I was preparing for our convention last month and trying to find a particular quote from one of our members in a Passenger Profile. I wanted to base an entire panel around the quote, so I searched obsessively to find it.
During my hunt, certain sections of other members’ profiles kept popping up that made me think, “I wonder how many people actually read this stuff… it’s pure gold!” I’ve assembled and condensed some of my favorites for you. Enjoy!
What would your advice be to musicians who’ve been “watching TAXI” for years and years, but have never joined because they think they need to have a ton of music that’s totally ready to go before they jump in?
There’s some value in caching up material before you join, but I wouldn’t over play that card. For me, having the listings with specifications for cues that real customers need is powerful motivation.
In the six or so years that I’ve been writing production music (part-time) I have around 250 tracks published, and about seven publishing deals —I’m actively pitching to three of them right now— I make just around five digits annually all in with my music. I get quarterly statements from BMI that typically have over 100 placements on them. Individual payouts per placement are anywhere from 1 cent (seriously), to as much as $800 for single placement.
I really sense that my business is starting to take off. I have a ton of stuff to learn (that’s one of the things that drives me!). There are some good indicators. My publish to sync ratio with new cues is better than ever. I recently struck up a deal with a publisher I met through a mutual relationship with a fellow TAXI member. Since uploading my initial batch of about 25 tracks with this entity about six months ago, I’ve seen about 20 new cue sheets show up on my BMI catalog. The publisher tells me there are quite a few more, which is consistent with BMI’s tracking (they usually only record a fraction of what shows up in the quarterlies).
You mentioned in your letter that you’d recently met with a financial planner about your eventual retirement. Do you mind if I ask how old you are, and what you learned from the financial planner?
I’ve reached and passed the half-century mark; I’m 53. As such, retirement is on the forefront of my financial planning. I’ll be honest; I didn’t do a very good job of preparing for retirement in my early wage earning years. We are in pretty good shape now, but not where I’d like to be. My wife and I met with a planner a few months back. When he saw the numbers for my music business today, and we talked about the fact that I plan to continue doing this after I retire my day job, and in fact I plan to up my game and increase my revenue, he was ecstatic! Having a revenue stream that obviates or at least mitigates the need to draw down the principal in a nest egg can turn an okay retirement fund into a great one.
I’ve been preaching the whole “retire from your music” thing for years, but I worry that people think I’m just hyping TAXI. You’re exactly the kind of musician I’ve been trying to convince that they should start now, in their 40s or 50s—if not earlier—so they can get the learning curve out of the way in the first few years. And by the time they’re ready to retire, the income is already flowing in. Most people don’t believe me, and they start too late or give up too soon. Do you ever see that among fellow musicians who aren’t TAXI members?
This business is like anything else. It takes time to build it. Just like my retirement funds, I’m not where I want to be with my track count, and my revenue stream. I wish I had started earlier, and at the same time, I’m extremely grateful that I started when I did. I feel as if I’m on the cusp of something really special, fun, and financially rewarding. There’s a great book titled, It’s not Too Late, Unless You Don’t Start Now – pretty good saying I think.
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!
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?
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! 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.
Has TAXI helped you get out of your comfort zone and “forced” you to explore musical genres you never thought you might capable of doing?
Oh yes, definitely. Before TAXI, I was mainly writing Indie Rock, Singer/Songwriter stuff and the occasional Jazz chart. I have always liked to listen to a variety of styles but never considered writing them. Now I find myself writing all kinds of genres: Dramedy, Tension, EDM, Corporate, Pop, and the list goes on. Personally, I have discovered that there are so many amazing things about each and every genre that you are truly missing out if you shut the door on them. Simply put, try and find something you love in the music you don’t like. It might end up being your new favorite!
I also noticed that most of your songs and instrumentals have titles that could easily “telegraph” what the music is going to sound like, or a type of scene it could potentially work for. I think a lot of talented musicians miss out on publishing deals and placements because they don’t give their music the right kind of titles. How did you learn how to do that, and do you think it has helped you get more deals and placements?
I admit that there have been plenty of times where I sit there, ready to bounce a track and get held up for at least 10 minutes struggling with a title. If you put yourself in the shoes of an editor who’s probably under a time constraint and scanning a long list of tracks, what would get your attention? That’s been the place I try to visit every time I come up with a title. It’s the first impression, so I try to portray the vibe immediately, so they get the idea prior to having not heard a thing yet. I first considered the importance of titling during Chuck Schlacter class at the TAXI Road Rally, and it’s been addressed in numerous TAXI TV episodes.
