Interview by Kurt Saxonmeyer

I'd like to congratulate New York-based TAXI members, Wired for being picked for the President's Choice award by their fellow members at last year's Road Rally. It's a pretty big deal, and in my opinion, a very well deserved honor.

As promised, we flew them from New York to LA so we could run them around to some record labels. The following is an interview done with them as kind of a post mortem of their trip. We hope that their experience being shopped around the industry can be a learning experience for all of you as well .

- Michael Laskow,

What did you expect before you got on the plane?

We hoped to open new doors for the band. We're doing really well on the East Coast and we saw the West Coast as the land of opportunity.

We expected to get exposure to the industry—just meeting more people and getting our names out there helped us a lot. We also anticipated that the trip would be a great learning experience, and that everything that was going to be said in the A&R meetings would be priceless. We hoped that we'd walk away with a lot of knowledge we could take back home and use it to become a better band.

(left to right) Joe Bridgewood, Mike Tucci, Daniel Shulman - Island/Def Jam, Justin Alexander, Sebastian Pica, Adam Schoenfeld

How did your expectations differ from the reality of what you experienced?

We didn't expect to make so many new friends. The TAXI staff was amazing towards us. A bunch of them (who shall remain nameless) took us around Hollywood, and showed us a great time. We had fun going to different clubs around Hollywood, and the cops were only called once!

Michael and Doug went way beyond the call of duty. They gave us rides to the meetings, paid for dinners and lunches, and gave us so much inside knowledge about the business that is invaluable.

The first thing out of Michael's mouth when we met him was that we should invest any money we make from a deal into homes. He said he sees so many up and coming artists blow their advances on frivolous stuff. Then he gave us a breakdown of how the money is spent for a new band. Let us tell you, we didn't exactly like what we heard. After you pay Uncle Sam, your manager, and your attorney, there's not a huge amount of money left over unless you go multi-platinum.

Also, Doug and Michael gave us their personal phone numbers (which have since been erased from our phones, so don't contact us for them) and on our free day which was a Sunday, we got lost looking for Venice Beach, we called Doug at home and he was more then happy to take my call and help us with directions. Now that's class.

We expected the A&R guys to be much more stiff then they really were. Our first meeting was with Fearless/Ultimatium. We were hanging with John Loken (V.P. of A&R/ General Manager) like we'd known him for years, cracking jokes, having a good time. He had his dog in the office; he was just chilling in the meeting with us.

We also didn't expect Michael and Doug to prop us so much in the meetings. They were telling A&R guys how great they think we are and how they feel we have lasting power in this business, that we're more then one-hit-wonders and how they can't believe how consistent our demos are.

TAXI also set us up with a great showcase at Musician's Institute. We didn't know what would come from it. We didn't expect to play for as many people as we did or to have the kind of sound and stage we had. The response from the crowd was also amazing.

Most of our expectations for the meetings didn't really differ, though, because we knew going out there we weren't going to have a deal handed to us.

(fourth from left) Tom Carolan - Lava/Atlantic

Did you find A&R people to be more or less intimidating than what you expected?

Way less intimidating. We really didn't know what kind of people these guys would be. Our idea of A&R was a dude that listens to music all-day and pretty much thinks everyone sucks. Well, we were wrong. They don't listen to music all day. Our first meeting was with John Loken (Fearless/Ultimatum). He took us in and sat down with us for about an hour and a half. He was totally down to earth, a very cool dude. He gave us the speech about why indie labels are better then majors because indies aren't like big corporate conglomerates, and will pay more attention to a band than a major label. But, he also said he might be interested in a joint venture between a major and Fearless/Ultimatum.

Our second meeting was with Daniel Shulman at Island/Def Jam Records. He was also really nice, giving us about an hour of his time. He had already spoken with us before as a result of our TAXI membership, and had some A&R scouts come and see us play in New York. He was vibe-ing our stuff, but wasn't sure if we had that "breakout hit". But he did agree with Michael and Doug that we are really consistent songwriters.

