Interview by Cathy Genovese
Part II


Do you think that technology is helping or hurting the music industry?

Technology ruined the music business. It's not helping, or hurting, it ruined the music business. The whole debate is about whether the record companies could have done something. I don't know. If it was up to me, I would have sold my music on the Internet the first second I ever saw that it existed. But I don't own a company or run it, so I didn't get the opportunity to do that. It seemed like you should totally try to defeat the stealing of music. Either arrest all the people who stole music with MP3 files, ban the MP3 file or just sell music by MP3 to whoever wanted it. I don't understand how it happened, but it's the saddest thing ever, because it ruined the music business.

Then what do you think about iTunes and iPods?

I don't think anything about iTunes because, even though it's on the cover of Newsweek and it brings people great joy, I see it as the ruination of the music business. To somebody who only knows music like that, it's the best thing that ever happened. But to me it's the ruination of the music business.

Do you think that CDs are going the way of cassettes and tapes?

I don't know; I don't have the answer to that. I just know that a lot of people who are younger do not buy CDs. That's all I can tell ya. What's hard and what's horrible is that people that want to work with TAXI, they're severely damaged by it, because they're the ones that are going to pay for it the most with labels not being able to sign anyone, or signing people for no money. It's really sad because who's going to pay to record music? I don't know.

It's interesting because one of the questions I had for you was that there seems to be such a "do it yourself" culture cultivating among independent artists, where they're selling their own CDs, they're going on tour—they're sort of creating their own brand.

And that's a good thing and I respect the people who do that, because if you're committed, that's how it's gonna happen. That's not the way that I know how to do it, but I really respect those people because then they'll be able to have their music and do it their way. That's a good thing, but that's not how I envisioned the music business.

I've had A&R people tell me that that's very important, and they don't even want to hear a band until they've been selling their own CDs by the thousands.

Yeah, but in the few interviews I've done over the years, a few people have said that to me, and I have to say to those A&R people that they are the stupidest people I've ever seen in my whole life. That's all I have to say about it.

What do you think that would eventually mean for record companies?

It means a disaster for record companies. It's just like the whole thing with downloading. It's one way or the other. It's really cool if you see artists who record in Pro Tools and do their music—which people can do on computers really well now—and they're committed, and they go out and play, and they sell CDs. That's great. I'm serious, but that's a whole different model than the way the record business is because recording is only one part of it. Promotion and marketing and artwork, and all those things, it's very complicated and it's really expensive to do all the stuff that I did. None of it was cheap. It's expensive to have those Cher and Aerosmith records sound like that. And also it's expensive if you're not a band and you're a solo artist. You're supposed to pay musicians to play on the music. [On] Cher's records, the musicians were paid really well to play those songs. Well, how will you have the money to pay anyone if you don't have any income? I mean, no one ever answers these questions when these stupid people give interviews about downloading.

How much does image play into a signing? If you have someone who has the right image, right vibe and so-so songs, would you take them on to develop and bring co-writers in? Or would you wait to see if they could write more on their own? How important is song craft for a new artist?

Very. I think if everything else is right, you might try to develop them. But the song craft is 80% for me.

And what would you do if someone is an amazing songwriter, but just didn't have the star quality?

It's an easier answer than it used to be because image is not as huge an issue now as it used to be. So it's a little easier when perfect people don't have the perfect image if their music is right. I think the biggest problem is that the recorded music business is a huge purveyor of ageism and discrimination against older artists. Although if you're established it's not a problem, because Sanctuary has a lot of older artists who are hugely successful now.

If you're established, but if you're a rock & roll band in the middle of the country and you're all in your 30s, you're an amazing band and you have amazing songs, you have a great live show, do you stand a chance at all?

I don't think so, which is a pitiful, sad answer. I think that's one of those situations where that's the time the band should be selling its own music through the Internet and marketing and promoting themselves. I think that's the perfect time for a band to do that because there's no reason bands who are that age should not do exactly what they want in terms of their music. It's just very difficult to get somebody to invest in that, recording-wise along with the marketing issues. I don't see, if somebody was telling you the truth, I don't see that anyone would sign that type of band. I could be totally wrong, but I don't think so.