I see a lot of your fellow members who get something signed by a publisher through a TAXI relationship, then they tend to put most if not all of their music in that one catalog. Maybe they feel like they’ve found that one person or company that “loves” them. How many catalogs do you have your music in?
I currently have music in 14 libraries. That includes co-writes, so some of which, there are only a few tracks signed to. Overall, it has been my experience that certain libraries get more placements with certain genres. So part of the game is figuring out what does well and where. If you put all of your music in one catalog, it could potentially be risky considering even though they “love” your tracks, they might not have stellar opportunities for those particular tracks. It’s definitely a long-term game, but if you can figure out the shows that your libraries are currently pitching to, then you can target your music accordingly and you’ll be more likely to get placements with them.
How did you learn to handle the sting of getting feedback from TAXI’s A&R team that wasn’t what you wanted to hear?
It’s hard, I’ve moaned about it in the TAXI Forums at least once! It’s really hard to stay objective if you’ve worked really hard writing tracks for a listing. But you have to get up and try again. This is such a long-term business that if you’ve made a good track and it’s been rejected, it almost doesn’t matter because another listing or publisher may well have a need for it. Rejection is a lot more common than acceptance in this business. So, if you get upset by every rejection, then you’re going to spend a lot of time that way!
Do you have any advice for first year TAXI members who are ready to throw in the towel because they haven’t “made their investment back” in the first 12 months?
Making your investment back can be the wrong way to think about it. I think I was a good musician before I joined, but I didn’t know about writing for film and television. There was a lot I didn’t know about mixing and sample libraries, the software, and technology. I had to learn that to get my music up to scratch to be useful to libraries. If you’re starting out like I was, then you should be using your TAXI membership to learn about the things you don’t know and grow as an artist/composer. The return will come when you’ve got the goods! Also, remember this is a slow, slow business, and you need to be patient before you get anything at all. I was lucky and signed a deal about six months after joining in December 2011, but it took another two years before I really started seeing the financial reward. All of the television placements I’ve had this year will take 6-12 months to pay out to me via my PRO. You just have to be patient.
How many different publishers do you work with?
I have around 30 publishers that I have done work with off and on. Some more frequent than others.
Do you work with more than one to spread your bets around?
It’s just like a 401k. You don’t want to invest in one area. Diversify! I’ll be working on one project with one publisher and then get a request from another publisher, so I jump on that after I am done. So I am not writing music to just add to a library. I am writing for specific television shows and those tracks are usually going right into the editor’s bays for use. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed with really having no downtime with publisher requests.
When we interviewed you in 2009, you had about 100 placements. Do you know how many you’ve racked up in total, now?
Currently, I have music in 350+ shows, ranging from major networks and MTV to television movies. (You just reminded me to update the ol’ website!)
What advice would you give to members who are getting their music forwarded by TAXI, but haven’t seen the deals or placements roll in yet? What kept you going when most others would have given up?
If you are getting music forwarded all the time, you WILL get that email/callback from the company. Don’t get frustrated. It’s just a matter of time. It might not be the timeframe that you want, but you have to be patient. My mentality was that I was building my music library. If I got that “callback” from the publisher or I did not, I was still increasing my catalog. Building your music catalog is so important for longevity. Compare the success rate of somebody with a 500-track library to a person who has 20. It is a numbers game.
Any last thoughts that you think will inspire and help the people reading this to succeed in earning their living doing what they love?
Be patient. If you want to achieve long-term success, you have to be prepared to continue to write and record. Don’t expect things to happen right away. For the first two years of my TAXI membership, I hunkered down and recorded ... recorded ... and recorded. Start out with your bread and butter. If you excel at rock guitar, write rock guitar tracks. If you make great orchestral cues, record those. Get those under your belt. In time, you will find yourself expanding your genre palette. When I first started, if you had asked me if I would ever write easy going Caribbean music or cartoon cues, I would have said that you were crazy. But I have and have had them placed on television shows. Everybody is on different levels, whether it be songwriting, recording, playing an instrument. But TAXI has a lot of tools that can help you improve on ANY level. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the time YOU devote to it.