Next we met with Tom Carolan, V.P. of A&R at Lava/Atlantic Records. This meeting was different because he really stressed the need for a strong work ethic, and the importance of a 'story' (fan base, touring, etc...).

Our last meeting was with Tony Ferguson, V.P. of A&R at Interscope. We were warned ahead of time that he was the real deal, and doesn't hold back. He also stressed the importance of a story, getting bar codes on our CD's, making friends with other bands. He also stressed the importance of making multiple impressions on people in the industry. He told us one of the reasons he signed No Doubt was because both 311 and Sublime were constantly in his ear saying "These guys are good—you have to sign them!"

All in all, the A&R guys were very cool with us.

What were some of your favorite moments during the meetings?

Some our favorite moments in the meetings were being able to call A&R guys 'weasels' to their face and having them agree with us (we learned that one from Michael).

Just being able to sit in their offices was a favorite moment. Tony Ferguson telling us we were undeniably great songwriters, that we knew how to write a pop hook...that was very cool.

Was there anything that you learned from the A&R people that surprised you?

The thing that surprised us the most was how much all the A&R guys liked us. The fact that they all agreed we're going to go far in this industry.

What also surprised us was how screwed the industry is right now and how tightly they're holding their purse strings. They all mentioned how few bands actually get signed at a major label, and just how hard it is to get everyone at the label excited enough to want to sign an act. It's a lot tougher than we thought.

(far right) Tony Ferguson - Interscope Records

Being that you guys are a Pop/Punk band, and a couple of the A&R people commented that as good as you are, there are a lot of bands out there that are similar, did you feel daunted, or like you might need to drastically change your musical direction?

F*&# NO! We do what we do because we love doing it. We don't feel daunted or feel the need to change our style. We all love what we do; we are a high-energy band that gets high on playing what we play. There is an unexplainable feeling when you walk off stage and you have a new fan come up and tell you that you were amazing, that your energy was so high and you grabbed them so much they just want to be a part of what you're doing.

If anything it makes us want to work harder to be the best pop/punk band ever. Especially since we are from the East Coast, which isn't really known for it's pop/punk scene.

Did the meetings give you any ideas as to what you might do to make yourselves more "signable"?

We already have the ball rolling on this one. We learned that a lot of hard work will pay off. We're building a bigger story. We're starting to book tours, and make friends with other bands. We're getting the bar codes put on our CD's. We have a street team with over 75 people in it now, and we're booking more shows, trying to do more of a grass roots thing. We're buying a van...we're doing all the things the labels told us we need to do to get signed. We're going to become so self-sufficient, the only thing we'll need a label for is distribution.

Did you agree or disagree with most of the feedback you got in the meetings?

We agreed with all the feedback. Like we said earlier, the A&R guys treated us great. But we feel a lot of the feedback pertaining to not signing us right then and there really had to do with the shape the industry is in right now. The feedback from the A&R people wasn't that we don't deserve a record deal, it's just that they only sign a few bands a year and every time they sign a band their career is on the line. So they have to be pretty damn psyched about the band they're convincing their boss to plunk 2 million dollars into.

Tony Ferguson told us straight out the artist that he has to keep happy isn't some new fledgling act, it's Gwen Stefani—so where's his time for new acts?

Having met with people at Interscope, Island DefJam, Lava/Atlantic, and Fearless/Ultimatum, would you say that you are more prone to want to sign with a major label or an indie label?

We actually learned we would really like to do a joint venture where an indie puts out the first record with a little cash from a major and the major has the option to release the second record.

We like the idea of getting our feet wet with an indie, building our reputation, getting used to touring, and then when we're ready, jumping to a major as a priority because we did so well with the indie,. We definitely don't want to be signed just to be shelved (you'd be surprised how often that happens). We want to be 'priority number one' and we feel we can do that if we grow our grass roots with an indie first.

