Panelists: Russell Landwehr, Matt Vander Boegh, Seth Littlefield, Steven Guiles, Carla (C.K.) Barlow, and Scott Free
Moderator: Michael Laskow
Seth, how do you get a gut feeling if somebody’s a good gamble as a collaborator, or if they’re going to let you down?
Seth: Just to expand a little bit. With the TAXI Forum you can go back and see everyone’s comments, their entire history of comments. Not that I’ve done that, but if you’ve had any suspicion at all [you could research them there]. You trust your gut a little bit. You might strike out, but you’re probably going to recognize if they’re a good or bad bet pretty soon. You know, I played in a lot of bands in Seattle and I was really hesitant on any collaboration at first, just because my idea of it was sitting in a rehearsal room with three or four other people, not arguing, but just kind of using the next rehearsal as an excuse to not get anything done. But when you’re doing the online thing, it’s not that you necessarily have a deadline, but you might, but at least there’s sort of more of an expectation. Like, hey, maybe by the weekend I’ll get you some tracks, you can listen to it, and see what you think.
For me, most of the collaborators I’ve worked with through TAXI that I met, or at least have gotten to know, took place at the Rally [TAXI’s convention] itself. We get to hang with them, have a drink, talk about their lives at home—not just about music—but you really get to know them. And you get a good sense of how they’re going to behave in a collaborative situation; you get excited about music together; you share bands. It’s sort of like community love thing, and then immediately you know it’s going to work out.
So I would suggest that here, during this weekend, you can find three or four people—at least potential collaborators—here this weekend. Go around, tell people what you play, what you feel your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, and there’s going to be somebody with the exact opposite strengths or weaknesses and you can collaborate. And you might even write a song here too—while you’re actually at the Rally.
"I was trying to shove my band’s CD through that I produced five years ago, and trying to get it [forwarded by TAXI] to all these modern listings, and I was getting a whole lot of rejection."
I think Johnny Walker has fostered a lot of relationships here…
Absolutely. [Various comments about various brands of liquor made by several panelists]
Steven, so now everybody here knows where to find collaborators; they know how to suss them out as to whether or not they’re going to be a good person, rip them off, or if they’re going to work well with them on a creative level. How does the actual process start? And let’s say that you’re the person that’s got the kernel of the song, how does it start?
Steven: OK. So this is something that happens a lot. I met [fellow TAXI member] Pedro Costa on [TAXI’s] Forum. Pedro and I are like Batman and Robin. I think I’m Robin… He’s Canadian, so I guess he would be Robin. [Laughter]
I was thinking that, but I was keeping my mouth shut…
Ah, my Canadian friends. They will beat you later, but they’ll beat you gently…because they’re Canadian. [Laughter]
I’ve got to interrupt for one second. I’m just dying to say this. Sorry. But, I’ve always said that if you go to Vancouver, and you walk up to the average person on the street and kick them in the shin, they’ll apologize for getting their shin in the way of your foot. They’re that nice. Anyway, sorry, go ahead.
Generally, what happens with me is, I’ll start with… TAXI’s Listings actually help me a lot—the Listings giving me reference bands. Here are all the bands [that are in the ballpark of what] these publishers want. So I will take that and go, OK, this [request for a type of band or genre] looks like something I can do, and I’m gonna start working on it. And the indie singer/songwriter was my thing—indie rock, Black Keys, and things like that. So I’d start something, and maybe I’d get a verse and a chorus, or two verses and a chorus, and then I’m like, OK, I think I’ve got something I’m kind of excited about, I’m gonna send that to Pedro, or whomever, and say, “OK, what do you think?’ Could you add bass to this? What do you think about electronic elements, or whatever?”—things that I’m not good at. And if they’re excited about it and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I hear the potential,” then we move forward with that song. A lot of times I’ll send something and they are like, “Eh, you know. It’s all right.” And I’m like, “OK, I’ll try another one.”
How do you get past the hurt feelings if they don’t seem to warm up to what you send them?
