The Collaboration Nation panelists yuk it up after their panel and show just how strong TAXI's community is. (Left to Right) C.K. Barlow, Russell Landwehr, Matt Vander Boegh, Steven Guiles, Seth Littlefield, Scott Free, and TAXI's Michael Laskow.
Moderator: Michael Laskow
A few months ago, I interviewed Russell for our newsletter and when I read the section about collaboration, it inspired me to do this panel. People understand the value of collaboration, but maybe they don't know exactly how it's done, or what some of the etiquette is, or some of the mechanics of collaborating. So that's what we're here to do.
Let's start with Russell. Tell us where you live and why folks in the audience should be collaborating if they're not already.
Russell: I live in Pleasantville, Ohio. It's a town of about 1,500 people, and I don't have a chance to collaborate with anybody really close to me. And one of the reasons to collaborate, especially, is not just to get something for yourself. Themain reason to collaborate is to help other people. But the best reason to collaborate is actually because whatever you do with someone else becomes better, because they have different sounds, different skills, different things that can add to what you do. But not only that, what happens is you end up playing off of what they do or sing or say, and everything just builds. Collaboration is truly an example of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Matt, how about you? Why do you think people should collaborate? Or why do you collaborate?
Matt: Well, I'm from Boise, Idaho-not exactly a hotbed of musical activity-so I've done everything by myself. So I've done everything by myself for a long time, and you start to realize there is only so much you can do. You can't do everything. I'm not a singer, and I was losing out on tons of opportunities for vocal songs and good placements just because I don't sing-and I sure as hell don't rap. [laughter] But I wanted to get in on that game, so I started reaching out to people. I'd give tracks to people and say, “What can you do with it?” and then they'd send it back, and now it just kinda widens the net so you have more stuff for better and bigger opportunities.
Seth, how about you?
Seth: Well, I'm from Seattle, Washington, which had a pretty good scene during the Grunge era. But just to add to the list a little bit, of course, to find new skills to work with, but also to find libraries to work with, because I've actually signed a couple tracks from libraries that I would have never been introduced to, tracks that have been placed, which is a nice bonus. It's a nice way to have an introduction to publishers or libraries that maybe on the other hand you wouldn't be able to meet.
And Steven, you do a fair number of songs-probably more songs than instrumentals, at least the last time I caught up with you. Are you looking to collaborate for reasons other than the people who mostly do instrumental stuff? As a songwriter, do you collaborate in other ways or for other reasons?
Steven: I have come to figure out a lot of what my strengths and weaknesses are as a songwriter. Like Matt was saying, I'm not a vocalist. I don't feel like I'm a very good producer/mixer. I don't feel like that's my gift, with the detail, really making a track shine with that extra five percent at the end of a mix that really makes it happen. I don't think that's my gift. So I tend to work with people who maybe have that more attention to detail thing that I don't have. I think we all find that there is a strength that we have that we can bring to a co-write or to a collaboration. And then it's like speed-dating or something, you try a bunch of people. You know, a lot of us here have collaborated with each other, and you just try things out, you throw something out there and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you don't have time, or you've got a deadline you're meeting and you've got to prioritize. I don't know. I didn't really answer that question, but I love collaborating.
I mean, that's why I love TAXI. I love TAXI because there's a community, and the community has made me better, it has grown me.
I can barely watch a TV show now without recognizing a piece of music-there is that much TAXI member music out there. I'm constantly saying to my wife, “I know that music. Oh my gosh, there goes another member.” Especially in reality shows, but I'm starting to hear TAXI members' music on big network shows like The Blacklist. I heard something fly by two episodes ago that was a TAXI member. Whoever it was didn't even tell me it was on the show, but I recognized the piece of music, and that just blows my mind.
Russell: He might have not even known. It happens. We don't intentionally keep it from you, Michael. We love you. Sometimes we don't know.
