Interviewed by Michael Laskow
How do you stay motivated, knowing that the music you’re working on today might not pay off until years down the road?
The reason we’re all in this is because we like making music. I’m lucky perhaps in that I love the analysis, I love the tracking part of laying down parts, and I love mixing. I still have not figured out the perfect process for how to make “form,” but again, that keeps me interested. Not getting paid for a long time is very frustrating. In fact, part of the frustration is not knowing if you will get paid. But, given enough time, you’ll start to see a pattern of how your efforts are panning out. That can make it easier to have faith in the process.
But the way to stay sane in this is to remember what you love about making the music, and then to maintain some kind of balance where you have some time to work on music and progress your skill and business relationships, while at the same time, earning income from somewhere, or live on savings. You can’t just stop working at a job and expect this pipe dream to materialize in a few years. That will create undue pressure and misery on yourself. So, gradually find genres you are good at, find a regular schedule to work on finishing tracks, even if it’s 5 hours or 10 hours a week or full time, or over time, – it has to be a steady plodding rhythm of learning your gear, building your production and writing chops, and also keeping the bills paid. Eventually the licensing will grow and the non-music work will shrink, if that’s what you are after. The moral of the story is to know your goal.
If you like your full-time job and will enjoy working towards getting a few placements here and there, great – enjoy the process. It will take some years, but you’ll get there. If you are aiming at making a full-time income, then you better check where you are and compare it to the bar of others doing this. This means, to make a living you should be getting forwards from TAXI, you should be going to conferences, sending out material, and also, you will need to be highly productive. So, everyone is different, but just try to create a balanced lifestyle where given 5-10 years or more, you continually work toward your goal with licensing, while maintaining whatever it is that sustains you in the meantime. This is a labor of love. There are far easier ways to make faster money. So, don’t beat your head against the wall trying to control things you can’t control.
"Given enough time, you’ll start to see a pattern of how your efforts are panning out. That can make it easier to have faith in the process."
There are easier, faster ways to make money?! Tell me what they are after the interview! But for now, can you share your thoughts on how building a portfolio of music is somewhat like building an investment portfolio in the sense that it compounds and gains momentum over time?
Yes. Your very first placement will happen. And then the next year you might have a few more. You will find that the early placements might still be playing on TV by the second or third year. You may have many placements after a few years. Many shows play on repeat. So, the cumulative compounding effect is that now, five years later, you’re getting paid for current placements, but also for past placements playing on repeat. It’s a lot of small payments aggregating over time, contributing to the royalty statement where each payment is still perhaps small, but now you have lines and lines of them, and eventually pages and pages of them.
Do you think my assertion that musicians can build a retirement income from their music is realistic, or am I trippin’?
Yes, it’s realistic, and no you’re not trippin’ – but just like investment income, the earlier you start and the longer you can build it up, the better. When you look at composers with a large income from licensing, you will also see the long time period beforehand, when they were making music, but not getting paid much. I once heard that “all tracks eventually get placed” – or “everything eventually gets used.” I now believe this is true, because I’m seeing it happen with my own catalog.
"The cumulative compounding effect is that now, five years later, you’re getting paid for current placements, but also for past placements playing on repeat."
What advice do you have for somebody who already has a home studio, but feels daunted by the prospect of working at this goal for a few years with little to no income in the beginning? Keep your expenses down – don’t overleverage yourself. And make music in genres where you already have most of the gear needed. Don’t go buying every software and plugin. If you buy something, use it into the ground. It’s very inexpensive to buy a used Mac laptop with Logic already on it. Heck, make Hip Hop tracks. That’s what [highly successful TAXI member] Steven Baird did early on, with a limited budget. And he had great material. Find a job where you can tailor the logistics to allow for studio time. For me this has always meant following certain rules: no commuting – hold out for a job near you – walk or bike to it. Try to go to exercise on a lunch break – do not use evenings for this, if possible. If you can’t work out at lunch, then go after work. Exercise is key to feeling good and having energy to make music. Don’t exercise too much – just enough to feel great. Find a job which won’t require overtime or travel.
