He's so cool, he only needs one name: Fett!
This is Part Two of the extensive Passenger Profile Interview I did with Fett. He’s a Nashville-based songwriter/producer/engineer/mixer who has worked on TAXI members’ projects for more than a decade, until he finally realized he should also be creating and pitching his own music. He became a TAXI member a couple of years ago and is now seeing TAXI from the members’ perspective. His insights and tips are incredibly helpful and enlightening!
In general, have you had a lot of clients over the years that want to spend the money to get a professional production of their music, but the song itself isn’t as good as it could be, and therefore, not really ready for the studio?
I wouldn’t say I’ve had a lot of those – partly because I do so much work with TAXI members – but I’ve had a few. In those cases, I tell the client flat-out, “This music is not ready enough to spend your money on yet; go back to the woodshed and get it right first.” They’re usually shocked at first (sometimes even angry) when I say that, but they always end up thanking me in the long run. In fact, I have a blanket policy as a producer and recording engineer: “I work only with FINISHED songs.” Of course, I will make some suggestions about songwriting refinements and provide the best arrangement and recording of the song that I can, but I won’t write or finish people’s song for them. That’s their job, because it’s their material.
I’ve made a conscious choice to be as good as I can at producing and engineering for them; the real magic happens when they make a similar commitment to be as good as they can at songwriting. An added benefit is that it keeps everything very clean from a legal and ethical standpoint. In more than 30 years, I have never taken songwriting credit on any song I have ever produced for a client. A lot of producers don’t work that way, but I’m pretty adamant about it. The bottom line: get the song as good as it can be first, and then I’m all in!
So many people think that they shouldn’t join TAXI until their songs are totally ready and fully produced. I’ve always contended that they should use TAXI to get their songs ready by using the feedback they get from our A&R team, TAXI TV, the Forums, and the Road Rally before they go to a pro studio and record them. Am I crazy, or is that good advice?
I totally agree with you! In fact, I can honestly say that, even after writing and producing my own and hundreds of clients’ material over several decades, I still learned a lot about songwriting after I became a TAXI member myself! In fact, being involved with TAXI has taught me to look at songs and songwriting from a completely fresh perspective, especially when compared to the traditional “Nashville Way.” I’m not knocking Nashville at all; in fact, I’ve had an invaluable education in all things songwriting and music industry after living in Music City for more than 20 years now. But there are plenty of other, non-Nashville perspectives out there to learn from.
Just to give you an example, the “Gospel of Songwriting According to Nashville” tells you that “valid songs” must be a certain length, must get to the hook within a certain number of seconds, must have a story line or progression, must use very specific, visually descriptive language in the lyric, etc. These are the hard-and-fast R.U.L.E.S. of Nashville songwriting. And they’re all incredibly valuable, especially for anyone who is learning the process of commercial, artist-based songwriting and needs a proven frame of reference to work from.
But then along comes TAXI and the world of film and TV licensing. Suddenly, a lot of those Nashville Songwriting R.U.L.E.S. not only don’t apply, they’re dead wrong! For example, not only is very descriptive language and a story line in the lyric undesirable, it will most likely kill the chances of the song ever being used in film or TV, because it’s too specific for almost any scene, and has the potential to pull the viewers’ attention away from the story that the actors and the scenery are telling on the screen. The same thing applies to production. If the vocal is mixed as far out front on a recording as it needs to be for a commercial Country artist track, it will be too far out front for a film/TV placement. Those are just two examples, but I could talk for a week about this subject. So yes, TAXI has taught me a ton about different, often conflicting ways to approach song composition and production. What an education!
“I find it very interesting that many of the most active members on the TAXI Forums are also the most successful members.”
The other thing I’ll add here about having one’s songs “ready” before submitting to TAXI is this: if you have an existing catalog of songs “just looking for a home,” then you’re looking at your material from completely the wrong angle, and TAXI might not even be the right place for you. Let me explain… As a songwriter/composer, the one thing that TAXI has taught me above all else it that, if you want to make a living (or any money, for that matter) from your songwriting or composing, you have to have material that can actually be used in the marketplace! So, if you’ve got a bunch of “finished” recordings, but no one can use them for commercial purposes in the current market, where does that leave you?
The approach that TAXI has taught me is to listen to what the market is asking for, and then provide that market with the goods. This doesn’t mean you have to “sell out” or create and record shitty music that you absolutely hate, or only “write for The Man” or any of that. Quite the contrary! It simply means that, when you are creating and recording your material, you now have a backdrop to consider about how it might be maximized for exposure to the general public. And isn’t that really what we all want in the long run? To have our music heard by as many people as possible? And guess what? If we create and record it with that in mind, we’ll also have a much bigger shot at making money from it as well. What’s not to like?
With that as a backdrop, here’s what I tell people who are thinking about joining TAXI…
Oh God, please don’t turn this into a commercial. People are going to think I asked you to say this…
No, let me say it! It needs to be said, and you didn’t ask me to say anything!
