Moderated by Michael Laskow


Successful TAXI members strike a pose after their well-received panel. (l to r) B.Z. Lewis, Elliott Park, Matt Hirt, Michael Laskow, TAXI CEO and Ken Johnson.
Michael Laskow, moderator

(Michael introduces TAXI member panel)

B.Z. Lewis:

B.Z. has been a TAXI member since 1997. Some of his highlights include once being named as one of the top 10 best guitarists in Texas—that's an accomplishment—doing the Rubik's Cube in 45 seconds and building a recording studio from the ground up. He has degrees in classical guitar and recording engineering. His credits include having songs on all the major networks, 15 independent films, several platinum selling video game titles, regional and national advertising campaigns and several full-length internationally distributed documentary films. Due to his success, he opened a music production company called Pop Tuna that is currently running in the heart of San Francisco, Calif.

Elliott Park:

Elliott lives in Clyde, Texas: population 73, with his wife and three kids. He's been a member of TAXI for three years. In August of '02 some of his songs caught the attention of Doug Minnick, our vice-president, who many of you fondly remember I'm sure. Doug turned me on to him. I called a lot of people in Nashville and set up a bunch of meetings and I paraded him around like a poodle. Then in November of 2003 Elliott signed a staff-writer deal with Extreme Writers Group, a highly regarded music world publisher. (Shane Barrett who's our man on the street in Nashville was immensely helpful.) He makes about six trips to Nashville a year and co-writes and does demo sessions while he's there. Elliott is just breaking into the co-writing scene but has already written with several top writers who have had #1 hits. And he loves to point out that while he still has not gotten the big cut, he's had some incredible near misses—as he likes to call them—and a ton of songs on hold with artists such as Diamond Rio, Rascal Flats, George Strait and Tim McGraw. Elliott's too modest to tell you himself, but he's become widely known by all the right people in Nashville and has a very bright future ahead of him. He's a man who's learning that patience is indeed a virtue.

Matt Hirt:

Matt is a long-time TAXI member, for almost eight years now. He's also been to all eight Road Rallies I believe. He's a very popular guy on our Message Boards. [By the way, how many of you guys actually use the Message Boards? You guys should really check out the Message Boards. There's a lot of stuff you can learn there.] Matt has had over 300 songs and tracks signed or commissioned through TAXI deals. As a result, he now makes his full-time living as a composer and songwriter—ladies and gentlemen, the poster child. His music has been heard in major motion pictures Connie and Carla on Universal, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, as well as numerous network and cable TV shows including Judging Amy on CBS, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit on NBC, Spin City on ABC, Angel on The WB, The Osbournes on MTV and many, many others.

Ken Johnson:

Ken's got himself a little fan club wherever he goes now, and it's cool. His music is soulful, edgy country-rock. He's based in Nashville. He has spent the last three years writing and touring full-time with the backing of his band, as well as doing solo gigs. He's opened shows such as Keith Urban, Vanessa Carlton, Blue Dogs, Stone Temple Pilots and the Subdudes. He's a regular performer at venues such as Blue Bird Workplay Theatre and the Moonlight Music Café. Ken signed a publishing contract with Sho-Bud Music in 2003 as a result of contacts that he made by coming to a Road Rally. How cool is that? [applause] That was the best plane ticket he ever bought.

He now resides in Nashville full-time after moving there from Birmingham, Alabama. He's working closely with Bruce Burch and Dawn Jackson at Sho-Bud Music as a writer and developing artist. You guys know how about a year ago I sent out an e-mail saying, "Will the guy who got the six-figure publishing deal please get in touch with me?" That's him. His publisher, whom I adore immensely, was deathly afraid that if we told everybody he got this six-figure publishing deal that every TAXI member we have would be calling her up, driving her nuts. So, Dawn do you want to stand up and identify yourself? No. Don't even look. She's not in the room. I was just kidding. Really.

As Ken pointed out, that six figures is spread out over three years. But we're immensely proud of him. He's just getting started. He's already had songs recorded by Katura Jane, Wayne Battle and Wayne Newton. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Ken Johnson.

