Fett is a well-known, and very busy engineer/producer in Nashville and co-founder of AzaleaMusic.com, who has worked on projects with a multitude of TAXI members over the years. He is himself a TAXI member.
Fett recently got an email from a TAXI member who was less than happy with us, and unhappy with the music industry as whole. While he didn’t tell me who the TAXI member is or show me the original email, he did send me his response.
When I read it, I thought it was something other members who are frustrated with TAXI and/or the music industry as a whole might also benefit from reading. Fett’s response is largely unedited with the exception of adding some sub headlines and breaking up some paragraphs. If you’re frustrated, read on! —Michael
Which Music Industry Are You In?
I read your thoughts in your email with interest. I can definitely relate to some of the observations and feelings and frustrations that you’ve expressed, but to be honest, I think I have a very different perspective because I live and work in a different “music industry” than the one you’ve described. I view the music industry as really two very different ones that coexist alongside each other:
The Mainstream Music Business
First is the “mainstream” music “business” that is (and for the most part, nearly always has been) driven by commerce (that includes the major labels, publishers, network TV, etc.) and is highly centralized (i.e, you have to “live in it or live near it” to be a part of it). To me, that’s what you’ve described having frustrations with. That industry is shrinking rapidly, in terms of its size, “total dollar value” and its influence.
The Independent Music Business
Second is the “independent” music industry, which is thriving, global, and growing all the time. That’s the music industry that I live and work in, and it really has very little if anything to do with the “other” music industry. Anyone can participate, and they can participate from anywhere in the world.
For example, in my case specifically, while I live in one of the global music industry centers, the bulk of my clients are not in Nashville, and many of them are not even in the U.S. I have clients in Australia, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Austria, etc.
One of the great aspects of the independent music industry is that it doesn’t follow most of the “rules” of the mainstream music business, and sometimes even makes up its own rules as things progress. That’s partly what makes it possible for anyone to participate: there are far fewer “gatekeepers” and “tastemakers,” and participants have a much more direct line to their fans and listeners; they don’t need “permission” for their music to be heard.
Having said that, here’s another major difference between the two music industries: in the mainstream music business, once you do get through the door and are “deemed worthy” by the gatekeepers, then you have a potentially large team of people and organizations to do a lot of the work required for building and growing a music career, and you as the participant can focus mostly on what you do best (which for most musicians is creating and performing).
On the other hand, in the independent music industry, you’re not required to get “approval” from anyone and can go it entirely alone. But that means YOU must assume every role on the “team,” from sales, marketing and promotion to research and development to financing, in addition to creating and performing. That’s the nature of the beast. The possibilities and potential are limitless, but YOU are required to wear every hat and fill every role. For some (like myself), it’s quite motivating and the dream of a lifetime; for others, it’s the last thing in the world they could ever see themselves doing.
Which Tree Are You Barking Up?
All this to say, based on the observations in your email, I’d say you’ve tried to go the “traditional” route according to the “music business” model and have found it extremely frustrating. So, my first question to you would be, “are you barking up the wrong tree?”
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider your approach to everything, and look at the other model. Then, assuming you responded “yes,” and you’d be willing to look at it with fresh eyes, my second question to you would be, “are you willing to play all the roles and do all the tasks that are required to make it as an independent?” If your answer to that isn’t a resounding “yes!” then I can guarantee you’ll continue to have a frustrating row to hoe.
Personally, I don’t involve or concern myself with gatekeepers and tastemakers, the rubbish on the radio, turning over product, the establishment, rampant commercialism, units moved, chart placement, or formulaic cookie-cutter approaches – all of which you mentioned in your e-mail. Why? Because all of those things are part of the “old model” of the “music business” that really have no place in my life or my career in music. Instead, I focus on building my own company and my own brand, having a consistent web presence, communicating directly and consistently with my clients and fans, and creating music that both inspires me and has commercial appeal. And no, those two things are not mutually exclusive.
Art vs. Commerce: Why Not Both?
I don’t see it as “art vs. commerce” at all. Nancy [Fett’s wife and business partner] and I recently had a long discussion about this very topic, where people believe they have to choose between “working for the man” in creating “commercial” or “mainstream” music, vs. “working for themselves” and creating “artistic” and “enriching” music. Why not both? Even if that means we’re being conscious of when we’re doing one vs. the other. Or better yet, how about when the two intersect?
You and I are both old enough to know for a fact that quality, “artistic” music can also be “commercial” – just think of all the incredible music that has influenced you throughout your life, and how much (if not all) of it came from major labels? In today’s market, those major labels and the rest of the old “music business” are stuck in a very bad place, but the good news is that there’s another place to go! That wasn’t the case when you and I were younger: either you made it in the traditional music business, or you didn’t have a career, plain and simple.
I look at it this way: each of us has the choice – the liberty – to decide exactly how much we want to participate in either model, and to what degree. Once that decision is made, we can make either model work to our advantage to the degree that we desire. But that decision about where they fit into our own personal version of a “music career” needs to come first!
How TAXI Fits In…
As for TAXI, I think it is the perfect illustration of the marriage of “art vs. commerce” and “mainstream vs. indie” sensibilities. To me, it’s the best of all worlds: you get to have 100% creative control over the “product,” but you also have a ready-made outlet for it. At the same time, many in the TAXI realm make the key mistake of thinking, “if I just create the music first, then it will find a market.” Or to put it another way, they “create a catalog and then look for a home for it.” That thinking is EXACTLY BACKWARDS thinking for a model like TAXI! What TAXI does is provide us a built-in, mostly independent market to provide music for; it’s then our responsibility to create music – with 100% creative control – to fill that limitless market with. And get paid for it as well!
After working with TAXI closely for 13 years, I can guarantee that the TAXI members who “write to the listings” (and take the feedback to heart and adjust accordingly) are the ones who have the greatest success, hands down. And they’re not “selling out to the man” by creating music to fill a market; they are getting a chance to bring their music to a market that has been handed to them!
The other thing I know is that the most successful TAXI members don’t just write music for TAXI’s [opportunities]. Instead, they continue to write music for themselves, as songwriters, musicians, and artists. That music is based entirely on art and inspiration. In fact, it’s that “other” music that they create for themselves that gives them the inspiration and input to create something unique and interesting when they’re writing for the TAXI listings. To them, the two are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they feed and complement each other quite well.
To wrap up the TAXI thing, I’d like to point you to a three-part interview that TAXI CEO Michael Laskow did of me last year. Here are the links to the three parts of the interview:
I talk about a lot of the things I’ve touched on above in the interview. If you really want to get the most benefit out of TAXI and “make the TAXI model work for you,” I highly recommend reading it.
Food for Thought
So, that’s one man’s perspective! I hope it provides some food for thought, and perhaps some alternative ways to start looking at the path of your own music career. One thing I most definitely know from my 35 years of professional experience in the music industry, and coaching many people to success within it over the years: there is more than enough room for all of us, and anyone can make it work – including you. It’s a question of one’s willingness to do the work and assume the roles that are required to make that happen. So, give the above some serious consideration, read through my TAXI interview, and think about how it all might work for you. And keep up the good work. I have no doubt that you’ll get there if you’re willing to change your perspective and act accordingly.
All the best,