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By Michael Laskow

Passenger Profile Terrell Burt

Interviewed by Michael Laskow

Do you write and record mostly songs or instrumentals?
Songs. I’ve dabbled with instrumentals (an instrumental that I co-wrote even got placed on MTV’s The Challenge: Champs vs. Stars), but my fellow member, Owen Chaim has been pushing me to really dive into trying to make instrumental cues. I know that I’m capable, I’m just scared of the learning curve. Knowing how long it took me to get comfortable with writing songs, I know that I won’t be up to par with making instrumental cues anytime soon. But, if it’ll help me grow my catalog faster, I’m up for it.

I saw that you got an MBA and got married a year or so ago. Congratulations on both of those! How did you find the time to create and deliver music on tight deadlines with classes, homework, and wedding planning also on your plate?
Thank you! I really don’t know how I did it, Michael. Honestly, it was all grace. School was a priority, so my musical output wasn’t particularly high during that time. But most of my co-writers understood that my turnaround time might lag a bit, and I was so appreciative of that. I got my first TV placement about halfway through my degree, so that lit a fire under me. Any free moment that I had was dedicated to writing and recording. Once graduation was done that summer, my then girlfriend, now wife, Lindsay and I got engaged pretty quickly and got married that fall. I didn’t have to wait until I graduated to get married, but I felt like it would lessen the strain of being newlyweds if I finished my MBA first.

"Your goals and daily habits have to match."

I like that you’re pragmatic! Do you have a day job?
Yes. I work for the County Tax Collector in the Business Tax and Tourist Tax Department. I’ve been there for almost three years.

How do you allocate time to work on music with a new wife and a full-time job?
I wish I made more time, but I make do with what I have and with the stage of life that I’m in. Your goals and daily habits have to match, so I spend my lunch breaks writing and brainstorm lyric and melody ideas. A placement that I had on Young & The Restless this past Christmas was the brainchild of a lunch break writing session. Thursday evenings are carved out specifically for writing or recording vocals because I usually have the house to myself that night. I’ll also write and brainstorm on weekends, and during the week I’ll rehearse what I plan to record on Thursday night so my flow and delivery can be on point. The recording goes way faster if I’ve spent an ample amount of time practicing my flow and breath control. When I receive an urgent request, I speed this process up, but when I’m writing something to pitch to a library, that’s my normal workflow.

Now that you’ve got an MBA, I’m guessing that you look at the music business career through a business lens, not just a creative one. Are you encouraged or discouraged seeing it through that business lens?
I’ve looked at music through a business lens for years; the MBA just sort of solidified that. In the past, all of my indie artist peers would come to me with their music business questions because I was always researching stuff and referring to All You Need to Know About the Music Business.

Passenger Profile Terrell Burt

Many artists are intimidated by the business side of music and don’t want to be in danger of potentially compromising their creativity. But the artist who understands the business side will outlast the freethinking creative. Obviously, there has to be a balance, but I encourage every artist to start viewing music through a business lens. With time and effort, there’s some real income to be made. You will learn so much! My wife has always been supportive of my dreams, and I believe that’s very important in marriage. But because I view music through a business lens and have a practical approach toward it, she supports me even more!

I find it to be a rare circumstance that somebody who has existing material… maybe even a finished album, has the right material for what will work in TV or film. Do you have any advice for our readers who think that you need to have a catalog of ready-to-go material before you join TAXI?
That’s the very same boat that I was in. Before TAXI, I had access to good online music production and a good engineer for mixing and mastering, but my music didn’t work for TV or film because of the lyrical content. I had no clue what universal lyrics were and believe it or not, I still have to be reminded by my co-writers to think universally with my lyrics because what I tend to want to write is often more poetic. But I can assure you that you do not need to have a catalog of songs ready for TV or film, and you don’t need to be the best singer, rapper, or producer on the planet. You just need humility and a crazy work ethic and you will go far with TAXI.

What are some common traits that you see in your TAXI circle of friends who are also successful in their pursuit of a career in music?
They keep their long-term goals at the helm. They don’t let a single “return” on a listing from TAXI or a pitch to a music library that didn’t work out in their favor, deter them. They’re always focused and continually look at the bigger picture versus where they are right now.

"I can assure you that you do not need to have a catalog of songs ready for TV or film."

People tell me that TAXI is a huge force in educating them as to the ways of the real music industry. Have you found that to be true?
Yes, I would definitely agree. Whenever I’m trying to articulate what TAXI truly is at its core, I always liken it to a university. You learn so much about the music business. In all of my past endeavors to learn as much as I could about the music industry, I was never able to learn everything at one central location like I’ve been able to with TAXI.

I get this question pretty frequently; “I signed a deal with a music library though TAXI. How long will it be until I start to see some placements and income?” How would you answer that?
Although signing a deal is a validating accomplishment, a deal doesn’t necessarily mean that the song or songs will get placed. One of my peers asked me “How much money can I expect to make during my first year as a TAXI member?” and I didn’t have a concrete answer for him because that answer is relative. I was fortunate enough to make $200 during my first year as a TAXI member, but that might not be typical. I had the right song at the right time, it was forwarded, the music supervisor that ran the listing contacted me, and it ended up working out in my favor. Patience is by far the most difficult characteristic to exercise as an up and coming artist or producer, but it’s necessary for longevity and success. But all signed deals should be celebrated. There’s no feeling like having your hard work validated by an industry professional. It lets you know that your music is at a competitive level.

Can you tick off some boxes of how you’ve matured musically since becoming a TAXI member?
I’m a much better writer because of TAXI. My lyrics sound more seasoned since becoming a TAXI member. Not only can I write songs at a faster pace, I can keep my output at a high level. Not every song that I do turns out great, but I’m always pleased with the quality. And most of the time, what I write ends up getting signed by one of the music libraries I now have relationships with.

What does your five-year plan look like?
I want to have about 500-plus songs signed to various music libraries in the U.S. and abroad, and I want to be getting ready to retire the metaphorical jersey from my day job. I’d like to be a full-time artist by the time that I’m 40, and I just turned 33 now. I think it’s possible if I keep up what I’ve been doing and stay focused.

Do you think you can build a substantial retirement fund from making music?
Yes, I believe you can if you build a healthy catalog and can create the kind of music that’s in demand. Obviously what’s in demand will be fluid as time progresses, but if you can stay on top of trends, it’s possible to create a retirement fund in the years to come. With media being consumed in so many different ways now, that will only continue to grow, evolve, and aid you as you build your catalog. The talks of over saturation of artists and producers trying to do this can be concerning at times, but I think there’s room for everybody with all the new content that needs music. The more media that’s being produced, the higher the demand is for licensable music.

"Patience is by far the most difficult characteristic to exercise as an up and coming artist or producer, but it’s necessary for longevity and success."

Do you have any advice for people reading this who’ve been procrastinating because they don’t feel ready or good enough to do what you’re doing?
My advice would be to take the leap and dive right in. Perfectionism or waiting for the “perfect” time to be the expert artist, producer, or songwriter you desire to be will paralyze you and leave you not being productive at all. If you approach this with humility, an eagerness to learn and apply what you learn, you already have the key qualities to succeed.

Words to live by! Thank you Terrell.

Hear Terrell’s music here!