As you guys can imagine, we get calls all the time saying, "I'm so frustrated with TAXI. I keep sending stuff in, I get forwarded and then I don't get called back from companies. I've been a member for four months and I haven't gotten a deal yet. This must be a rip-off." I wanted to put these guys up here because they're just like you. They are you. These are your fellow members. These guys got something right and I want to try to figure out today what it is that they're doing that you may not be doing yet, because our goal is to get everybody in this room signed to something. Remember at the beginning of the weekend I mentioned that there's a niche for everybody here. You just have to figure out what your niche is and figure out how you're going to achieve that goal. These guys have done that.

So how long had each of you been doing what you do before you joined TAXI?

B.Z.: That's hard to say. I grew up in my father's studio, so I've been doing this all my life. I guess I started writing music ever since I was a kid, but really I was in college when I started writing song after song. I've been doing it since '86.

Had you made any money in film or TV work prior to joining TAXI?

B.Z.: No. In all the times I was playing in bands, I made five bucks and that was for a cheeseburger someone bought me once...and fries.

Better to be the guy getting the fries than the person saying, "Would you like fries with that?" [laughter]

Elliott, how long had you been making music before you got hooked up with us?

Elliott: I'd always had musical interest. I can remember growing up in the Methodist Church and singing hymns and thinkin' that it was boring to sing with everybody else and trying to do harmony. My mom had always been into music and played the piano. In college something sparked. I played basketball and after workouts I'd go over and just tinker on the piano in the music department. That was when I first started playing piano was just tinkering with it when I was about 18 or 19 years old. No formal training. It's all about ear and it's a lot of smoke and mirrors, as I like to say. But I didn't really put anything together until about five or six years ago.



Some of the companies B.Z. Lewis has had deals with.
Didn't you tell me over dinner that a lot of the stuff was just poems that you'd written down then you decided to put the music and the poems together and turn them into songs?

Elliott: Yeah. Poem, little bits and pieces of thoughts. I've always dabbled in poetry. I still have stuff I wrote 17 years ago in high school.

Matt, how 'bout you? How long were you making music before you joined TAXI?

Matt: Seriously, maybe a couple years. I'd been doing music for a long time, but I'd never thought of trying to make a living at it. Then I decided on that about '95, and I think I joined TAXI in '97.

And Ken, how about you?

Ken: I grew up in the Methodist Church too, singing, and they said to go where the sinners are and I started a band. We put a cover band together and played all through the end of college. Then I figured you can't do music for a livin', really, so I was a stockbroker for five years. Then I came here in this room and met my publisher whose become one of my best friends and has really helped me a lot. So, since about four months after the conference two years ago, I've been full-time in this business.

I should mention that all of you guys know Bruce Burch. He's been on panels here; Laura Becker's been on panels here for years. Those two guys are heavily involved in Ken's career as well. It's just cool for me as the owner of TAXI to think that I had this goofy little idea in November of 1991 and somehow it has evolved into all these different things. And here's a guy who gets on a plane, comes to this conference, meets Dawn, and this whole thing just came together and fell into place. I sit at home at night thinkin' about you, Ken.

Ken: I think about it a lot too.

First of all, obviously if you're a Methodist, you've got a fifty percent chance of getting signed because two out of four of you guys used to sing in the Methodist Church. So everybody who wants to get a deal should convert if you're not a Methodist when you leave here. [laughter]

What do you think it is? What's your take on what has lead to your success? B.Z., any clues about what you are doing differently than other people in the room might be doing?

B.Z.: No, I think I'm doing the same. I just do what I love doing, whether it's a co-write or an instrumental track. I don't necessarily think, "Oh, I'm going to try to get this into a TV thing or a video game." I just do what I do and hopefully the phone rings.

Do you remember how long were you a member before you got your first deal with us?

B.Z.: Oh yeah. The first year I didn't do anything. I think I did one song the first year. But I was sort of spending that time getting some music together. It was the second year.