You have to grow a tough skin. TAXI has really helped me with that. I think the rejections… I started in a band and I was trying to shove my band’s CD through that I produced five years ago, and trying to get it [forwarded by TAXI] to all these modern listings, and I was getting a whole lot of rejection. And I thought, “This is a really kick-ass CD, why is this getting rejected?” That’s when I learned to write to the Listing, and then that’s when I went into the [TAXI Peer-to-Peer] Forum and started getting feedback and meeting people that have become life-long collaborators.
Do you guys ever say no when somebody approaches you? A fellow member says, “Hey, I’ve got something and the deadline is a week from now; do you want to put down a guitar part?”
Carla: I was actually approached by [TAXI member] James Kocian, and I wanted more than anything to work with him.
"If it’s bad, it doesn’t progress that far. I have a pile of works-in-progress."
Just for everybody in the room, James Kocian is an extremely talented all-a-round guy…
He’s a lovely person; he’s just a great guy. But I think this is a really good point to make. I already had other stuff; I wasn’t going to make the deadline. I asked him right away, and the minute I heard from him I said, “What’s your deadline?” And I said, “I am so sorry, but I don’t want to commit to this if I can’t be absolutely sure I’m gonna knock it out of the park and have enough time to really focus on it.” And judging by the hug I got from him when I saw him here yesterday, I think he appreciated my candor. So that’s something to keep in mind as well. Say “no,” rather than run the risk of damaging the relationship. Now James knows that I’m always going to be honest with him if I can’t squeeze something in.
And he’s going to come back again, as opposed to if you had taken the gig and blown the deadline and killed his chance of making the deadline. You might have never worked together again.
Steven: That sets up that whole thing that you were talking about, where you now have the trust level that you’re trying to establish with other writers. It’s way better to be honest about that than promising something you can’t deliver, and then you’ve kind of screwed yourself with that person in the future.
Carla: You play the long game, really.
I guess this is kind of along the lines of what you’re talking about. When you start the process, the creative process, and then you realize at some place, Scott, that it’s not going to work out creatively for whatever reason. It could be that you just asked somebody to sing a vocal; it could be that you’ve asked them to co-write, whatever capacity they are working in. Is it hard to just stop it and say, “Man, I love you, CK, but…”
Scott: I couldn’t say that to her.
But you know what I’m saying. Is it really hard? I would imagine that it’s tough to say to somebody that you have entrusted to work with you on a piece of work and it’s just not coming together, because there is just no meeting of the minds. Do you pull the ripcord and bail? Or do you finish the piece that you’re working on and go, “It’s just another song. There’s always going to be another one.”
Scott: It’s a bit of both. I mean, there’s a timing factor for every song, also. If it’s just bad, it’s bad. And if it’s bad, it doesn’t progress that far. I have a pile of works-in-progress, WIPs. They go into my WIP file, and then I’ll refer to that when looking for other things.
But the psychology part of it—the reason I am Dr. Scotty Love—is because I will scream and act like an idiot and an immature kid in my pillow. And then I’ll talk to FM [Scott’s frequent co-writer] and she’ll tell me what to say and I’ll say it.You have to try to be professional; you have to try to be fair with the situation that’s going on. Usually people know, and everybody has echoed the fact that there is something about TAXI’s [members being at a certain level], and we all know what we are supposed to be doing. Surprisingly enough… I’ve played with amazing musicians that just don’t have the concept of how to write a song... or record a song. They’re great on stage; they are great performers, but they just don’t get it. You can’t make those assumptions, but you can more realistically and freely [make those assumptions] within the TAXI community.
So they—your fellow members— kind of know that, also. I’ve never been in a position where somebody was jaw-droppingly surprised. And I am the same type of person who I would say, “This is my schedule. I’d love to give it a shot, but I can’t promise anything.”
I just want the audience to know that I didn’t talk to any of you guys before to tell you to plug this whole TAXI community thing or…
It’s true, though.
Well, I know it’s true. I just want them to know that you’re not shilling, that I didn’t ask you to… This is coming out of you…
Steven: When do we get the check? Go see Angel at registration. [Laughter] Free Rock Star [energy drinks, which are a staple at the Road Rally].
That’s right, plenty of free Rock Stars.
How do you deal with a collaborator tossing out an idea or a part on a lyric or something, and you think their idea stinks? Anybody want to take this one.
