TAXI member Russell Landwehr knows how to make the best of a great community and contributes a lot to it as well.
Interviewed by Michael Laskow
This is Part 2 of the extensive interview we did with TAXI member Russell Landwehr from Pleasant Hill, Ohio. He’s a telephone lineman by day, and multi-instrumentalist/composer/producer by night.
Russell has become a prolific contributor on the TAXI Forum, helping newer, less experienced members succeed, while also building his own catalog, signing publishing deals, and getting placements in his own right.
Over time, we’ve seen generations of TAXI Forum members who step up and are very actively involved, then they get so busy because of their success, that they eventually become somewhat less involved. New generations of members step up and become “community leaders,” and you’re one of the current crop of those active members who lead. What caused you to become as involved as you are?
It just became that way. Because of being involved in the Forums, I’ve learned a TON about this industry. I’ve done this by asking questions, and participating in others’ topics, and reading knowledgeable comments and instructions from the previous generation of active Forum members.
I even butted heads with you, Michael, [ADMIN] in a Forum discussion about quality vs. quantity. It turns out we were coming to the same conclusion from different directions.
Sometimes my comments and thoughts have been way off base. One of the best ways to find out what you need to know is to show your ignorance. We can’t be afraid to do that. How else can we learn? We can’t be so cautious that we keep ourselves ignorant. The forums allow us to edit or delete our comments, but I let my mistakes stay there, and I acknowledge the correction. It’s so much better to grow in grace and knowledge than to “appear” perfect.
But I also learned from the Forum folk that this is a community of helping others. It’s a great joy to help fellow TAXI members understand the listings, help people understand the music business, help composers get perspective on their mixes, and the list goes on. I’ve seen people enter the Forums not really having a clue about how things work. I’ve watched them progress, and I’ve seen those moments when the light bulb switches on. I’ve seen some surpass us all by utilizing the TAXI tools brilliantly. And I celebrate their successes along with everyone in the Forum family.
Knowing how much the TAXI Forums helped me, it was a natural step to be one of those who gave back to the TAXI Forums “University.”
I know that you’ve got 275 instrumental cues signed to several music libraries, and that you’ve accomplished that in just a little more than two years. How has the community played a role, if at all, in helping you become so productive?
Being active in the Forums means learning from each other. Some cool topics that come up are about production tips and organizational tips. We talk about how to schedule time, and we talk about how to stay focused. Then there are the TAXI TV broadcasts and archived episodes. Those are full of great tips scattered here and there.
Without being involved in the TAXI community, I would be stuck in my own narrow ability to create only certain genres. Sure, I could bang out lots of Tension or Chillout cues, but after a while it would probably all start to sound the same and my supply would run dry. It’s through immersion in this community that I’ve been exposed to lots of different genres and produced styles I could never do on my own. If it weren’t for collaborating with TAXI members I wouldn’t have Hick-Hop, Indie, Country, and Folk signed to music libraries (just to name a few).
When collaborating, a magical thing happens too. Another person’s musical “start” inspires me. Helping build the song comes so quickly from that inspiration. Plus, sharing the workload is great for productivity.
How does the collaboration process work with your collaborators being all over the U.S., and even the world?
Isn’t the Internet just grand? It’s erasing borders and shortening distances. I even use the Internet when collaborating with a percussionist I met locally who lives only 40 minutes from me.
My collaborators and I use email, messaging, or texting when we set up for a new batch of songs. Sometimes we need to have a phone or Skype conversation about the upcoming collaboration to make sure we are on the same page. (It amazes me how well my Canadian and Australian collaborators speak English!) We also decide early who will handle the mixing. Sometimes only one of us will do all the mixing no matter who starts the song, and sometimes the person who starts the initial idea will do the mixing.
Then it’s a matter of sharing files in the form of either a mix or individual tracks (stems). We all use Dropbox. Someone will start a song using just a couple instruments plus sometimes a throw-away click track. Then they will upload the stems [subgroups of instruments] and an example mix to a shared folder in Dropbox. It’s very important to agree on housekeeping standards as well; such as version folders with the collaborators name so that stems don’t get all jumbled up. We also make sure to delete files regularly from Dropbox so that we don’t run over our allotted free space.