I have a theory. People generally don't get deals their first year. You might think I'm trying to con people into renewing, but it's the second year students that seem to do the best often, times because they're the most serious. They came back for another year. A lot of the people I meet that don't get a deal in the first year because they didn't submit a lot, end up getting a deal in the second year because they figure out the system. They get a feel for how TAXI works so they can maybe use it better than you might have going in blind.

Elliott, how long were you a member before something started happening for you?

Elliott: I think it was around a year, maybe the second year. I joined in the summer of 2001 and it was August of 2002 that I got a call from somebody that they were interested in my songs.

And did you hang up the phone after I called and think it's about damn time?

Elliott: No I didn't think that. I'm not a real aggressive type, so I just let things just sit on the back burner. It's just the way I am, and to be honest, that's why TAXI was very good for me. I really don't see any other way I could have made it—I've got to say this with a degree of humility because I really haven't made it yet. But at the level I'm at, I don't see any other way I could have been there without the vehicle of TAXI.

It's funny. A&R guys always say that if you're good enough we'll hear about you. I get into that argument with Marshall Altman over golf games on a regular basis. If you're good enough we'll hear about you. Nobody would have heard about Elliott. You know, Clyde, Tex., it's not like you guys have got the Capitol Records Tower in downtown Clyde. So I know there's value in what we do.

Elliott: And also, I had no idea how to go about it. I really didn't. And now, if I knew then what I know now, I may have been able to do that. I didn't even know what A&R stood for.

Airplanes and restaurants.

Elliott: That's where I was coming from. I had the passion for my own music, but it was just passionate to play for my friends and relatives. I didn't have any idea how to get it out anywhere beyond that circle.

Matt, how about you? How long were you a member before you got your first thing licensed?

Matt: Probably about a year and a half to the first call back. I was so surprised. I certainly wasn't going like "it's about time." I was going, "Omigod—somebody's calling me back." It definitely takes time.

Same thing for you, Ken?

Ken: About two or three months before the conference two years ago until I signed the deal.

How many of you guys have a 24-track digital multi-million dollar studio at home that you do your demos on?

Elliott: I have a four-track.



Some of the projects Elliott Park has worked on.
I've got to tell you. How many of you wonder if a 4-track is good enough? This is a guy who doesn't even have a fancy synthesizer. He just has some sort of basic keyboard rig and a four-track at home, right?

Elliott: Yeah, it's a piano that has like three other really bad sounds.

I think one of the demos that we played up here is one of your home demos, right? You listen to those things and you would think they were done in a real studio. It's not about the number of tracks—size really doesn't matter—it's about what you can do with the tracks that you've got. You know when we were busy parading you around like a poodle, nobody said to me when Elliott walked out of the room, "His demos suck. You ought to bring him to town to have some real demos made." His demos sounded really good; got him a deal.

How about you, Matt?

Matt: I just have a PC and recording software. It's basically all done on the computer now. It's definitely about what you do with it. The quality comes out from, I guess, knowing what you're doing more than... Anybody could go out and buy $10,000 worth of equipment and that wouldn't really improve their writing or even their sound.

That's the way I feel about Quark or some of the design programs. Anybody can go out and buy Quark. By the way, Elliott's a designer and does corporate logos for his day gig. Any yahoo can go out and buy Quark and sit down, but unless you've got the hands and the eyes to go with it... So when you go out and buy recording equipment, spend six months and get to know it. I know that's not what you guys were necessarily born to do and may not be the thing you're passionate about, but you really can do stuff with a four-track or an eight-track. It's absolutely acceptable for film and TV work. You do not need a 24-track digital recorder. There's a huge misconception among our members that "I'm not worthy of film and TV because you need broadcast quality or master quality". I'm absolutely sure after hearing B.Z.'s stuff and Matt's stuff that you can have a very basic home studio and know how to use it well and get that stuff—like 300 cuts—off a computer that runs off a PC. That's amazing.

Matt: The first stuff that I got placed was done on the old Atari ST computer. I had like two sound modules, both of them like 10 years old, and nobody ever said, "We love this tune, but we can hear that it was done on the Atari so we can't use it." That just doesn't happen. You just have to do a job where that doesn't matter where they can't tell it wasn't done in a big studio. That's completely doable. You just have to learn the craft of how to put it all together. I think it's to some degree the arranging more than the engineering itself.