(far left) John Loken - Fearless Records/Ultimatum Music

Although we didn't anticipate doing this when you won the award, TAXI was able to set up a live showcase for you while you were here. How was it different playing for an audience of several hundred peeps with A&R people sprinkled throughout versus playing to an audience full of your home-turf fans?

It was a hard room. Any crowd that's filled with musicians is hard to play for, because musicians aren't always fans of other musicians—they always have their own agenda.

Before we played, TAXI ran an A&R listening panel where the people in the audience would drop a CD in a box and TAXI would randomly play it for about 5 or 6 A&R guys and at the same time play it for the crowd. Doug moderated this panel and after the first chorus of every song he would ask the crowd who would still be listening if they were an A&R person alone in their own car. If not enough people raised their hands they would stop playing the song, then the A&R guys would critique the piece. I think the crowd was harder on the songs then the A&R reps were. I think only two songs were actually played in their entirety. That's the crowd we had to play for.

But we treated it no differently than if we were playing for our hometown fans at CBGB's. and because of that we won the crowd over. Winning over a hostile crowd, that's an unbelievable feeling.

Were we nervous about playing with A&R people in the crowd? Not at all, we've been showcasing constantly in Manhattan so it was not unlike any other show we played.

What advice would you pass along to other bands and artists who would ultimately like to get signed?

Work your ass off. It's not a free ride. Build your story. Do everything in your power to build multiple impressions. Remember you might think you're working hard, but there is some band or artist out there working harder.

What was your favorite part of the trip—from the industry perspective, NOT the women and the scenery;-)

Our favorite part of the trip was when Tony Ferguson told us we were undeniably great songwriters. He said, you really know how to write a hook. Keep on doing what you're doing. Build your story and you're going to sign a deal.

Any parting thoughts?

We learned that it's not just great songs that get you signed at major labels these days. We learned the importance of a story, a fan base, touring, and good Soundscan reports. We learned we're entering a business that'll love us one day and drop us the next. We learned the industry plays a numbers game—a label will sign 30 acts, put 2 million dollars into each act, and make back all their money on only one of those acts. The question is how to become that act? That's our goal.

Look out cause we're gonna take over the world! (laughter)

See How TAXI Works

"I had the drive, and the passion. I just needed help, and you keep supplying it."
— Justin K.,
TAXI Member

"I've known most of TAXI's A&R people for years. These are real industry pros. I'd be happy to listen to anything they send me."
— John Carter,
Vice President of A&R,
Island Records

"Speaking to A&R people, getting inside info and some of the best advice I've ever had, was worth TEN times the cost of getting to The Road Rally."
— Mike Fitzsimons,
TAXI Member

"I'm really enjoying being a Taxi member, and appreciate all the critiques . . . especially the nice ones!"
— Carole Nelson,
TAXI Member

"I hope someday I'm in a position to promote TAXI and let everyone know that there are kind, honest people in the music business and they're working at TAXI. Even my mother trusts you!"
— James Day,
TAXI Member

"I met so many great people on personal and business levels, including a contact who is going to get our disc in the hands of the producer of Dawson's Creek."
— Dean Person,
TAXI Member

"Laura Becker has already gotten interest in two of my songs. You guys know the best (and nicest) people in the industry."
— James Day,
TAXI Member

"Nothing bad can come from belonging to this unbelievable organization that has definitely allowed my songs to be stronger than ever."
— Justine Kaye,
TAXI Member

"I wish I hadn't waited so long! Cannot thank you enough!"
— Montez S.,
TAXI Member

"I was cynical at first, but my wife convinced me to join and I'm very impressed."
— L.A. Van Fleet,
TAXI Member

"I have been a member of TAXI for the last two years and have enjoyed all the perks membership has offered."
— Dwight Nichols,
TAXI Member

"Wow! 6 forwards for one listing! Thanks guys, you made my day (week, month, etc!)"
— Reid Power,
TAXI Member