It’s also very important to work out how the stems will sync up when you drop them in your project. I like to have about four measures of pre-roll (a term from the old-days right there). Some collaborators like to start everything at zero. Sometimes we will have a count-in click of some sort that we will copy to each stem to make sure they line up. Whatever option you go with, everyone in the project needs to be on the same page.
That’s incredibly great and very practical information! I hope everybody reads that twice. It’s a roadmap to great collaborations.
And the cool part is that the collaborations run parallel with stuff I am composing on my own. A two-minute collaboration cue might take two or three days to complete, but it’s not the only song any of us are working on at the time. So it’s not uncommon to have any number of them in the works. It’s kind of like a worldwide assembly plant where each worker does a certain task to complete a never-ending chain of songs.
Did you meet your collaborators on the Forum first, then seal the deal—so to speak—when you met them in the flesh at the Rally?
I met all but one of my collaborators on the Forums. The Forums are great for being a safe place to check out people and get to know them before deciding to collaborate. When I was a noob, I’m pretty sure I was “watched” first before being reached out to for collaboration. I know I watch others to see who I think I am compatible with both for personality and musical styles.
Then actually meeting my collaborators at the TAXI Road Rally was fantastic! Hanging out with them and other TAXI members I’d met in the Forums was like a huge family reunion! Since the Rally last November there are a lot of new Forum members and a new collaborator that I am really looking forward to seeing in person at Rally 2015.
So many of our members don’t take advantage of the Road Rally, often citing the travel expense and time off work needed to spend a weekend in Los Angeles. What would you say to those people who are debating whether or not to come?
There are no words to describe the incredible energy that’s present everywhere you go during that weekend. You can feel it just standing in the crowded lobby filled with so much fantastic talent. Everyone who is involved as a performer or creator of music has this certain “something” about them. And when you get them all in one place like this, there is a fantastic emotional feed-back loop.
Every year after coming back from the Rally, I immediately schedule vacation days for the next year’s Rally. Then during the year, I save the money that I will need for the cost of attending.
The TAXI Road Rally is an extremely energizing experience for everyone including artists, songwriters, and composers. So many contacts are made at the Rally, and there is so much to learn. Attending the Rally can be a career-changing weekend. There is a certain momentum gained from being there. And remember, one of the BEST ways to maintain that momentum is to stay plugged into the Forums. The Forums are like a year-round Rally.
You really can’t put a price on this. Attending the Rally is an investment, not an expense. Place a priority on this and make it happen.
I’ve noticed that even our most successful members, who might have become less involved in the Forum as they’ve become more successful, are still very active in the TAXI community at the Rally. Why do you think they’re so generous with their time, advice, and connections while they’re at the Rally?
Musicians are very “sensitive” to vibes from other people. It is easier to get a feel for a person when you are shaking their hand and talking with them. It’s “safer” to share advice and connections when you are getting the right vibes.
The Rally is a very kinetic experience. Every attendee is invested in what they are doing. The conversations are as intense as they are enlightening. I think these highly successful members were at one time the ones on the receiving end of time, advice, and connections. The TAXI community is very caring and generous. These folks are giving back into the community in this spirit of generosity.
Plus, I’ll betcha the Rally is energizing for these “hardened” veterans as well!
Yeah, I think you’re right about that! I’m sure that some of the more senior members mostly belong just to be part of the community. That’s pretty cool. Clearly, they understand that all of these things go into becoming and staying successful. So many songwriters, artists, and composers think the music business is like the lottery— a game of chance. What’s your take on that?
It’s a game of NO chance if you’re sitting on your butt!
Someone’s music is going to be selected. Someone’s music is going to get used. Someone’s music is going to be bought. The way to be that “Someone,” is to have the right music in the right place at the right time. You have to MAKE this happen, not LET it happen.
Having the right music means constantly improving your art by studying and practicing. Then making sure the music you have fits the need.
Being in the right place means staying in touch with what the Industry wants. This is accomplished through TAXI via the listings and the Forums. Another “right place” is the Rally. The Rally is a place FULL of industry pros standing shoulder to shoulder with the members.
The right time is daily. Being in the right place with the right music at the right time WILL happen if you are constantly vigilant.
Read Part 3 in next month’s Transmitter!
To hear some of Russell's music, click here!