Was it hard to learn the engineering?

Matt: No, not really. I went to a music school for a while and did some engineering there and learned the basics. No, you get Recording magazine and you buy a few CDs, you can learn it.

By the way, how many of you guys have ever downloaded "Studio Buddy"? For those of you who don't know, we got sick of answering questions at the office about how to record a bass sound, how to record a guitar sound. So we put the 100 most-asked questions into a thing called "Studio Buddy." It's available at taxi.com; it's available at studiobuddy.com; it's absolutely free. You download it, throw it into your computer and type in, "How do I record an acoustic guitar?" and a prescription pops up. Alex Reed and I wrote this thing—both of us being multi-platinum engineers. We wrote it for people like you, and I get calls from people saying, "Wow, I downloaded Studio Buddy and now, all of a sudden, the equipment I bought was worth it. So we're kinda happy about that.

Elliott, how many times did you curse my name or TAXI's name when you got back a critique? (This guy never curses, anyway. He's such a good guy. Elliott Park I think is the most humble person I've ever met in my life.)

Elliott: There were probably four or five songs that I thought were really good songs that came back saying they weren't right for that listing. And I don't know if this is good or bad, but one or two of those songs I've had put on hold in Nashville, and TAXI was actually so critical of that particular listing that they didn't forward it. So, in a lot of ways you guys are that critical, you make sure only the best is forwarded. And you had given me feedback that it was a really good song, but wasn't correct for this listing. Now I look back, and that was right.

Have any of you ever gotten the critiques and gone back and re-worked a piece based on what you learned from the critiques? Have you seen common threads?

Matt: Rarely. I usually incorporate it in my next stuff, but I have done it on a couple of occasions. I don't write a lot of lyrics, so I think for lyrics, I would definitely rewrite it if I thought the song had a chance of being cut by a major artist. Most of my stuff goes to film and TV so I don't really care about the lyrics.

Ken, have you found any value in the critiques?

Ken: Yeah, I think it's one of the most important things. It's like you're constantly trying to grow and get better, and the best way to do that is to in some way model people who have already had success. So many friends of mine who are not having success, one of the reasons is because they are convinced that their song lyrics are awesome. Like, "Sorry Mr. 15 Grammy Man, you're wrong." You've got to bounce things off... Now I have my publishers and people in Nashville that I can bounce stuff off of who I can trust to point things out that I might not see. You might think it's the greatest, but you might be able to go back and beat it. If you keep an open mind on the critiques, you'll get better. Then you start to see that you're getting better.

Have you seen any parallel between the TAXI critiques and now that you're signed to a publishing company? Are we pretty much on par with stuff we're saying versus what they say?

Ken: Totally. To me it's totally obvious that unless you're in a publishing situation, I don't know any other way that you could get that feedback on a regular basis. It's awesome. It's real. And I know because some of the publishers that are friends of mine are taking time in their office with the box that says TAXI on it going through the stuff.

B.Z., have you had a branching effect with contacts that you've made through TAXI? Did you get a song placed in something and then it branched out?

B.Z.: Oh yeah. I think the first deal I got for a low-budget film—I think it paid like $500. I kept a relationship with these people, then they went off to form a publishing company called Media Creature, which I eventually signed with. Then from there, they got me several commercials and... So, talk about a branch, it's been pretty good.



Some of Matt Hirt's deals through TAXI.
How many other people other than your original contacts made through TAXI have you met as a result of the branching out?

B.Z.: It's hard to say, but 10-to-20 range.

And is socialization part of that branching process? Do you find that you have to be a bit of a businessman?

B.Z.: Yeah. I have to come down here and meet with some of these people at least twice a year.

How about you, Elliott? Now that you have a staff writing deal in Nashville, have you met other people as a result of the TAXI membership getting you the publishing deal, and is the publishing deal branching you out in the world?