CK, out of all the folks up there, you've been a TAXI member probably the longest. I've seen you at Rallies forever, and that you're well networked from coming to all these Rallies. You know, you were part of the original group of people that hung out and said, “We're a community,” and you've been part of that growth. Why do you collaborate?
CK: Well, to answer the question that you originally posed-where I'm living now? I just recently moved to Pikesville, Maryland, which is basically northwest Baltimore. And the reason that's a factor is that I was in Albuquerque for many, many years before that, and there is rich music scene between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and I left all that behind to be closer to family. But what has remained consistent is my TAXI family, and that's where my collaborations come from, and it's been great. But basically everything that these guys have said holds true, and one thing I wanted to mention-I'm sure you've run across this, because you're a voracious reader of business books-the notion that the five people with whom you spend the most time, you're the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. Pick excellent people.
I work at home alone. You know, everything I do-composing and teaching music technology courses-is online. So collaborating gives me a way to connect with excellent people, and keep that interaction in my life, and keep growing and keep expanding my universe. So that's a really good reason right there.
And you're five people. I think that was the point I so inarticulately made was that you've been around so long and part of this core group of people. You chose well at the beginning…
Yeah. I mean, I made a list of the folks I've collaborated with. It's like 20 people. Awesome, awesome people.
Scott, I hope I didn't get this wrong, but you had a song that got cut through TAXI with Janiva Magnus, right, who is the reigning queen of the Blues. I spent three hours listening to her music two or three months ago. I had no idea how amazing she is. She has actually come in and screened some Blues listings for us at TAXI, and then she said, “Can't I run one from my own record?” and that's how you ended up on her record, right? So you collaborated with Jennifer Levy on that, I believe?
Scott: Yeah. At that time, I was always in a band, and in Long Island, New York, there a lot of very talented people there. But when it came to writing and recording, there was a disconnect somehow. So I joined TAXI originally in 2007, but for a number of personal reasons I couldn't get it going. Something was always distracting me, the band especially, because I was the musical director of the band. Jennifer was one of the people that I found through Craigslist. Initially, my goal was… I did everything myself, except sing. Then I realized when the singer has a vested interest in the co-write, it's much more believable. So I try to encourage that, and then I became a psychiatrist, and I think I'm better at that than anything.
I didn't know you were. How am I doin' today?
Scott: Dr. Scotty Love. It just was a natural progression, but with TAXI it really didn't take off until I met my main partner, FM Cossey, who is from New Zealand. We fill in each other's blanks. I have the attention span of a gnat. I get everything done, but a lot of it is last minute and it is creative chaos. FM is very organized, and she's 16 hours ahead of me in New Zealand. So in essence, the song never sleeps, because when I go to bed she's getting up, and she's working on the same song, and we have a steady output of things because of that. And at this point, we have our go-to singers that we use that always come through for us. And then we still try other things, because I'm a Pop guy basically, but there are so many variations of Pop. Is it TV/film Pop? Is it hit single Pop? Is it instrumental-type of stuff. So we're still figuring it out, trying to adhere to the listings.
But TAXI gave me a sense of direction that I never had before, and I love working with TAXI. I've worked with [fellow panelist] Steven. God, he's probably spent more time singing the song than we did talking about it. Intuitively they know. Everybody knows, and it's a wonderful environment.
I guess I'll go back down the line again. I'm not going to ask the same question of everybody, I'm gonna start bouncing around, because I've got a lot of ground to cover. How do you guys get a sense of who's going to be safe to work with? I think a lot of people are afraid to collaborate for fear that they're going to expose their idea, or maybe much of the song to somebody and it's gonna get hijacked, and they're gonna go, “What the hell did I just do? I just gave a song away.” How do you know who you can trust, Russell?
