Getting Record Deals
Interview by Michael Laskow
Matt Hirt, 11-year TAXI member with tons of film and TV placements, whose music can now be heard on TV virtually every day.
Steven Corn, Co-founder of BFM Digital, former V.P. of Megatrax and LicenseMusic.com, past TAXI A&R team member.
Tanvi Patel, President, Crucial Music, former V.P. of One Music.
Danny McCloskey, President, Songs With Vision, current TAXI A&R team member.
Matthias Weber, former TAXI member, current member of the TAXI A&R team, and a successful film and TV composer who has worked on The Shield, The Sopranos, and Baywatch, written songs for Chris Daughtry, Stanford A/O, done lots of commercial work, had an Emmy win in 2003 and a National Songwriting Award in 2004.
Michael Laskow, Moderator.
Welcome, and thanks for doing this panel. I'm really excited to do this with you.
We hear this type of comment from TAXI members ALL the time, "I've been forwarded 27 times and I don't have a deal yet, and it's already been 90 days." [audience laughs]
You're laughing, but people don't renew their memberships over this issue!
Here's an actual quote from the public forum on taxi.com that I saw the other night [Michael reads to the audience]. "Let me start by saying that I've been a touring musician for the past 12 years and I know that nothing moves fast in this business, but I'm starting to wonder what is going on with all my forwards. Lately I've been getting a lot of forwards, and besides getting a song into an Indie film a few months back, but not even one music library deal. I've noticed the deals seem to be flying among the members lately and it's getting so frustrating to keep getting forwards with no contact after that. In three months I'll be coming up on my year anniversary with TAXI. At this rate I'm just not sure what to do. I just needed to vent."
Matt, a large percentage of the members who don't renew with TAXI use that as their reason. What would you say to this guy and all the other people that feel like he does?
Matt: Well, if he says, "I know nothing in this business goes quickly," apparently he hasn't learned a lesson yet in all those years of touring, because that is exactly the problem. Nothing moves quickly. You know, if you haven't even been a member for a year, you can't really expect to have any money in your pocket at this point. And he even GOT some kind of Indie deal apparently, so it's strange that he'd feel that way.
Yeah, he glossed right over the fact that he DID get a song placed in an Indie film through TAXI in his first year. But I'm curious to know how you answer people with this issue as somebody who's very active on our forum at taxi.com... what do you tell these guys?
Matt: Well, I just tell them they have to give it time. You have to realize that when your music gets forwarded to a company, those people don't necessarily drop everything that they're doing so that they can listen to your 'brilliant' song and call you in the next minute and offer you a deal. That's not really the way it works usually. They get to listening to the stuff when they get to it. Then they may have to think about it perhaps, or evaluate it amongst several forwards that they are getting that they think might be worth it. So it takes time.
Steve: There's actually a deeper issue that's represented by that forum post. The guy's a touring musician, so hopefully he's making his money as a musician. But it belies the fact that you can know one part of the business and be completely ignorant about another part of the business.
Is there something more I can do, something more TAXI can do as a company to let these guys [pointing to the audience] know the reality so they don't grow impatient? Or is it as Kara DioGuardi said this morning—that we are a kind of "we want everything now" society. Everything is fast food, movies are quick-cut, commercials are boom-boom-boom. What else can I do?
Steve: TAXI does more than anyone I know to educate the masses. Even if you handed out Don Passman's book and said, "There's going to be a test on Tuesday," it still wouldn't help. People have to realize that it's the business of music, and there about 30 different ways you can make money, maybe more, in the business of music. Touring is one; film and TV licensing is one; being a manager, being in A&R, being a licensee, a publisher, a label, and they all require research. If you wanted to own a franchise, like a fast-food restaurant, you would research that industry. The same rules apply here.
Danny: I think that looking beyond somebody submitting and not getting a decision made immediately, bring it back to a personal basis and say, "Do they buy an album for the first song they hear?" Obviously, everybody hears new music every week. Do you immediately run out and buy the album of the artist? Or do you even download that one song initially as soon as you hear it? It takes a long time for people to make that decision. And that just goes the same way on the other side of the music business, on the industry side.
