From left to right: TAXI CEO Michael Laskow, Bob Baker, Brian Howes, Sara Kapachinski, and Autumn House.
Bob Baker, Indie music marketing expert.
Brian Howes, Produced Hinder, Skillet, Hedley, Daughtry, Puddle of Mudd, Avril Lavigne, Lifehouse, Chris Cornell, and many more. CEO of Wreck Beach Records/Interscope Records.
Sara Kapachinski, Director of A&R at Chrysalis Music Publishing.
Autumn House, Senior Director of A&R at Capitol Records Nashville.
Michael Laskow, Moderator
Editor's Note: At this point during the panel, we've gone to questions from audience members.
Audience Member: Hi. I'm Sam, I'm from Tijuana, Mexico. I just want to add a comment on what I've seen coming here. This is my first time. I've seen a pattern with the people who are up there that success is measured by what you think is success to you. You grow up as a kid--I'm 24--and you want to be a musician, you want to really work and everything. But what I've seen the secret for people that are really up there doing it is that what do you think is success to you? Maybe you grow up and learn how to be a guitarist and you want to have a band and really make it, but you're forgetting that maybe you really want a family also. In that way, when you become really successful, you'll forget some basic things as a human being, and I think the importance of what I'm saying... I came here because I wanted to reaffirm certain things that I feel that will make me achieve the goals that I have is that you don't need to forget all the other important stuff on the way, because that will just come by its own self. It's not like it'll come automatically, because it just is...
I'm not getting the question. I hear the heart in what you're saying, but what's the question?
Actually, I'm just affirming that when you asked Bob what was the secret for the people that sell 40,000 or achieve their goals. It's because they're--like Sara said--they're just self-aware, that that's what they like, and that's what will make them successful. So, maybe I don't need all that money. Someone could think that maybe I don't really need that much, because I've been really inspired by people that are so happy by just playing their guitar with their cousins or anybody, or other people that are really happy by having a lot of fame.
Bob: There's nothing wrong with playing music part-time or on a small scale. You can't consider yourself a failure just because you're not a household name. My question is, how do you see the market in Mexico toward the world?
Holy smokes. You seem like a very bright young man. You've got a lot going for you, but you're never going to be Oprah Winfrey. You gotta get to the point. All right, we don't have anybody who works in a Hispanic market. Does anybody want to take that, because I actually have a little bit of an answer. OK, it's all me. I determined four years ago that TAXI should go more into the Latin market. It seemed like the right thing to do. We get e-mails and phone calls from people who ask, "Why aren't you more into the Latin market?" So, I called the president of All Things Universal in Miami, got him on the phone and said I wanted to come down and meet with him. I flew down, walked into his office. Here I am with the guy, the president of Universal Latin. I imagine that's a pretty big operation. I said to him, "How can TAXI help you? What kind of music are you looking for?" and he said, "Pop songs in English." I give up.
Audience Member: Hi, I'm Jeanette Baker, and I've got one up on you, I've been in the business before you were a twinkle in your daddy's eyes. I'm an oldie-but-goodie record artist from way back when. I have sold thousands of records. Right now what I would like to know is... I've been on the road, been there, done that, been all over the world, and I just want to write now. Now I sent in something to TAXI, I got a great critique. What I want to know is how can I write--because I have a lot of songs--and how do I get them to you so you can submit them to your artists? Do you know what I mean?
OK, Kapachinski, you work at a publishing company.
Sara: I'm sorry, I was thinking about Mexico. I was on a beach in Mexico. OK, a number of ways. Do you have people who you work with? Do you have an attorney? I mean, I get music sent to me...
She's got TAXI.
Sara: That's right, she's got Michael Laskow. Absolutely. Going to a place like this. There's a songwriter I work with that I met at Durango Songwriters Expo and I got to know her through that. She and I hooked up, and now she and I work together. I get music sent to me from attorneys or from managers I know that people recommend. I get e-mails sent to me. I check out everything that gets sent to me. The best possible way is to send an e-mail with a link, short and concise, and say, "Check out my music," or "Here's my MySpace link," or "Here's my attached MP3," or whatever it is. I listen to everything, even though the policy of some companies--or most companies and my company--is that we don't accept unsolicited material.
