TAXI Members Screen the Screeners

By Rachel Leigh
Taxi Music Screeners It all started when TAXI CEO Michael Laskow saw a 30-second, tongue-in-cheek Bank of America TV spot that showed its customers rating the quality of the bank's customer service. Laskow took the idea and translated it into something tangible for his customers. Five Los Angeles-based TAXI members were invited to the company's office to screen the screeners.

"My goal was to improve our quality by putting the shoe on the other foot," remarked Laskow. "Who better to judge us, than the very people whose music we judge every day?"

Matt Hirt, one of the participating members, agrees that critiques are very important to members.

"I think for a majority of TAXI's members, the main value of their membership lies in the feedback they get from the screeners. Statistically speaking, most members' music probably isn't ready for primetime yet. So TAXI serves them best by delivering high quality feedback that can help them become better," Hirt said.

TAXI Member BC Jean
Hirt and the other panelists were randomly given dozens of critiques (with the screeners' numbers blacked out to ensure impartiality) and were asked to grade them on an A-F basis, according to how helpful they thought the feedback was. The criteria used were simple; did the critique help the members improve their song/songwriting, and did they deliver good overall value? The members also made notes if a specific critique was particularly good or bad.

While reviewing the critiques, the members discovered common threads — some positive, some negative. But for the most part, the members felt that the screeners were constructive in their feedback.

"Some screeners were very helpful and really dug into the critiques as if they were co-writing the song with the member," panelist Matt Docter said. "None of the critiques I read were demeaning, but some were definitely much more helpful than others as far as suggesting ways to improve the song."

Hirt suggested that in some cases, screeners could give more specifics in their critiques. "If there's anything that could be improved, it would be great to see the screeners expound more on their comments. 'Make the hook bigger' is nice, but telling the member how to do that is even more helpful?"

TAXI Member Matt Hirt
Member BC Jean observed that the screeners put a lot of time and effort into their work. "It was great to read on some critiques how the A&R people would recommend good books to read or other artists to listen to . . . simple information that could be extremely helpful," Jean said.

At the same time, the members put themselves in the screeners' shoes and agreed that it would be much more difficult than it looks like from the outside to consistently deliver great feedback to members.

"I think it would be very difficult and challenging to deliver great feedback to members . . . It is challenging and takes work to dive into music that is assigned to you and attempt to really make it better. But if a writer can pick something up via TAXI's service, that's a great thing," Docter said.

One thing that surprised Hirt was the high number of submissions being returned because the members didn't target their pitches well for the listings. And in fact, he thinks that makes the screeners' work far more difficult in terms of delivering great feedback.

TAXI Member Matt Docter
"The screeners seem to be torn between explaining why the song is not on target, and critiquing the song itself for what it is. Maybe a check box on the submission form could let the member decide what they want the screener to do IF the song is not on target," Hirt suggested.

Overall, the members found the session to be very successful and even suggested that they should be held more often. Cathy Genovese, TAXI's head of A&R agrees. "TAXI's own members are now determining which of our screeners will continue to work here, and which will not. In order for that process to be most effective, we're going to need to do this on a regular basis," she said.

One of the panelists suggested that during the next session it would be helpful to hear some of the songs that were being critiqued. Laskow agrees, but said that for this initial session, he wanted to the members to look purely at the value of the critiques, and not have the members thinking in subjective terms about the music: "The majority of our members haven't been in enough meetings with A&R people to be able to apply that standard to this process. But they are supremely well-qualified to judge the feedback from a member/value perspective."

TAXI Member Lakotah Battle
The letter scores given to each critique were translated into numerical scores on a five-point scale. Forty-two screeners (currently active out of a pool of more than 200) were judged. Five critiques from each screener were graded, a different critique for each of the five members who were judging. The average score was a remarkably high 4.5 out of 5.

"I think the high scores are a direct result of the initial testing and ongoing training we do with the screeners. I don't think most members know that we actually test potential screeners before they can work at TAXI. That even goes for candidates who have been VPs of A&R at major labels. Nobody is exempt," added Genovese.

What else did the members come away from the experience with?

"I was excited to meet some other members at the screening session who have had success landing paying gigs via TAXI. It reassured me that TAXI's service is not only helping improve its members' songwriting, but it's also helping connect talented writers and artists with paying jobs in the music biz," Docter said.

See How TAXI Works

"Your dedication and hard work never ceases to amaze me."
— Jimmy Clark,
TAXI Member

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— Bob Kroeger,
TAXI Member

"I enjoyed and benefited from my TAXI membership for the last year, so I renewed for another."
— Robert Shulze,
TAXI Member

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— Dwight Nichols,
TAXI Member

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TAXI Member

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— Angie Peckham,
TAXI Member