This Article Originally Published September 1999
Many of our readers might already know about TAXI. For those who do, this article will bring some insight into how this company operates, and some big plans for its future. For those who have never heard of this company . . . welcome to the world of the Independent A&R Vehicle.
When one thinks about the typical Artists and Repertoire (A&R) department, there are visions of a major label twenty-something going out 5 nights a week to the local clubs to find the next hot unsigned band. It's nice work if you can get it, but very inefficient in many ways. How does a label (major or independent) spread their wings out to cover the whole country (or world) to see all the bands in all the genres out there? The obvious answer would be for all those bands to send in demo tapes to the majors and have the in house A&R people at the label become blown away by the amazing work. Good in theory, but reality dictates that the resulting deluge of tapes could fill CBGB's faster than a free beer show. What about all the songwriters out there who have beautiful ballads but can't sing or are not in a band? How can an unsigned band or songwriter get their work into the hands of the right decision makers while providing the labels the material that they want. The answer is TAXI.
TAXI provides the human touch in the increasingly impersonal world of music where bits and bytes are the newest methods of recording and distribution. For $299 a TAXI member has access to a want-ad, type list from the music, television and film industries (i.e. the entertainment world). If a member believes that their song is what the label or firm is looking for, then they simply have to mail the song to TAXI. Each song is then screened and given a personal appraisal. TAXI has an experienced staff of music industry alumni and decision makers in each genre of music (country, rock, pop, etc . . .), who knows what the requesting label/firm wants because many of them were label A&Rs themselves. If your song is deemed worthy then it goes to the label/firm which trusts TAXI's opinion in weeding out unsuitable songs. It the song is not used, then an appraisal of the song is sent back to the member complete with honest and professional remarks on the song. Forwarding rates (from TAXI to the firms) vary on what is being requested and who is asking for the song. Some requests have 30% forwarding rates while others (a top-level executive at a major label or film studio for example) get around 3%. The average rate listed on their website is 11% but that is just a rough average. Once the requester has found a track which is right for the situation, they then contact the band or writer directly and TAXI is out of the loop with another success story.
Being a technology writer focusing on music, I must start all interviews with the hot topic du jour . . . the mp3 format and its effect on the music industry.
How is the mp3 format going to change the music industry and how you do business?
Michael Laskow: "There is no question that some technology (whatever that may be) which sends music down wires will make it easier for the public to listen to. When my parents can do it, then it's a viable technology. Now it is in the early adopter stage. Ultimately brick and mortar music stores as well as distributors will be greatly affected. There is a misconception among artists that the Internet will level the playing field. This is simply not the case. Look at the Rolling Stones, if they want to take their business online they already have huge marketing dollars and a fan base built up. For the independent band who has a song posted on MP3.com and any number of related sites, there is no way to assume that they can use that as the only promotion tool."
In the process of discussing some of TAXI's technology and plans for incorporating the Internet into their strategy I was able to discover some breaking news which will be first announced here at Musicdish (most likely before any press releases).
Michael Laskow: "TAXI is taking their act to the street. Rather than having traditional radio stations and labels decide what we want to hear and giving it to us (note: push technology which was obsolete in the online world last year), TAXI is going to allow music lovers to shop for music like they shop for produce. I am a 44 year old male who likes James Taylor, not Jewel or Third Eye Blind. I want to hear music which sounds like James Taylor and has more than 3 stars (or Cabs in this case), pre-screened and rated by an expert who will rate all the music out there at all the various major music websites. Imagine a search engine combined with Siskel & Ebert. The engine will take people to the website where the music resides and then be available for downloads. The songs will not be hosted on our site, and the format is not important as it can be any format."
This could be the missing link between the music and its audience. The details are still being worked out, but 2 buyers have offered $10 million for the company and he's not selling. My assorted interviews with forward thinking music industry leaders all point to the same fact of the future, which will come as no surprise to most of you. Time is becoming more valuable than ever to the general population. People do not have time to spend surfing the net to find outlaw mp3 files residing on slow servers or personal homepages. The TAXI music search and rate engine meshes well with this model. The experts at TAXI will focus on the music and although Michael did not mention a fee-based service (more likely advertising supported), I believe people would be willing to pay for this time saver.
Another interesting "human touch" element which I noticed while examining the offices were their use of low tech boom boxes, cassette tapes, and handwritten comments on the entries. I could not help but notice the incredible number of "tape burritos" (a full explanation is available at their website) coming in and going out. This structure is helping to keep our postal service alive and thriving. Surely this infrastructure can be altered with the most basic of technological installations. As a consultant I would make everything automated from mp3 submission and subsequent forwarding of the files to my professional screener. They could then listen from the comfort of his or her own computer while writing comments on a standardized form to be emailed back to the customer while entering this into our database to keep track of everything. The lure of technology beckons, but then the harsh reality appears.
Michael Laskow: "We wanted to do that several years back. The biggest problem is that only 50% of our customers have computers. Therefore the ability to create an mp3 from a master is reduced by a half. Then out of that half we must make sure they have an Internet connection for email and the transmission of files. The professional listeners are music industry people, not technology types and many do not use computers; therefore they are not able to use one. Finally, in a survey we did with the clients, we found that they hated the print outs of their song critiques. They were afraid of canned responses so even though they complain that sometimes the writing is illegible, they demand that human touch."
This is a classic case of people wanting a personal touch for something which is very important to them (their musical creation). Technology has amazing applications in every walk of life, but this sensitive, qualitative area is not quite ready for it. Even the most tech-savvy person out there prefers a handwritten letter coming through snail mail rather than a note emerging from your Internet connection. TAXI understands this and provides this "human touch" to its clients, both musicians/bands and labels/production companies. The number one problem for most musicians, after money, is getting heard and getting your music to the right people at the right time. For labels, it is finding the right music without having to spend huge resources that could be better spent promoting their artists. As the definition of labels change due to the digital music revolution, becoming less an all encompassing home for musicians and more providing targeted services, it becomes more important for innovative companies to bridge that gap. TAXI seeks to do just that, and from my conversation with Michael, they seem to be on the right path.