TAXI: “The Single Smartest
Move We Could Have Made”

Passenger Profile: Steve and Karen Multer

By Kenny Kerner
taxi member success karen steve multer

Listen to 'Look Out for Love'
by Steve and Karen Multer:

I believe that this is the very first time the Passenger Profile interview will feature a husband-and-wife songwriting team. Think of the possibilities! Think of the problems! Steve and Karen Multer take us through their careers and their very unique songwriting process. You don't want to miss this one:

You and your wife seem to be musical partners. How did each of you get into music and at what age?

SM: We're a husband/wife team which has pluses and minuses. When we're on our game we really generate off each other's skills but when we disagree it can get kinda dark. Fortunately, we always get back to the music and seem to end up in the right place.

Karen learned to play piano from age 5 when her parents scraped together enough cash to buy her a used miniature organ. She also played clarinet. I attempted piano for about six months in elementary school and trumpet for a year in junior high and stunk at both. We both tried guitar in our mid-20s and the damned things have been collecting dust in the hall closet for 15 years. To this day I'm apologetically 100% inept with any instrument.

Karen was a natural musician and singer from childhood and quickly became known in her small Wisconsin community as a kid to keep an eye on. By the time she got to high school it was clear that music would be her career and she ended up as composition major at Northwestern University in Chicago. For me it was musical theatre, which I started doing when I was 11 and grew into a professional career by age 16 when I joined the union (AEA). After college Karen shifted into the theatre world and she and I met in 1993 playing opposite each other onstage in a production of Phantom of the Opera at the Drury Lane in Chicago. We were both full-time actors in musical theatre, performing around the country, until we turned 30 and decided it would be fun to own a home and eat on a regular basis.

How competitive were you as musicians? Did one of you always have to be better than the other?

SM: This is where the brother/sister angle might have been more interesting than the spouse angle; but it's worked pretty well for Bergman & Bergman so I guess we'll keep striving! I think one of the reasons our songs work as well as they do is that we each bring a totally different skill set to the writing. Karen has an amazing ear for melody and harmonic complexity and she chooses interesting note progressions as well; it's easy to hear a lot of passion in the music she writes. I have no musical technique, but I know what I like and what rings true for my ear. I trust her in almost every instance and love that she can take my suggestions or requests for alternate notes or directions in stride then execute based on my description rather than any concrete theory. We tend to work best when I stay out of her way and let her run with my lyrics, which she has a great ability to follow toward the ideal musical structure.

KM: I think it's easier because we're not competing with each other in the same arenas. I will always defer to him when it comes to a lyric (after putting in my two cents) and he trusts me to handle the music. At first we weren't sure if working separately so much would be a positive or a negative but it seems to be our best methodology. Steve gets an idea and writes a full lyric before I ever even see a word. He speaks the rhythm and chooses a tempo then I work on my own at the piano until my melodic structure and note choices are complete. Then I play and sing him the song which by that time is really 95% completed. Our team effort is in honing and shaping that final 5%. Polishing and editing is where we tend to switch jobs with me doing slight adjustments to the lyric and Steve making small melody and rhythm tweaks.

You classify your style of writing as being in the "Jazz, Lounge, Pop/AC, Country, and Broadway/Cabaret" genres. That's an awful lot of styles to be good at. Comments?

KM: It does SOUND like a lot of different genres, especially when you see them all written out like that! But when you really look at and analyze what all these genres have in common it makes sense that we've written across the spectrum. Our goal is always strong melody plus excellent story telling. "The American Songbook" (our greatest musical influence) is built on classic melodies/harmonies and words that convey universal sentiments and withstand the test of time. Country is really no different; great hook melodic structures with a solid and universal story that engages a listener and strikes a personal chord. The Cabaret and Broadway genres also rely on story and melody working hand in hand because they came out of the same Tin Pan Alley writers that penned early American Pop music. In the end the formula is a simple one; a good song is a good song and finds an audience regardless of the classification. We try to write solid material then let the critics, libraries, and MDs work out where it belongs.

How did you first hear about TAXI and what made you become members?

SM: We were complete plebes in 2004 when we decided to produce and record our first disc with our band, TONIC. When the advertising pack arrived with our new CDs I saw the TAXI offer for a complimentary feedback on one of our songs. We took a big risk and sent in a highly stylized private-eye cut (Sammy Slick) to gauge a pro reaction on the most extreme angle of what we were writing at the time. We received a fantastic response from a TAXI screener who loved the feel, writing, and production, and felt it was inventive, top quality, and both radio- and soundtrack-ready. That was enough for us to know we were on the right track.

The TAXI evaluation was so clear, concise, specific and detailed that it was immediately obvious this resource was exactly what we were looking for to help us learn and test the waters (and to see if our music was really any good.) We signed up in January 2005 hoping to improve our skills, figure out a bit of the Indie writer market and to hopefully get a couple of our originals past the TAXI screeners. As I mentioned before, it worked. On our first submission in March '05 we got two songs forwarded to Transition Music who signed our first licensing agreements with a library.

How has TAXI helped your career?

KM: Again, exposure is the key. When we were finished with our first batch of recorded songs we had absolutely zero clue what to do with them beyond our own band's live performances. Joining TAXI was the single smartest move we could have made. Truth be told we're both pretty lazy and we're not inclined to do the research or 50-plus hours a week marketing necessary for massive success. That's what's so great about TAXI; If you're a brilliant self-promoter you've got a partner to open the doors for your intensive efforts. If you're like us then TAXI becomes a teacher, a personal advocate, and a delivery mechanism for your music that supplants the need to be a marketing guru and allows success on a more relaxed level. Either way it's the sheer spectrum and quantity of opportunities for exposure that make this a bargain investment in your career at 10 times the price.

All that said, the music's got to be good. We've been lucky and we've worked hard to create good material. We know that TAXI will be honest about the quality of our material and fair in their analysis of our marketability. Perspective is the key and that's what we've gotten from TAXI since day one.

Two more TAXI members who testify that becoming members was one of the smartest things they did in their career. And it could be for you, as well. Join the many networking opportunities and pros who can listen to your music and comment on it.

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