First, if you don’t have an open mind and don’t want to learn and change, don’t sign up! Assuming you get past that first hurdle, then you should sign up and be prepared to listen—a lot! And for at least a year, do mostly listening and paying attention to what others are doing and saying. And nowhere is there a more valuable place for that than on the “Best Kept Secret of TAXI”: the TAXI online Forums. There is a community of literally hundreds—maybe thousands, I don’t know… of other friendly, supportive people with previous experience and a willingness to help you along in every imaginable aspect of the process, from creating the material, to performance, to which virtual instrument library to invest in, to production tricks – and it’s included in the price of your TAXI membership! You can even listen to – and join a discussion about – which songs did and didn’t get forwarded for a particular listing, and most importantly, why!
I find it very interesting that many of the most active members on the TAXI Forums are also the most successful members. They’re the ones who’ve been TAXI members for five, 10, even 15 years and have made a lot of money through their association with TAXI—some of them to the point of it becoming their sole source of income. And interestingly, those people who have “gotten it,” and figured out all the “hidden secrets” of success are the ones who are the most willing to share their expertise and help their fellow members along. It is so NOT the stereotype of the back-stabbing, turf-protecting music industry ethic!
Now, take that vibe and environment, put it on steroids, multiply it by 2,500, and that’s what you get at the Road Rally every year. I should know; this year will be my TWELVTH Road Rally in a row! I literally re-arrange my recording and teaching schedule every year to make absolutely sure I will be able to make it to the Road Rally – it’s that valuable an experience to me. As Nancy and I have always said, “The emotional and professional lift we get from three days at the Road Rally each November carries us through to at least March or April of the following year!” It’s that incredible of an experience.
And, just like the Forums, it’s included FREE with your TAXI membership!
Okay, you’re starting to sound like a commercial again.
Seriously Michael, I think it should be the duty of every TAXI member to do everything in their power to make the TAXI Road Rally their “music industry pilgrimage” every year, because entire, successful music careers have been built from the Road Rally alone. I have witnessed it personally; it’s not just a bunch of marketing hype.
Well, when you say it like that, I think people will see your emphatic endorsement as genuine.
Can I say more about TAXI, or are you going to edit it all out?
Maybe you should say something negative so people don’t think you’re shilling.
How about if I just tell the truth?
Yeah, truth is always good…
So, in addition to listening intently and with an open mind for the first year, my next piece of advice for newer TAXI members is to start submitting material to listings as soon as possible. And even if you’ve been at it professionally for decades, do not count on any “success” (i.e., forwards and placements of your material) for at least the first three years. Yes, three years! Now, the smart ones shorten that time span considerably, because they keep submitting, getting feedback from the TAXI screeners, taking it to heart, and incorporating it back into their future submissions. They’re the ones with the most open minds.
When people ask me what TAXI is, I often describe it as the “Safe Microcosm of the Music Industry At Large.” The TAXI screening process is a way for you to have industry professionals, often with decades of their own experience and success, personally screen and evaluate your material and provide directed, personalized feedback – all in a completely safe environment where there’s no risk of “blowing it” with potential end-users of your music by submitting sub-par or inappropriate material. What in the world could possibly be wrong with a model like that? I think it’s ingenious. I sure wish such a thing had existed when I was coming up, believe me!
I remember having a discussion a few years ago with a dear friend of mine, an experienced songwriter/musician/performer who joined TAXI for only a year, submitted a few songs she had written years before, got offended by the critiques, and didn’t renew her membership because, in her words “TAXI just doesn’t get me.” That is TOTALLY the wrong attitude!
What the TAXI screeners are doing is serving as a valuable buffer between you and a virtually unlimited world of potential users of your artistic creations! Those potential users expect the highest-quality material available, and even then, only use the best of that. You want to have someone in your court who will be brutally honest and say “not good enough yet” on behalf of those potential users, so you don’t have to hear it directly from them and ruin your chances of ever getting to submit another song to them. I would put it this way: it’s not about “TAXI getting you” as much as it is “you getting TAXI,” and what it’s there to do for you.
And quite frankly, I don’t think TAXI is for everyone. Only certain people can be ego-less, open-minded, willing to learn and change, and self-motivated enough to cut it at TAXI, and by extension, in the professional world of music. It may sound harsh, but it’s reality. Fortunately, there are countless songwriters and musicians out there who are motivated and open-minded enough to “get” the TAXI model, and they are the ones who will succeed eventually. I have no doubt about it.
“Isn’t that really what we all want in the long run? To have our music heard by as many people as possible?”
Some of our members go to great time and expense to record full albums, press up a thousand copies, and then submit the songs from the album to TAXI’s opportunities. They get really upset when the A&R team suggests something like adding a bridge or changing a lyric. They send us some pretty cranky emails saying, “I spent a fortune on this record, and I can’t go in and make changes now. My music is what it is!” Any advice for them?