When you're listening to something, is your initial instinct to look for commercial viability or do you just rely on a gut reaction?

Both. I always thought that somebody had to be commercial and also had to have their own heart—meaning their own image.

Is it easier to work with established artists or on new bands that are just getting signed?

They're completely different. New bands are easier to work with, but older artists who are stars generally have more talent so you can push them harder. It's different experiences. The artists that are in between are the biggest problems because they're very resentful and think they can do what they want. Sometimes they can, most times they can't.

When working with your acts, whether major or newly starting out, what advice do you give them on songwriting? Do you make them sit down and write and knock them out until they have a hit, or do you give them space? Do you play a big role in that aspect?

I try to push them as hard as I can on songwriting. There's a certain point that "that's it." That's all you're going to get, and you have to know when to stop. But I push people pretty hard. That's just how I do it. It's been sort of successful, but, like I said, it doesn't win you the popularity contest.

For bands that are just starting out, how important is the quality of the demo? Can they mix something in their home studio or their home computer and feel confident in presenting it to you or someone within the industry?

It just depends on if they know what they're doing. People can make demos on computers if they're skilled with recording the sound good. A lot of stuff that's done on Pro Tools and computers is crap because it's not played or sung properly. It's easier now because you don't have to go into a studio for most of it. You can do it mostly at home, especially the overdubs and singing. So, it still matters how it sounds, yes. A crappy demo will not get you signed at a record company.

We have members who say to us, "I met a guy who has his own studio and he wants to producer my demos." What should an artist starting out look for in a producer or someone who is offering to help them?

Someone that doesn't make them sign a production deal. That's what they should look for. It's okay to give the people points, give them money, give them part of your advance, but it's not okay to be signed to them...to me.

The same for a manager?

Well, managers are different. Managers should just get a percent of all your income, and you need to have a proper music lawyer to enter into a deal with the manager. Managers are there to make money, as do producers, agents and record companies. But all artists need to be represented by their own music lawyer—always, all the time.

How closely do you work with the managers?

Very closely. They are the most important facet in the artist's life.

So many artists are getting placed in film and television now, it's become an industry unto itself. Some time ago it would have been considered selling out for an artist to use their music in a commercial, now it's the cool thing to do to derive some extra revenue.

It used to be the most unhip, stupid, uncool thing, and now it's the best thing you could do. So, it's one of those things that's completely changed. It's like the greatest thing ever to have your music in any commercial, TV show, movie, ever, anytime, probably in general, no exceptions—except maybe a porno video, and maybe even that's good. But it's a very important tool now for promotion of artists' music. That's funny because that's the totally opposite answer than you'd get 10 years ago. Today it's one of the most important things you can do for an artist.

TAXI's membership ranges from novice songwriters to total pros, and the consensus among all of them is that they want to go for film and TV placement.

Yeah. You can't steal people's songs if you use them in a movie or TV. Music Supervisors have to pay them, and that's really the basic reason why.

And they're still dreaming of getting the major label deal.

I understand, but it turned out to be something where music supervisors turned out to be the most honest and straight-forward people because they pay you for your music, which is a great thing.

Are the days of albums, all those great tracks, over?

Yeah.

Is the entire content of a CD still as important as the hit song?

To me it is. I don't know where the twain will meet of the two questions you just asked me. Those records that are filled with great music, they cost a fortune, took a long time to do, and were very painful and expensive—without exceptions.

I always think about the days when anybody who loved music would sit down and read the liner notes and see who was involved with it. What's going to happen to that when...?

It's gonna be gone. That's it. It's gonna be gone. See it's funny because now you notice the people that read the credits on CDs because they come up to you, or they contact my website. But it's getting less and less. It's really sad. It's shocking.

Do you think there's any hope for the future of the music business?

No. Oh, you mean what's the future like two years from now or 10 years from now?

The short-term future in the music business is terrible because people steal music. Eventually, when everything is digital, when everything is digitally delivered over something, then the music business will have a new beginning because people won't be able to steal. But that's going to be in the long-term, and I think some of your members will be around for that, but not all of them. You know, they won't survive the no-income period.

