This Article Originally Published October 2003
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 record deal.
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 calling you.
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 good enough.
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 and credibility.
Those deals are also a great way to keep food on the table while you pursue that major label deal you’ve always wanted
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 your pocket!
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 Rally”?
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 cheated.
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 the deal;-)
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 FREE!