Elliott: Yeah, everybody I've met in Nashville is because of TAXI. I wouldn't have even been in Nashville if it hadn't been for TAXI. I'm meeting new people every time I go there. The numbers increase, and my family of writers and my circle of friends in Nashville increases every time I go back. That's all part of that relationship thing that you heard the panel talking about earlier. It's so important to form those relationships because it's just human nature to be interested in a person's song if you know him, rather than just if the song is good or not.

How are you doing with co-writing? Elliott and I have a favorite restaurant we go to together for dinner a lot and we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about co-writing. Elliott had never co-written before, and we haven't seen each other now in close to a year. How's it going?

Elliott: It's going good. I'm going in January to co-write with three really good writers, a couple have had #1 hits. Co-writing is so different for me. I'm still learning. I've only been doing it for a year. The main thing I struggle with, that I'm overcoming, is learning to deal with... Because when you're co-writing with someone, you can't really dive into the depths of your soul, because they don't know where you're at, and you'll say something and you get startled, and you come out of that zone that I like to get in when I'm writing by myself. So you have to be a little more topical; you have to be a little more general; you have to give feedback to the other writer what you're thinking, which sometimes disrupts the way I usually write by myself. Those are the things I'm learning and getting kind of broken in in that area. But I've co-written some good songs. We've had some good holds and near misses.

Someday you'll have a compilation, the Elliott Park's Greatest Near Misses.

Matt, with 300 cuts so far. Tell us about branching out from your prospective. Has a lot of it come from the branches?

Matt: Actually not so much. It comes from the same people coming back to you. Basically I had maybe two songs forwarded and these people like the songs and they agreed to some kind of deal. The next thing they're saying is, "What else do you got?" So I send some more stuff. That's kind of how it works. Then with a music library, which is most of what I do, it gets to a point where they want to hire you to do a whole project. That's what I've been doing for the last year and a half primarily. Or I'm doing whole CDs worth of material in some particular genre or style. So it hasn't branched out so much as to entirely new people.

So it sounds like you've become their "go-to" guy.

Matt: Yeah. I'm kind of the go-to guy for certain styles of several libraries now and I'm trying to expand that. I'm trying to get to the point where I have all the world music on all the different libraries, so anytime anybody needs a world music track, they don't have a choice but to use one of mine. That's my goal.

The nice thing is that when you get to know these libraries really well, and they're happy with the work you do... It is very important to deliver it on time, because a lot of people don't deliver on time. That's something I hear a lot from music library people. They say, "Oh, you're so reliable. You tell us it's going to be there on Thursday, it's gonna be there on Thursday." That's really important. They're all running a business, and they have to get it mastered and printed. So you've got to deliver the stuff on time.

When writing for film and TV, what are some of the peculiarities? Can you give me some of the rules and regulations for film and TV versus writing a full song?

Matt: One of the really important things is that I think a lot of people think it has to be film music—whatever that means. They think it either has to be orchestral, or it has to be some new age piano thing. It goes into any kind of musical style, whether it's rock, pop, anything that's on Billboard, or it has these specific genres like motivational music or business activity. Those are different styles, but any style of music is used particularly by music libraries, so it's important to know that if you have ethereal sounding piano track that you think sounds like film music, that's not necessarily what they're looking at at all. That I think is a big thing. Also, I think people think if it's going to be background music, there should be no melodies on it. And that's a big mistake. You have to have a melody that's like a melody of a hit song. It has to be a strong melody; it has to have an A section and a B section, because the people that put it in are not musicians, and they have to get something that they can grasp onto and that's a melody for most people that are non-musicians. Of course, you're going to make a track without the melody to have available as well. But you need to convince a person who is not a musician to use your piece of music and put it in a scene—even if they drop it down so low that you can't even hear it yourself—you still have to sell it to them first.

Actually, the songs that I had in the movie Connie and Carla, I went to the movie theater and I couldn't hear it. The credit rolls and my name is there, and I thought, "Where was that song? I couldn't hear it." So I went back the next night, then I could hear it because I had figured out a few possible scenes where it could have been. So it's important that it could be really far in the background, or it could be in your face. Spin City was one of the first things I had, and it was like a montage. You could hear it really well. There was no dialogue. So I think that's an important thing that you still need melodies. It still needs to have the form, a real clear structure. It's really not that different from writing a song, but it usually doesn't have lyrics.

