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 3, the final installment 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. Keep reading to learn how he uses TAXI in a very holistic way, while balancing his day job, family, and his growing career in music.
Has the feedback from TAXI’s A&R Team helped you at all, and if so, how?
These A&R folk are pros. I can’t think of anywhere else where I could get an opportunity to pitch my music through professionals and get feedback on why they won’t send certain ones on. The comments and advice they give on the songs they reject are golden. I’ve made numerous successful course changes based on their feedback. I remember one song in particular –though I resisted at first – I made some changes based on A&R’s feedback. The next time I submitted that song, it was forwarded and signed.
How do you deal with the “rejection,” so many musicians seem to give as the reason they’ve given up?
The “rejection” certainly hurts. There’s no denying that. Even when we try to de-personalize ourselves from the music. Less than glowing feedback can still sting; especially when there is a long string of returns.
But here is what I do: I take a tiny bit of time to feel the hurt. I may even express my dissatisfaction in the Forums… politely! – then the Forum members talk some sense into me. Then I dive in and see what I can do to improve my craft to avoid being “rejected” in that manner again. It may take better targeting of the opportunity, it may take a different way of mixing, it may take changing genres, or it may take educating myself about something that I apparently am missing. You see, it’s not rejection of me… it’s not personal. It’s something that can be fixed.
Critical feedback is an extremely useful tool for improvement. Giving up is saying that you are not willing to do what it will take to improve the music.
I know that you’ve read Steven Pressfield’s awesome book, Turning Pro. Can you share a few key things you learned from that book?
As a companion to his book, The War of Art, Steven really dives under the hood comparing Amateur and Pro in Turning Pro. He shows the conditions, habits, and thought processes that keep people enslaved to the Amateur condition.
What Turning Pro did for me was put a floodlight on my life and thought process. It made me realize that up until then, I was only half-heartedly fiddling about in this business. I flipped that “switch” while reading this book. Instead of a telephone lineman doing music on the side, I instantly became a Composer for Film and TV (even without anything signed yet) who uses his day job to take care of financial obligations. Music is my career.
This mindset is also why “rejection” doesn’t stop me. Rejection is part of this Career. Taking correction from rejection moves me forward.
Although you’ve not had a lot of placements yet, they are starting to happen for you on shows like MTV’s Catfish and HBO’s Vice, and it seems like you’re starting to see some critical mass happen. How important is it to stick with it, even though it starts out slowly at first?
I compare my career in music to getting a freight train going. Early on you’ve really gotta crank those engines up and you barely get anywhere. But as long as you keep at it, pretty soon that train starts to gather speed. You can’t let off. Once that train gets up to speed, you can back off the throttle a little bit. But you CAN’T stop giving it gas. There is no longer a free downhill ride in this industry. It takes YEARS for most of us to make serious progress.
My train is still pulling out of the station. I’m still traveling pretty slowly at full-throttle, but I am picking up speed. I’ve got a long and scenic track ahead of me. I know from my TAXI mentors that this Career takes constant work. But what better thing to do constantly than what I love?
How long did it take you to get your first placement?
Almost 49 years. It was worth the wait... Oh! You mean…
I’d been a TAXI member for well over a year by the time I attended my first Rally in 2012. That coupled with reading Steven Pressfield’s, Turning Pro around the same time induced a shift that led to a Music Library signing me in October 2013 from a TAXI forward. That relationship led to writing music targeted to MTV’s Catfish in the early months of 2014. Then in May 2014 Catfish episodes aired with my music in them.
So, doing the math in my head, I got my first TV placement about three years after joining TAXI; a year and a half after flipping that “switch,” and seven months after signing with the Music Library.
We’ve been doing episodes of TAXI TV for nearly five years now, and I see you in the chat room during the shows. How has that helped you move forward, if at all?
Well, sometimes your show distracts from the chat room. <wink>
Yeah, I’ve noticed that you guys can go off on tangents, but it’s all good if it’s building the community and educating people… and it is!
Early on in my membership, I watched a lot of the archived episodes. Those TAXI TV shows are 90-minute bonanzas of information. They are packed full of stuff about the industry: terminology, how things work, what music supervisors want, how to write hit songs, how to mix, gear to use, what the good stuff actually sounds like… and the shows are entertaining too! Sometimes I can only listen to the live show in the car on my UStream Android app as I race home to log in for the Q&A at the end of the show.
One of the coolest things during the live shows is when the audience can ask you and your guests questions in the chat room. Having access to all that on a weekly basis is priceless. Often too, in the chat room, we (the current generation of socially active members) help people out with their questions that pop up during the broadcast about relevant topics.
Do you have any writing or composing tips you’d like to share with our readers?
The biggest thing I’ve learned about composing/recording is that you don’t throw the kitchen sink at everything all the time. You really can’t have every instrument playing full-bore all the way through a song because that just kills the interest. Every track in a song you record isn’t precious. Mute stuff (I learned this first from Ronan Chris Murphy during his class at the Road Rally), be ruthless with the knife and just throw things away. You can make more, later if needed.
And I would like to share a bit of what fellow TAXI member Stuart Cardell said to me a few years back:
“Just let your heart/gut lead you in boldness. Just try crazy things with confidence. I mean: less technique and more feel.