Carla: Just Paul McCartney it and record right over it. [Laughter]
What if they won’t let it go? You could be two-thirds of the way done with something and you’re two days out from the deadline—and overall it’s feeling pretty good—and they say, “I’ve got a brilliant idea,” and you’re sitting there on your end of the phone just cringing because you think it’s terrible. You try diplomatically as you can to dissuade them, or push them away from that idea. “Well, that’s a really good idea, but....” And they’re not buying it; they are hooked on that idea that you think is a song-killer, or an instrumental-killer. What do you guys do to squirm out of that one? Or does that not happen?
Russell: It doesn’t happen very often. But if it does between people that you’re a collaborator with, if they throw out an idea and you are completely against it and they are completely for it, you may go at it, but yet at the same time, there is a reason they are completely for it. And they are your collaborator, and there’s a reason they are your collaborator. And if you’re saying, “Boy, that really sucks,” maybe you’ve got to say, “Let me take another listen to it.” But if you don’t have time, you just plain up and say, “Dude, we don’t have time.” Or if it’s completely taking the song in a different way that it’s going to be turning it into a different genre that’s not going to get forwarded and is not going to do anything, and it’s gonna be one of those things that goes everywhere [stylistically all over the map]—we heard all about that a little bit ago. If you know it’s going to be like that, then you have a conversation about it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with any collaborator. You do come to an agreement; nobody really butts heads, because we are all on a deadline, and we don’t have that many babies, really. Occasionally, you might have a little baby that’s really that important to you, but it’s very, very seldom, and you’re not going to get into a fight about it.
Steven: You could always try going to a third party too, like maybe a mutual friend that you trust. Somebody just suggested the Peer-to-Peer section of the [TAXI] Forum. There you go!
Russell: You know, actually I did that one time. Me and a guy had a discussion about a mix and we disagreed on it, so we took it to a third party and said, “Hey, what about this mix?” and then they gave a decision and we went with it.
Steven: I want to say I feel a great freedom in collaborating, in that I feel like I can kind of let go of a lot of my… I don’t know if you guys find that, but I find it easier to finish a song with a collaborator sometimes, because I don’t feel this all-consuming me, that I have to finish every detail, and I feel like there’s someone else there. And if you have a good collaborator who is picking up those different parts, it frees [you] in many ways. A lot of my placements are with collaborators, you know. They’re not all me. I’d say a majority of my placements are with some sort of collaboration, because I wouldn’t have created it if they hadn’t prompted it in this way, where I would never have approached it that way. I think it creates more universality. Because I have one world view, and I have one way of seeing the world, and by having someone else come into that—even if it’s instrumental—you’re bringing something to it spiritually, psychically—I don’t know—that makes it more appealing to more people. Collaborating is great.
Let’s talk about the business side of things. How do you guys do the co-writing splits? Is everything 50/50. Yeah, I’m getting the universal sign for 50/50 from the panelists. What if you’re 70% of the way through something and you realize that you can’t deliver the last 30%. Let’s say Guiles reaches out to Vander Boegh, it’s still a 50/50?
Steven: Oh, you mean if you add another collaborator into it?
Yeah, you’re 70% done and you realize, you know, I’d really like Matt to do the strings on this, or whatever the situation would be. And he composes the parts—not just executes them, but composes them and then says, “By the way, I think if we did it a little hip-hoppy...” So he brings something to the party—to a thing that’s already at 70%—is it still a 50/50 split?
Matt: That actually happened to me one time recently on one for a Latin listing, and me and my collaborator were getting it. We were going with the 50/50 agreement upfront. But then I realized, and I talked to him about it, and I said, “Hey, we need something else. We need another instrument or something in here. I know a guy who is really good at trumpet. I want to bring him in. We’ll bring him in, it’ll be equal cut between all three of us, OK?” And he says, “OK, we’ll do that.” Because I told him that he was gonna get either 50% of nothing or 33% of something. And so bringing another person in, once again it’s an equal cut, but it’s split three ways.
As they say in Nashville, if you’re in the room, you get an equal share. You might only be pouring the coffee that day and not contributing anything, but it could be that the next time the other guy is pouring the coffee and still gets an equal share. That’s cool that it works out long distance like as well that without physically being in a room together.
Don’t miss Part 3 in next month’s TAXI Transmitter!