A lot of the instrumental stuff I've heard in the 13 years we've been around, people do these long, drawn out, elaborate intros before they get to what would be considered the verse in an instrumental piece, then the verse lasts forever, finally you get to what would be considered the chorus. B.Z., Matt, are long intros desirable in film and TV?

Matt: No. Sometimes there's no intro. Sometimes it just hits.

Do you find that repetitive melodies that are easily digestible tend to get you cut more often than complicated stuff?

Matt: I'd say the same kind of melodies that would get a song cut. Again, the people that use my music are usually not musicians. You have to have something like a repetitive structure, a nice singable melody. If I write something and you listen to it and you can't hum the melody back to me, you're probably not going to get that used.



Some of the projects Ken Johnson has worked on.
Ken, how often do you write? What's your regimen?

Ken: I typically write four days a week, twice a day. At 10 and 3 I usually have co-writing appointments set up in Nashville. I try to write with people who are already accomplished, who I can learn from, and who bring out the best in me. Also I write with people who are just like me, just learning and trying to get going. I write stuff now, compared to what I was doing three months ago, and I feel a lot stronger. It's just a constant growing.

Do you try to write commercially now or do you still write the same way? Do you write from the heart or do you sit down and say, "OK, I'm going to sit down and try to write an uptempo song for a female artist." Do you use a standard structure most of the time? What's changed in your life since you've become a pro writer?

Ken: If you look at some of the lyrics and songs I wrote four or five years ago, you wouldn't know what in the world I was talking about. I wrote it for me; it was my poetry for me. And if you're writing seriously to make a living, you need to share it. You need to write something that a lot of people will relate to, and I don't think that's selling out at all. You write to appeal to a mass of people and that means generalizing the lyrics. In Nashville you use simple words to provoke a profound thought. That's the hard part.

Matt, I know that you spend a lot of time on our Message Board and a lot of people bashing TAXI. How often have you ever heard somebody's music that was bashing TAXI and thought, "Wow, their music is great?"

Matt: I would say that I meet people who are critical or suspicious, and a lot of those people do have good music. But the people who really bash TAXI, their music usually sucks. It's as simple as that. Those are the same people of course who say, "Please critique my music." Then you say, "You've got to work on this or on that." And I'm really usually very nice about it. And they go, "You don't know what you're talking about. It's perfect. It came to me in my moment of inspiration, and blah, blah, blah."

But I think what he was saying about the commercial writing, it doesn't mean that it can't come from the heart at all. There was a guy on there who I had a long discussion with and he would not consider changing his lyrics, even though they were absolutely incomprehensible. I said to him, "Look, you're not selling out by communicating to people. Aren't you trying to communicate?" And he said, "Well, yeah, but I want everyone to read their own meaning into it. I don't want to sell out. I'm not commercial, and I don't want to give into the big money." So I say, "Look, you have a verse, you have a chorus, you have a bridge, you have a chorus. That's commercial." I mean it's not like you're writing free jazz or something, so you've already taken that step, so why not move it in a direction where it actually communicates to people.

B.Z., How on top of the music scene do you have to be? Do you listen to a lot of radio? How do you stay current enough in what you listen to that that translates into the commercial work that you do for film and TV?

B.Z.: I think my situation is kind of unusual. My day gig, so to speak, I have a recording studio, a commercial facility in San Francisco, so I'm constantly dealing with young people, clients bringing stuff in to record. I listen to the radio and I've got that connection as well. And I'm seeing what's new in town.

Do you get a sense that maybe the reason that you've been so successful with your stuff is because you are current? Do you try to stay current or do you just write from the heart and hope they like it?

B.Z.: I definitely try to stay current. Also with this other company I have, we write music for film and TV, and we have to produce whatever anyone wants. So if they mention whoever's on the charts right now, we have to produce something that's just like that. So, yeah, it's an exercise in trying to fulfill this order.