You've accomplished so much in the industry this past 30 plus years, what lies ahead of you? What are your current goals?

I would like to sign a few more bands that are successful, and solo artists that show I'm not completely over after all these years like people think or wish...or both. That's all I hope for. I'd like to still go out with girls, which is why I got in the business to start with.

If you weren't doing A&R what would you be doing? What are you interested in, besides girls?

I would do only things involving girls. I'd love to do laser bikini-hair removal....

I'd love to run an escort service that was legal. I'd like to run a girls' clothes store. I mean, anything that involves girls is interesting to me. No one ever asked me that question before. Really. I'd like to direct a movie, but I don't think that could happen. I'm too old to do that.

Would you write a book?

No, I would not write a book. Never. That's what people ask me all the time.

It would be a great story.

Yeah, but I would never tell any stories about... Those stories are for the people that I experienced them with—for me and them and for no one else. I would never write a book for any amount of money, ever. I would never do any of that stuff, ever. That is the biggest violation that you can have.

It's a great attribute that you have.

Yeah. That is a good attribute, but it's just how I feel, and I would never change my mind about it.

Well, what do you think of your own legacy of music? As so many people do, do you consider yourself an icon?

I do, and I'd like to be the most famous A&R person in the music business. I hope that's true. I don't know if that's true or if anyone cares. At least Merck Mercuriadis, who is the head of Sanctuary Music cares. And Tom Lipsky and Rod Smallwood and Andy Taylor, the main principals of the company, at least they care. So that's good.

What would your advice be to anyone thinking of going into the music business?

It would actually be to not do it and to go to a therapist and have advice from different people, and if then if they're still determined, then to do it. But I would advise them to really think about it because the level of pain is really...it's almost too much now. It's always been hard to go into the music business, but there was a big upside. There were a lot of jobs and a lot of different ways to be in it, and I don't see that that's the case now.

Being at a company like Sanctuary, do you think that you can help change that?

I can't change that there's an MP3 file that people steal. I can only try to still sign the great artists and support people in making their music, which I always have done and always will do. All I can do is to try and record some people to the best of my ability and try to make some people famous, or to help as many people as I can.

If I had one wish about the music business—I've never told anyone this before—I would wish that I could convince Bill Gates to ban the MP3 file from the Microsoft Windows program and whoever runs the other operating systems to ban the MP3 program from existence. That would be my one wish.

A lot of people would say that this is the time though.

Yeah, well I say fuck them. So that's all.

What if they found a way to create it to where artists got paid and everybody was taken care of?

I don't know. I'll see when that happens. But that's what I would do if I could do one thing. I'd do that and it would be the best thing that ever could happen to any musician.

So as far as the independent band or artist out there fantasizing about getting the big label deal, would you tell them to go for it, or try to find a new means of making it big?

Both. I would tell them completely to do both. I think they should still go for it because there will still be labels and there will still be big deals for some people, just not very many. And I think it would be great if artists then thought of an alternate to get their music to the people, because people still want music, they still like music. People will still always listen to music, and if they could think of a way to get paid for their music, it would be great.

Do you still really love music?

Yeah, I still really love music. I'm just damaged from having to have made it all these years and work with the artists and record companies and all others involved, and also just what has happened to the music business in general. And you see, for me—I'm the only person who can say this—I worked for record companies and I did not get royalties from artists. So I only got paid from the record companies so the damage to the record companies affected me directly.

In the end I still love music, but it's tempered from all the various things that happened to me. I guess the true answer to your question is, when I hear a song like the Maroon 5 song or Jet or even see Velvet Revolver on The Letterman Show, I have the exact same reaction as when I was 16. I was just shocked at myself. I was just as happy to see Scott Weiland and Slash and all of my friends from the former Guns N' Roses... I mean, to not think about the various experiences I've had with them and to just to think about them playing on the show was very rewarding.

Read Part I of this interview in the Sept., 2004 TAXI Transmitter.

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