You said something very key in that sentence, which is, "Send me something very short and succinct." And I don't mean to pick on that young man who stood up before and asked that lengthy question. You seem like a really sweet guy, and your heart is in the right place, but musician communication--because we're dealing with a creative universe here--isn't always as succinct and precise as it should be. So tell these guys how important it is. You guys actually are more approachable than people probably know, but if they call you up and give you a five-minute soliloquy before they say, "What about the industry in Mexico?" you're never gonna take a call from that person again, and most likely you're going to start answering e-mails while you're holding the phone on your shoulder, barely listening to them. Am I nuts? Have you seen that trend amongst musicians, and should they concentrate on being articulate and to the point, not wasting your time and they will get farther?
You wanted to add something to that, Brian?
Brian: Yeah. I was just going to say that I guess the more success you gain, the busier you are, and the more things you have on at the same time. I'm just discovering it now, because I was happy when I was in crappy bands sleeping on floors. As the gentleman from Mexico said. This is just a new level for me, and the only difference between now and then is that I'm busy all the time, which is cool, but it's really hard to stay on top of everything. So if you could be as succinct as possible, if someone comes in, just says their piece and plays a song and it catches me, then I'm in. But there are so many other things that are going on, it's just crazy trying to keep up.
I love it. When I go to Nashville, I have a meeting with Autumn and I'll bring in three or four songs and play them for her. We chit-chat, "How ya doin'? Blah, blah, blah," for three or four minutes. We catch up, "How's everything in L.A.? Whatcha got for me?" I play her a song, she gets to the first chorus, she's halfway through and she knows it ain't happening. Sometimes she'll know it's not happening in the intro, and she'll say, "What else do you have for me?" Other than just hangin' out, you know, friendly chatter. Business-wise, the meetings last 20 minutes. I love that about Nashville. You can do 20 meetings in two days in Nashville if you really want to, because it is to the point.
Bob, you're an expert in marketing. Give me 60 seconds on musician communication skills, which now in retrospect I wish I had asked Nancy about this morning, because she's great on that subject.
Bob: There are two mistakes, particularly when you e-mail, that you can make--but I guess they would relate to phone calls and voicemails too--on one end, you want to avoid the life story, those long, scrolling paragraphs. Whenever I open an e-mail and somebody goes, "Let me tell you about...," I scroll down 14 screens. I just close it up, and even with the intention of reading it later, I rarely get back to it.
I was in Mrs. McGillicutty's fourth grade music class, and I was a star. Nobody needs that. Sorry. I get that all the time in bios where people are talking about their fourth grade experience, and it's not relevant to the subject.
Bob: Absolutely. And the other extreme of that is the "Yo, check out this," with a link and that's it. Maybe two or three sentences with a tasty description like, "If you're interested in an uptempo R&B tune that would be ideal for this project, check this out"--something that's short and sweet that explains what it is and why they should care.
Audience Member: My name is Marcella. I just want to commend you for the good job that you guys are doing as far as opening doors for new artists, because I think that more people need opportunity and they really don't know who to turn to or where to go. You guys are tremendously great. I just want to commend you. That's all.
Wow, that's something you don't hear in an A&R panel all the time. Thank you. OK, technically she didn't ask a question, so you can be the last one.
Audience Member: I'll make it short. My name is Angie. I know a lot of people here are promoting themselves as songwriters, but I'm trying to promote myself as an artist. My question is, I am 25, so I don't want to waste any more time making mistakes, not knowing about the industry, which is why I'm here, obviously.
Brian: You're suddenly 21. You're not 25. [audience laughs]
Audience Member: If you have a really good product, you've done it professionally, you've been playing locally, you've gotten some radio airplay in Philadelphia, how do you then make contacts with the industry? Should I just start getting a directory, making cold calls, should I get an attorney and let him contact you, or should I get a manager and let him contact you? What I don't want to do is spend any more time making blunders. I want to move forward.
Who wants to take that one?
Brian: Yeah, TAXI is obviously a great move. But all of the above. I think you're doing all the right things. Getting a local regional following, just keep at it, start playing shows...