Elliott, I've never met anybody in my entire career who writes so much from the heart as I think you do. How is it now for you being signed to a publisher, writing with all these other great writers in Nashville? Can you still write from the heart and find that you're still commercially appealing or do you feel like you've had to sell out?

Elliott: Yeah. I've always written from the heart. I've heard people say they've had a hard time transitioning from writing about personal experiences into more commercial. It's funny, I've never written about personal experience. I had a run-of-the-mill childhood, real happy, and that's boring to write about. So I'm just transport myself into another person's situation. So that's still commercially viable. What is difficult is to pull back a little from being so deep and heartfelt and making it a little easier to catch the lyrics commercially, if you're going for radio airplay. And it is difficult to find that area where you're heartfelt but you're also easy to understand, easy to hear, easy to understand the story line of the song. And actually I am entering an area where I'm trying to write music that's just fun to listen to.

I know you've written tons of ballads, and I know that all the publishers mentioned when we were parading you around like a poodle... People kept saying, "Do you have anything uptempo," and that is just so not you. Was it hard for you to make the transition from ballad boy to uptempo guy?

Elliott: That was a little bit of a hard exterior for me because I had uptempo songs but they just weren't very good. I'm starting to write better uptempo songs, and I'm finding a part of me that is uptempo that I never knew existed. I'm exercising my uptempo muscle.

And finally, can each of you take a turn and tell the audience what is the one thing that they can take away from this panel and this conference that can get them on a solid track to success. What do they need to go home with? Ken, do you want to think about that and lay one on them?

Ken: Hmm... For me, it's just surrounding yourself with people who have been successful and people who believe in you and encourage you and bring out the best in you. Trust those people when you write stuff. Trust their input. And I would say just keep networking and writing with people who have had success and are good writers. And don't beat yourself up if you write a song that's not quite there. It's a good exercise, just go on and write another one and write a better one. If you're new to co-writing and you're in there for four hours and you feel like you just got your teeth kicked in because nothing was clicking, write one more time with that person and set some appointments up with some other people. Find a few people that you feel comfortable writing with. And also, don't start writing by yourself. You'll be surprised if you do a lot of co-writing, then you write stuff on your own, you'll be patting yourself on the back saying, "Man, I'm a genius today!" Because you're just better because you've been exercising that muscle. So I would say what matters a lot, and what makes a difference to me for sure—especially in the last several months—is the people who I have surrounded myself with that I trust to have my best interests in mind and help me grow. I'll listen to them. Even when you think you're right, you've really got to consider where they're coming from and accept that. And also, don't get too high on your highs or too low on your lows.

Matt, how about you?

Matt: I think just hard work, honestly. I work six days a week, probably eight hours a day. Everybody would like to do this job, so if you're fortunate enough to have the talent, I think you owe it to yourself to work as hard as you can. Give yourself a certain amount of time and really make this your top priority for maybe the next five years and see if you can get somewhere. I think if you have the talent, it's a shame to waste it by not working hard enough to try to achieve your goal.

Elliott: I was going to say the same thing. I really was. I was gonna say that, too. Hard work, but I would say that sometimes it's easy to come here and get frustrated and end up going back and trying to be something that you're not, taking a whole new direction on your music. If you do what naturally comes to you first and nothing works after four or five years, then maybe it's time to try something else. But don't jump around and try this and that, every other inspiration. Just stick with what feels good. Work hard, take advice, but as far as the basis of what you're doing and where it comes from, don't try to be something that you're not.

B.Z.: I'd say just keep at it. Keep plugging away, keep submitting songs. One day when you get something forwarded, that's awesome. Suddenly you've got validity to what you do. Then someone calls. That's insanely cool when that happens. Wow, you've got a credit list going and you can use that. "Well, this guy hired me for something. What are you gonna do?" You've just gotta keep at it if you really believe in what you're doing and really believe in yourself. You've got to keep plugging away. You can't stop.

I don't know about you guys, but the common thread for me—and I know all these guys pretty well—is their humility. Are they not like the most humble group you've ever seen and so phenomenally deserving? Congratulations to all of you for your success. I'm so proud of you guys. It makes it all worthwhile.

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