Steven Guiles and I created GYAWS (“Get Your Ass Writing Songs”) exactly for people with mental or emotional writing blocks, or “fear of gear” blocks. The members write every single week, and we don’t care if you spent one hour or 20 hours on it – just do it and submit your track. We believe that “just doing it” will help you build the muscles needed to write better music and be a better producer and engineer. If you go to your DAW and find something is broken, then you might spend that week addressing the issue. All of this contributes to a flowing, functioning setup. GYAWS has helped me learn how to finish a track. I used to be in the middle of a cue, and feel confused because I didn’t know where to go with it, hitting the playback button over and over. The deadline forced me to just rename my project file “quick gyaws mix” – and I found myself just cutting a bunch of stuff out, making something more simple and clear and deleting the rest. I would upload my cue and guess what – that was the last edit, and many or most of those are now playing on some show somewhere. So, the point is to write every single week and finish something each week as simple as you like. Less is more. Find a schedule around your full time job and family life, where you maybe stop doing certain activities like spending time on social media or going out for drinks with the co-workers, and get right home to your studio time.
This past year I started what I call the “2-hour Workout.” I might be tired, but when I think about how it will be over before you know it, it’s easier to sit down to make a track. I set the alarm for two hours. Then I panic, “Oh crap, what the heck am I going to make?” I usually get so into it, the time passes and I continue to finish it and tweak it. This is where sharpening your saw comes in. You need to have templates set up. You need to have the tools you need at quick reach. Spend time developing the templates and the workflow. The “macro effect” is where the two hours invested in making a template today will yield a track later on. Everything you do is self-feeding back into the efficiency of making the music. One hour today learning how to use an equalizer will become an hour gained later on, which is spent on making alternate versions of a song for a publisher. So, the time you spend today will create a greater yield, over time.
"Write every single week and finish something each week as simple as you like. Less is more."
Does it help to keep you forging ahead by personally knowing some of your fellow TAXI members who’ve already done it?
Yes. Knowing that other TAXI members have “done it” helps an awful lot in the beginning. After you get some experience, you start to see how your own efforts will pay off. The thing to keep remembering is to identify what you want out of this. “Success” has different markers to different people. And remember why you want to do it – don’t forget what you love. If you stop loving making music or you need a different balance then make sure to set the goals and boundaries that feel right for you. When [TAXI member] Matt Hirt shared his BMI statements during a class at my first Road Rally, I’ll never forget the mental impression it made. I saw that he had placements on TWO shows on his first year of statements. I made a note of the numbers and how it all started with two, then five, then eight, and so on, I realized that I could do it, too, but it would takes years, not months.
From a long time member’s perspective, have you personally experienced any benefits from the TAXI community?
The people in the TAXI community are my friends and family, colleagues and buddies. They’re the only ones who really understand this journey, with its ups and downs. While hanging with several of them at a recent event, we acknowledged to each other that, after all this time, it’s like we’re siblings – we’re family. Between the online time, and the in-person time at events like the TAXI Road Rally, the bond between us is very special. So, I benefit from the personal friendships, and we continually benefit by learning from each other. Dave Walton, Matt Hirt, and John Mazzei set a wonderful precedent on the TAXI Forums long ago by sharing information with the attitude that “rising waters floats all boats.” Thanks to them and others who also shared info and helped others, this tone has been established among the TAXI community.
I often wince when I hear new members talking about going to TAXI’s free convention – the Road Rally – for the primary purpose of handing their music directly to a music supervisor or publisher. While those opportunities are certainly available, do you have any advice for new TAXI members who are planning to go to the Rally?
My advice would be to slow down, take it all in, and don’t expect the library owner or record exec to be wowed by that CD project you spent all year recording. You might shed some tears, but I think just about every Rally attendee goes there thinking their music is going to really impress the listeners, but remember – there is more to learn than you may already know. Roll up your sleeves, start taking notes, and get to work.
"Knowing that other TAXI members have ‘done it’ helps an awful lot in the beginning. After you get some experience, you start to see how your own efforts will pay off."
And finally, do you have any advice for musicians who want to get into the music for media market but have been procrastinating for years and watching from the sidelines?
Those types usually have big dreams, and because the dream is big, the reality of facing it gets harder and harder. So, like with any goal or problem, scale it all back to smaller, more digestible pieces. This month, join the TAXI Forums and participate in a way that helps others, just a little more than you ask for help for yourself. Join TAXI and send in a track for a custom critique. Or, book a vacation in LA and come by the Rally for 24 hours. Pick something small that feels like the risk isn’t too much, and go on an adventure. You can’t lose.
Thank you Patty, that was a wonderful interview, and I’m proud of you for not only becoming successful in your own right, but for giving so much great advice for others. I hope everybody who reads this takes notes. Well done!
Watch Patty’s Composer Reel
Go to Patty’s website