Yes! Consider anything you’ve already done as your “back catalog.” It is what it is, and it may or may not have applicability for what TAXI’s end music consumers are looking for. So, definitely feel free to submit it, but be willing to accept that it may or may not get you any traction, at least not through TAXI. Continue to use it for the purpose(s) it was originally recorded for, whether it’s appropriate for TAXI listings or not. It’s not a right-or-wrong thing; it’s simply about different avenues of potential “usage” of your material.
With that in mind, use your TAXI experience as a chance to refine your future catalog. Take the TAXI A&R team’s advice to heart and incorporate it into your future work. If you get some suggestions for changes to your “back catalog,” don’t get upset – or worse yet, run back into a pro studio and spend a ton of money re-recording the whole thing – and use that valuable information for future stuff. One thing I’ve definitely learned from years of observing TAXI members (and now being one myself) is this: the TAXI members who continue to create new material are the ones who thrive; the ones who “get stuck” on their old material do not. It’s that simple. If you continue to create new material – and you take the feedback to heart and incorporate it into that material – your catalog will inevitably improve and be more widely applicable. It’s unavoidable. It applies to songwriting and composing just as much as it applies to anything else in life: if you keep growing and working at something, you will improve it. Ask any of the long-term TAXI members who started with only a few songs and now have 1,200 songs in their catalog (and proportionately nice, big, fat royalty checks to match), and they’ll agree with me!
Before you became a TAXI member yourself, you’d built a nice circle of friends who are members in the Nashville area. Are there any common problems that they’ve mentioned over time… any hurdles or things they needed to change in order to start getting their music forwarded by TAXI and ultimately placed in TV shows or films?
Most definitely. All of them had to learn the valuable lessons I’ve already mentioned about applicability of their music to the marketplace and to various “non-traditional” uses like film and TV. Here are a few other common threads that run through their (and my) experiences as a TAXI member.
First, “in order to commit, you must submit!” Okay, I might not exactly be as eloquent as Johnnie Cochran, but… It may sound obvious, but if you’re not sending in music to TAXI listings for consideration, you pretty much guarantee that no one will ever hear it, and nothing will ever come from it. My circle of TAXI friends has all learned that they need to submit to the listings to make progress.
That leads to the second lesson, which is that if you want to have commercial success from your music, you have to create what the commercial world needs now. Many of my TAXI friends found themselves seeing very few listings that they felt applied to their music, and many of them got the old “not appropriate for the listing” checkbox on their critiques before they finally understood what stylistic slot(s) their existing music truly fit into. Once they’d done that, they started giving themselves a challenge to “write to the listings” and see how many of them they could create music for, sometimes on the fly, in only a day. It wasn’t easy at first, but it’s like working a muscle: after you’ve written songs to meet specific listings a number of times (especially with a time deadline), it gets easier. Suddenly, they found they were capable of writing and producing new kinds of music that they never dreamed they could do.
At the same time – and this is the third critical lesson they all have in common – they discovered what their true strengths and weaknesses were. So, while they continued to expand their musical horizons (submitting to listings, getting feedback, and using it to improve), they also began to specialize in a few specific types of music, and got really good at them. Those styles became their go-to specialties. This “expanding while specializing” process is critical to success through TAXI – and in the songwriting/composing world in general, and is a common thread that runs through all of the most successful TAXI members.
Fourth, the members who got really good at the TAXI process learned all of the different roles they had to play – creator, performer, producer, engineer, critic, business owner, etc. – and then figured out which ones they were capable of getting good at, and – just as importantly – which ones they needed to farm out to others. This “collaborative production” phenomenon is another shared trait of the truly successful TAXI members. Fortunately, the TAXI community itself is a phenomenal pool of resources to draw upon, so if there’s a part of the process you need to “sub-contract,” there’s a good chance the exact right person(s) are already right there in front of you in the TAXI community. And many times, it won’t even cost you a penny, because many of the best TAXI collaborators are also really good at bartering their services for the services of others. For example, “I’ll lay down a killer mandolin part on your song if you can sing me a killer lead vocal on mine.” This is how many of the successful TAXI members get the quality of their stuff so high: they draw on the talents of others who are much better at certain parts of the process than they are.
And, on occasion, that’s where folks like me – who do professional music production services of various types for hire – come into the picture. I have produced entire projects from start to finish for many TAXI members over the years, but more often than not, I’m just hiring Nashville session aces to add specific parts, or mixing the tracks that members have recorded, or mastering the tracks they’ve recorded and mixed. And my clients come from all over the world, often from places that might not have the specific musicians or services that I can provide because of my experience and my location. That’s how I fit into the “collaborative production” model.
Don’t Miss Part 3 of Fett’s Passenger Profile in next month’s TAXI Transmitter!
Fett’s Azalea Music website: http://azaleamusic.com/