Are there are only three cities that count--LA, NY, and Nashville? Everybody says the same thing, "I'm in an isolated area; how do I make contacts?" You make contacts by doing the research. If there's an artist on a label that you think is doing really well and you think that label might be a good place for you, then look and see who their manager is, see who the A&R person is, and send a short, three-sentence, polite e-mail that doesn't turn them off and just say, "I think that my music may be right for your label. My style is X,Y, or Z. Can I please send you a link to my songs?" Am I correct?
Brian: Absolutely. And managers and legal too.
Sara: You know, there are directories. There are A&R directories, manager directories, attorney directories. You can find out within those directories. It's a good place to start. Who accepts solicited material, who accepts unsolicited, and, like Michael said, find like-minded artists and like-sounding artists, and target those specific people who work with those artists.
Brian: And play showcases too. BMI and ASCAP, they have showcases.
Thank you to all of our panelists--you guys are great for being so generous with your time and knowledge. I know you all have extremely busy lives, so thank you for taking time away from your families and responsibilities to help our members. And thanks to all of you in the audience for coming to the Rally. I hope each and every one of your fellow members can find the time to come to one of these in the future. It's the fastest way I know of to get this much life- and career-changing information.
* * *
Editor's Note: I had a little extra space to fill here, so I decided to include this great TAXI Forum post from member, Kelly Green. If this doesn't get you excited enough to come to Road Rally 2008, you might want to check your pulse. Please excuse the fact that Kelly's post makes me sound like a much better guy than I really am. That's not why I picked Kelly's post. ;-)
* * *
I wanted to post sooner, but needed to get over a bit of jet lag and make sure I was making sense before rambling on.
This was my first Rally and I was expecting it to be great, but when I tell you that it was life-changing, I'm not exaggerating even one bit. I came to the Rally seriously driven with a lot of TAXI learning under my belt already, but the affirmation of all I've absorbed to date and industry confirmation that I'm doing what needs to be done and doing it well, has sent me into overdrive. It's boosted my confidence to a whole new level. (Any artist/writer/musician knows consistent confidence can be a struggle for some of us creative types.)
The two major highlights for me were getting to meet Michael Laskow for the first time and getting to meet my fellow "dots" (most active members of the forum, who put dots on their badges to be easily identified by fellow forum members). When I tell you that I feel like I've known him for years and can clearly see how thrilled he is with his TAXI "kids." It's amazing. (Michael, if you get to read this, thanks again for everything. Your work and the effort of the TAXI team mean the world to me.)
To my beloved, DOTS, I can't even begin to tell each one of you how thrilled and blessed I am to have been able to meet each one of you in person. It felt just like family and I'm proud to say I know you. Can't wait to do it again next year.
I had so many fantastic experiences while I was there, I know I'm going to miss some, but I'll call out a few here. Waiting in line hours ahead of registration time with members I had just met, sharing stories and music and just getting to know the many faces and stories of my fellow musicians. Seeing and meeting the other DOTS for the first time and having it feel like I was saying hi to an old friend. Meeting industry people sales people who really cared what you do, wanted to hear more about it, and share their expertise even if they knew you weren't a buyer. Sitting in the lobby learning one of Casey's songs and being too thick to keep the words straight LOL. The mentor luncheons were amazing even when the subject matter didn't apply directly to me. Being able to share my perspective on why the forums are an important part of being a TAXI member during one of the panels and how important it is to be a willing learner. (on the soapbox again )
Some advice to the new members. If you haven't already, start saving now for next year's Rally. It really is that important. Even for those of you who already know the business side, the people you meet, both industry and members, are a huge part of the experience. The contacts I made are a serious part of taking my career to the next level. The right people will end up in your path if you attend with the right intentions.
Also, you should attend with a few clear achievable goals in mind and "Dude, I'm gonna get signed" is not one of them. Focus on finding out what your next step is to getting to your final goal. For example, mine were 1. Create a relationship with a new publishing/licensing contact and cultivate a deal from that; 2. Look for an opportunity to co-write with the right person well above my level; 3. Assess how close I am to my goal/what my missing links are. Without sharing details I'm not able to at this point, let's just say I've met/created the opportunity contained within each goal and should be able to follow-up with a mission accomplished soon.
Now if I could just find the cure-all for the pain associated with returning to the day-job today!