Steve: People want to get what they pay for when they sign up with TAXI, but maybe they're not seeing the bigger picture. When I was doing film and TV music as a writer/composer, I used to send out thousands of cassettes, and I would often spend five times what a TAXI membership costs. And if I got two responses, I was like, "Wow, that's cool." So there is a cost of doing business, and that was just one cost. Buying Billboard, maintaining a Web page... everything costs, and you've got to spend some money. But just a single one-minute network placement will make you back three years of what you invested in your TAXI membership. So you've got three years to recoup your investment by getting just one placement from one library, one time.
I use the golf analogy. You want to play golf in the Masters with Tiger Woods. Can you play once a week on Saturday with your buddies and realistically think you can just show up and play against Tiger? No, of course not! Do you think you'd have to spend 20 years taking lessons five days a week at the cost of thousands of dollars a month to even have a hope and a prayer of getting to that level? Yes!
But why then do we as musicians hold ourselves and hold TAXI and hold the industry to a different standard? "I want this. I want to be successful. I sent 16 submissions to TAXI and four of them got forwarded. Why am I not getting any money or any deals yet?"
Matt: Well, it's a business. When you pitch your music and you're trying to make a living at it, this is a business. Can you name a business where you don't have to invest any money but you expect a profit in six months? I don't know of one. If anybody knows of a business like that, please let me know because I'd like to get into it.
I'm with you! I'd love to be your partner.
Tanvi: I'm getting hundreds of submissions a week, and I'm sure you guys are as well. We are a very small company, and a lot of people in my business are in the same boat. I have one person that manages all the music that comes in, and that person listens to every single song. Then I listen to the A's, no B+'s, no C's. I listen to only A's. So we process so much music that it's impossible to get back to you [the writers and composers], because not only do we process the music, then we've got to send the contracts out. We've got to talk to you on the phone and explain the terms. Then the contracts come back. We have a data base entry so that it goes all into our online Web site. And then I pitch it, which it the fun part. So it's a very slow, slow process. It's also a slow process on the sales end. Just like you guys who are wondering, "Where's my deal?" I'm wondering, "Where's my placement?" I'm also following up with music supervisors. "Hey, I just pitched you something a month ago. Did you listen to it?" So we are in the same boat as you guys. You're not hearing back, neither are we. So even if we take your song, it might take us a year to get you a placement because this is not an easy business to be in. It's a fun business, but it's not easy. So what I can suggest is that you be patient. It's the turtle that wins the race over the long run.
I like that one. It's funny, my question for you was exactly that, and I want to do a little follow-up on it. Can you give our members some idea of the scope when you were at One Music how many total tracks were in that library?
Tanvi: By the end—meaning by the time the company was sold—we had maybe 3,300 tracks that we had amassed over a seven-year period.
I want to go to Matthias for a second. You bring a very unique perspective to the panel in that you've been a TAXI member, you're part of our A&R team now, and you've been successful in your own right as a composer. So these are your people out here in the audience. These are your fellow writers and composers. What is your observation, having been in those three positions and looking at it from all sides, is there something you can tell them now that you've seen all these sides, and they've maybe seen only one? Is there some deep dark secret? Is there some profound bit of wisdom?
Matthias: Years ago when I joined TAXI... It took me quite a while to join because I saw your ads all over the place, and I kept thinking, "Man, I don't know. What is that? Is it some kind of money-making scheme, like so many out there?" I was mainly doing film scoring and stuff, but then I worked together with a couple guys who were songwriters and we started producing artists and stuff. And I had always thought of TAXI mostly as a song-pitching tool, so at some point I just joined. I thought, "OK, let's see." I got a bunch of forwards, good critiques that were really constructive and intelligent. I really liked it. I live in Calabasas which is like five minutes from the TAXI office, and at some point I had a Dispatch submission to turn in and I figured I'd just drop it off since I'm two minutes away from there. I walked into the office for the first time and I was blown away. I was like, "Oh, my God, this is serious." I mean, it wasn't like a shack somewhere, you know? You see this room where the screeners are. You see people at work and taking that stuff really seriously. So I'm like, "Wow, this is actually really cool."
I worked with some very young artists at the time and had to deal with a lot of parents changing their minds all the time. And that was when they whole business was beginning to fall apart... A&R people were getting laid off everywhere; record companies went down the drain. It was really scary, so I didn't renew my membership.
So you're guilty as charged [laughs].
Matthias: So, I went on to doing that composing stuff. How did I then become a screener? Every once in a while I get calls from Europe, "Hey, we need something for a commercial in France," and I would have like four days to give them something. And I thought, "Man, why don't I run a listing with TAXI?" And I did that a couple of times and I was blown away at how well that worked. I would talk to your A&R people, then a couple of days later there would be hundreds of submissions, and I screened them myself, and I was blown away at how good the stuff was.