Russell: You've got to build a relationship first-very often you have to. Occasionally, you might jump into something pretty quickly, but usually if you jump in quickly, you've already known that person because you've seen them around. Where do you see them around? Forums.taxi.com. That is one of the best places to get to know people. Because when you're in there and you're constantly contributing to that Forum, to that community, people get to see who you are, [they see] your integrity. They get to hear your music if you're posting the music in the Peer-to-Peer section of the Forum, so they know what kind of musician you are and what kind of music you do, and you can get a sense of how they might compliment you in that manner. But the biggest thing is getting to know them as a person, because very often you're private messaging them through the TAXI Forum, or you end up being friends on Facebook and chatting about stuff, and you really do get a sense after hangin' out with somebody for a while-are they the kind of person that's going to screw you over or not? And generally, that's why I like collaborating with Canadians, because they are the nicest ones of all. [audience laughs]
It has all of a sudden become Canada Day here.
Russell: Canadians and ex-Canadians, because they bring their niceness to the U.S. But really, being in the Forum is just one of the best places to get a feel of who that person is and how they handle themselves and what kind of integrity they have.
I saw you posted something somewhere that you felt that people spent far too much time on Facebook and too little time on the Forum. Yes, Forums are old technology, but ours has always been such a strong community, and so much good stuff has come out of it. I read that and I thought, you know what, he's right.
Russell: Right, because the Forums are a group of people who are TAXI-oriented. Being in the Forums, you get a feel for what's going on in the music industry. And you've got knowledge and you don't have to explain everything to them like I have to explain to people locally who don't understand contracts, who don't understand what PROs are and how they work. But that's what's really cool about that. I mean, you just can't bump into people like that-like-minded people-on Facebook. Where you've got to be to do that is be where the people are that are like-minded and doing what you're doing. And [the TAXI Forum] is where it is.
We've seen thousands of people over the years that have started careers because of that Forum, and it's mind-blowing to me. I would say it's probably not an untrue statement that as many TAXI members get signed to deals and get placements as a result of being on the Forum and meeting other members, as they do from pitching their stuff. So I'm your biggest fan on that comment. You could not be more right.
-Matt Vander Boegh
Let me go to Matt on this. How do you get a sense of who's going to work well with you in regard to delivering on time and being responsible? Because there is that factor, especially in our world, where we're working on deadlines all the time. It's not like, “Hey, cool, let's hang out and write a song.” If we need to have a song done in 12 days, isn't it risky to give up an idea or half an idea to somebody and ask him or her to collaborate with you? And now your fate rests in their hands if they don't deliver something good and on time. How do you know?
Matt: Yeah, that's huge. This is one of the reasons why I really-aside from a few other people-I only collaborate with TAXI members, because we're all serious. We know all of the lingo and all the deadlines and stuff like that, and we're serious about making this a career. Some Joe Schmo off the street in Boise that I could find that might have a great voice, they don't understand the whole business. They don't understand that, “Hey, we need this done by tomorrow, and I've got to produce it. So I need your vocals by tonight.” They just don't get it. So just being a TAXI member automatically, in my mind, puts you in a whole different bracket than a lot of people. Like whoever's not a TAXI member just doesn't understand the way this game works, I think.
When I find a collaborator, it's almost like an investment. Like, you wouldn't just willy-nilly go throw money into random stocks, or just put a crap ton of money into a comic book stand hoping that 10 years from now it'll get you millions of dollars. You're gonna do your research first, so I do that with pretty much all the people I work with. Before I even reach out to people, I'll almost like cyber-stalk 'em; check out all their music on SoundCloud-I don't do the Facebook thing. But I'll see if they're a TAXI Forum member, because Forum members-at least in my mind again-tend to be more serious and dedicated. That could be an overstatement; I don't mean to leave anyone out of that. But the Forum people seem to really have it on the ball. So that's where I'll kinda find people. I'll listen to their music, and then at some point you've got to take a leap of faith and say, “Yeah, I think this person's going to be all right.” So you try something, and if it works out, then you just keep going and you do more. If it doesn't work, then move on to the next one.
Don't miss Part 2 in next month's Transmitter!