“It’s like this: when you learn something… golf, martial arts, music, poetry, mowing the lawn… you learn a bunch of rules to get you started… to make it easy to teach [you]. Then, when you have it, you [stop worrying about the rules because you can now use them instinctively] and let your gut/heart lead.
“That’s one of the paradoxes in life. The majority of people will stay with the rules and not create their own awesomeness.”
Of course we can’t totally throw out the rules if we expect our music to be forwarded and used. But at the same time, we cannot get beyond bland lifeless stuff without engaging our heart. Dig deep, friends.
Stuart’s words are still hanging over my office desk.
And for good reason, wise words, indeed! Do you have any music business tips you’d like to share that you wish you knew when you were just getting started?
Keep track of everything. And I mean everything! There will come a time when things are rolling along and you will need to have a handle on all the information like; what songs are where and what their status is, who the writers are, or what your re-titles are. You’ve got to be able to put your hands on every contract you’ve signed at a moment’s notice. Keep track of your song or track’s BPM and key signature. One company may not need it, but another will, and you don’t want to spend an evening figuring out what key you did a song in, or tapping on your BPM detector.
Also continually keep track of your expenses and income. It makes things easier at tax time.
And don’t cheat. Be honest. It’s much less stressful. This applies to dealing with publishers and music supervisors as well.
Agreed. That applies to any business… Heck, it applies to life! Just so readers can know that you’re a “regular guy,” tell them about the rigors of your day gig.
Fixing telephone service one customer at a time certainly can be rough. I can go from standing on a ladder 20 feet in the air working on the lines, to crawling under a house to repair wires chewed by varmints. There is mud, rain, poison ivy, bugs, sunburn, dogs that like to use their teeth, oppressive heat and humidity, painful cold, two foot deep snow, spider webs, muscle aches, joint injuries, lead exposure, armed robberies… But there is also a sense of satisfaction when I’ve finished powering through all those obstacles to let the customer know that their Internet is working properly, or they can receive that phone call from their dying brother, or watch the last half of that Bengals game.
Armed robberies?! Holy crap! Who knew that repairing phone and Internet connections could be so perilous? You’ll have to tell me more about that at the Rally.
So, it’s not impossible to build a career in music while balancing work, family, music, and the occasional armed robbery?
Not impossible at all. You’ve just got to get it straight in your head. You need to view yourself as a Professional, and Music as your Career.
There’s plenty of time in a day. Get rid of needless distractions. Let being with your family be your decompression time instead of some silly hobby like building speedboats out of matchsticks.
Put your day job into perspective. Your day job is not your career. Don’t center your thoughts on that. Focus constantly on what will move your real career forward—music!
I know you’re just a few years away from retiring. Do you plan to do music full time when you’re done being a “lineman for the county”?
That is my plan. I know exactly what day I can retire from my day job and receive full pension. I have it on a calendar and I count it down daily. When that day comes, I believe my musical “freight train” will be seriously rolling down the track. When that day comes, instead of 75 hours a week dedicated to my career plus my Job, I will be a 40-hour-a-week, 55-year-old guy doing only what he loves… probably in LA, or Florida, or Hawaii, but maybe right here in Ohio, in the house I grew up in that now has a recording studio in the backyard.
Do you have any parting advice for people who are thinking about joining TAXI, or for new members who’ve not yet discovered how becoming an active member of the community can do so much to help them achieve the dream they probably thought was unachievable?
It’s about “Leverage.” Leverage means how much you can get out of what you do.
TAXI is a top-notch organization. Probably the best in the world at what they do. But that lever won’t do you one bit of good if you don’t use it.
You won’t improve your craft and get anywhere by relying on your friends and family for musical direction. Not unless your friends and family are successful industry professionals like the A&R staff at TAXI, and the artists, producers, writers, music library owners, film editors, etc. You’ll find those industry pros at the Road Rally, on TAXI TV, and in the TAXI Forums.
Successful people do three main things to get there: They do what successful people did before them. They immerse themselves in a successful environment. They work hard using every tool at their disposal.
TAXI is that access to the successful people. The Forum is that successful environment no matter what area of this business you are focusing on. And TAXI membership and involvement in submitting songs and tracks to listings, growing through involvement in the Forum community, educating yourself with the FREE TAXI TV episodes, attending the TAXI Road Rally… THESE are the TOOLS! These are the things that give you leverage. Using these tools are the BEST and most EFFECTIVE means of getting the most out of what you do.
Russell, thank you for carrying the community torch and helping other TAXI members move forward! This was an amazingly good interview that I hope every one of our members, former members, and future members take the time to read. You’ve just handed them the keys to the kingdom. Thank you!
To hear some of Russell's music, click here!
However and wherever you look, just be sure not to give up if you do not immediately uncover some leads. And remember that the above list is by no means complete—so be sure to brainstorm your own ideas.
Bobby Borg Is The Author Of The New Book Business Basics For Musicians: The Complete Handbook From Start To Success (Published by Hal Leonard) available at www.bobbyborg.com/store. For a limited time special offer, get the book, CD, and DVD for only $21.99 (a $70 Value).