feb. 18 So you want to be a rock star? Forget about standing in those long lines and being ripped to shreds by American Idol's Simon Cowell.
You could start with music instruction at an accredited music school, but the music biz doesn't care about your degree. You could work the club circuit, hoping the labels come out to catch your act. But that could take years. Another option is getting a demo of your work to the labels. You might think this sounds like the easiest, smartest route, right? Wrong. This route is riddled with red tape and it's easy to get lost in the shuffle.
There's an easier way.
Major record labels have learned from their mistakes over the years. By accepting a demo directly from the artist, they open themselves to the possibility of a lawsuit. Many independent artists have sued labels, claiming that one of their songs, or something just like it, ended up being a hit and they didn't get a penny.
So the industry got smart and initiated "no unsolicited material" clauses. In other words, they don't want your stuff unless they ask for it.
Indeed, there are only a few folks out there given the authority to solicit material to record labels, including licensed managers and attorneys. That's pretty much the way it worked until Michael Laskow came along.
Nearly 10 years ago Laskow started TAXI, an online, independent artist and repertoire (A&R) firm that acts as a casting agent to the labels and Hollywood studios. An A&R firm's job is to find and sign new talent, and TAXI's clients include all five major record labels, as well as several television networks and independent film studios.
The magic begins when the client places a classified listing with TAXI that describes a specific sound they're looking for. The client might be a producer seeking a song for an established artist or a music supervisor trying to score a scene in a film.
Songwriting duo Jim Funk and Eric Hickenlooper were recording jingles in a studio when they first learned about TAXI.
"A guy gave me one of his listings booklets and I was looking at it, thinking, 'That looks kind of cool. These guys actually send out the listings from the record company for a certain type of music,'" Hickenlooper says. "So Jim and I talked about it and decided to give it a shot. And we submitted some songs."
Their song "Buy Me a Rose" was picked up by a Nashville producer looking for music for Kenny Rogers. Rogers sang the tune, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts in 1999.
"At the time it went No. 1," Hickenlooper recalls, "there was a time when I changed the station while it was on the radio [and] it was playing on two stations at once. That's when I realized we had really done something. Two stations playing our song at once. That was cool."
It was a different story for pop band Sixpence None the Richer, which already had a label deal when band mates decided to take TAXI for a spin. The effort paid off when a music supervisor for "Dawson's Creek" received a submission from TAXI. The hit single "Kiss Me" made an indelible mark on the show.
TAXI founder Michael Laskow says the process is based on high standards.
"We have a team of highly trained industry veterans that come in and listen to every single submission," he says. "They find the stuff that's right on target and that is high enough on the ladder that we can send it to the people in the industry. The thing that makes TAXI work so well is our standards… They know that anytime they open a package from us, it's going to be awesome and it won't be a waste of time."
In other words, not every submission for a listing makes it through to a label. TAXI makes sure not to inundate its clients with submissions. Rejected submitters receive their material back with a personalized critique explaining why it didn't move on.
Laskow says TAXI isn't just about helping musicians find work. It also tries to make its members better songwriters. Even TAXI member Randy Bachman, best known for his work with Bachman-Turner Overdrive, has received a TAXI critique or two.
Laskow says TAXI doesn't discriminate when it comes to members. The fee-based service will take anyone, and a money-back guarantee helps ensure customer satisfaction. Laskow has never raised the $300 fee in the history of the company.
Meanwhile, once a connection is made between the label and the artist, TAXI gets no cut of the deal, so the rates and royalties are negotiated between the two parties directly.
"My grandfather taught me that a good businessman gives people more than what they asked for," Laskow says.
Was it tough getting the record labels to play ball with TAXI?
"Surprisingly, the reluctance came from the musicians. I thought, 'Wow! This was the greatest service on Earth.' Musicians thought it was a scam at first. The industry thought it was cool. We've been around 10 years now. All the publishers [and] labels use us now. So musicians think we're credible, and everybody's happy."