I'm not paying you to say this. It almost sounds too good to be true to me.
Matthias: Seriously. It was like, "Wow, this very cool." Then I heard that you guys were looking for screeners and I told Chris Baptiste that I would love to be involved because I realized that it's a good company. So I saw it from both sides.
What have you noticed that can be of benefit somehow to our members in the audience?
Matthias: OK, you know what I've noticed? I think you guys are doing the best that you can, and everything takes time, like you guys already said. But there's one thing that I want to say, and it might sound arrogant or old-fashioned or something, but everybody should look at the quality of their product. I'm doing that every day. Every day I'm trying to do something that's better than I did yesterday. The movie I'm doing tomorrow, I want to be better than the last one. It's just that when I screen stuff, sometimes I'm shocked at what people send in because they have no point of reference. They must sit in their rooms and write something—like a Pop tune to be pitched to Christina Aguilera or something—and you listen to this thing and you're like, "What's going on here? Does this person not listen to the radio?" It's just that I appeal to everyone to do a reality check and just see where your product stands in comparison to what's out there—the stuff you're competing against— and just realize that the bar is set pretty high out there, no matter what you do, film or songs. It doesn't matter. I screen a lot of orchestral stuff for libraries and a lot of times it is good writing, but the tracks are just horrible. Like a guy on an M1 workstation with the oboe and a string patch played like a keyboard. That's not cutting it, even though the music might be good. So go to the Vienna Symphony Web site and check out the demos. You don't even know if it's a real orchestra or not, but that's really pretty much the standard out there. So I just appeal to every one of you to get the best product you can possibly do and keep improving and improving. Once you have a good product, it's just a matter of time. If it's really good and you have the resources, and you survive in this business long enough, and you persist, you'll be successful. There is just no other way.
Everybody in this ballroom has got the best resource in the world for hearing where the bar is set for film and TV music. It's called the television set.
Steve: When I was hired at one of the top music libraries I was told... You know those commercials you usually turn off or run out of the room when you're watching TV? You now have to watch those commercials, because that's where we make our money—the promos, the interstitials. That's what they built their business on, on those interstitial bits of music. Interstitial is music between TV programming. You go to commercial, you hear a promo, you hear an ad, it's all the stuff in between. It's the tags that take you out, it's the tags that take you in, it's everything in between, and by some standards it's 70 percent of the revenue generated by music in primetime. But how did I learn what sells? I stopped watching the TV programs and would watch the commercials and the promos. I listened to what was being used by CBS for their promos of—I don't know—whatever show. That's how you learn.
But let's go back to the real topic of this panel. It's not whether you place a cue on ABC or Discovery. It's not whether it's good or bad, because we're talking about forwards and why aren't they getting placed. So, presumably, it got past the screeners at TAXI and it's already at a decent enough level of quality. So what are the reasons why it doesn't get picked up or you don't get called back? Because there are basically two types of listings at TAXI. There is an immediate need in the Dispatch listings, and there's a long-term need in the regular listings. And, I don't care if it's for film and television or artist recordings or whatever, if it's a library that needs a track for a specific placement that they don't have, they get 50 tracks and the next morning the music supervisor calls up and says, "No, I really need Polka instead of Alt-Rock." Or he says, "I love it, we cut it into the show," or, on the dub stage, the receptionist bringing the coffee says, "What is that?" And it gets pulled out of the show. There are a lot of reasons why your tracks might not get used after TAXI forwards them. And a long-term need, well, those might just takes a year or two after TAXI forwards them to happen. Like someone on the panel said, it could sit on your desk for a year because there's no imminent need.
That brings up a point all the time, which is that people just stop. They get a forward or they license something into a library and they just stop and wait for the money to come. The trick is to...
Matt: Keep on writing. Forget about the forward, forget about the license that you made and keep on putting more stuff in the pipeline so that you're pleasantly surprised when you get the call or a check comes. When somebody e-mails me and says they got one of my tracks on "Everybody Hates Chris," or whatever, I'm not sitting there at my computer or by my phone waiting for them to call me, you know?
To find out how long it might take to see your investment in TAXI pay off, and how much money can be made, make sure to see Part 2 of this panel in next month's newsletter! — ML