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Passenger Profile Tamara Miller

Interviewed by Michael Laskow

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Toronto, Canada, and moved out to Austin, Texas, about eight years ago.

Why did you choose music over hockey?
Even though I look great in skates, my true home is at the piano. Besides, I think I’m too rough for hockey! :)

Do you come from a musical family?
Yes! In the 1940s, my mom’s father played drums in the family band with his four siblings. They were part of the Lions Rotary Club band and travelled to Pittsburgh for a contest where they won first place! My grandparents were very active in the Arts and were awarded lifetime governors of the incredible Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-the-Lake. They helped playwright Brian Doherty organize the theatre festival from the ground up! I love hearing stories about the many meetings they hosted in their home with Mr. Doherty and the talented actors. My grandmother was very persistent and very fashionable so I’m sure she took the lead!

There was always music playing in my home. My mom played piano and violin and my dad played guitar and clarinet. I was always encouraged to play music and go after my goals. I am very grateful for my family’s support.

How old were you when you started playing and what was your first instrument?
I started taking piano lessons at five-years-old, but if you count spoons and bongos, I joined a rhythm band at the age of two.

Spoons and bongos count! When did you start writing songs, and do you remember what motivated you to start?
Glad you asked that, Michael! I started writing songs in my teens (often during what was supposed to be my classical music practice time). I somehow trailed off Chopin (whom I love) and ventured off into writing my own songs. At one point I was very close to quitting piano as I was getting a little bored playing only classical music. My mom wouldn’t let me quit and found an awesome piano teacher in Toronto who taught Pop music on synthesizers. My soul found its spark!

"If I find a piano in a hotel lobby (that’s not locked) or one in the middle of a train station, I just have to play it."

Isn’t it amazing how much influence the right teacher can have on your life?
No kidding! My teacher Angela opened my eyes to a whole new world of show tunes and musicals. I learned how to play music from Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables on what must have been a very cool Yamaha electric organ! The inspiration started flowing and the songs emerged.

The piano for me has always been my creative outlet. I was very shy as a kid but I could always connect with my thoughts sitting down at the piano in a quiet space. I think my first dive into songwriting occurred during my Bachelors of Music at York University in Toronto. I was enrolled in a songwriting class and composed a song called “Running.” I remember how amazing it felt playing my original song on a beautiful baby grand and singing with a fellow classmate in front of a very talented audience. The chills and emotion was indescribable. During my studies I also remember writing and engineering an instrumental piece of music in the “music lab.” I worked on that piece for hours one day using Cubase and didn’t take a break! (I might have snuck in some pretzels and cream soda) but time just flew by. It was then I knew this is what I wanted to do. I just felt it.

Passenger Profile Tamara Miller

So, piano is your instrument of choice?
Yes, I love the piano. I am literally drawn to pianos wherever I go! If I find a piano in a hotel lobby (that’s not locked) or one in the middle of a train station, I just have to play it. But although piano is my go-to instrument, I have learned it’s very beneficial to write on different instruments. I also love composing on guitar and find I write so differently! I think that’s the key... not getting stuck too much on one instrument because sometimes you could get into that “Rose colored glass” situation and miss a different way to play your song and give it a whole new meaning on another instrument. After all, it’s all about the song, right?!

It is, and I completely agree about how much a different instrument can change the heart of a song. Did you ever feel that there were any obstacles because you were (and still are) a female?
I haven’t personally experienced any obstacles in the music industry due to my gender. I think we all have experienced times however when we’re not always taken seriously or don’t feel that we’re being heard. It’s important to stick with your instincts and know that you always have something to bring to the table. That’s why you’re in this creative and crazy field, right?! I always make sure to surround myself with positive people who have a strong work ethic and have similar goals as myself. Finding collaborators who you can build on each other’s strengths and work with those who appreciate you and your work is key!

When did you join TAXI, and what was the impetus?
My first year as a TAXI member was in 2010. It was a blast! Being my first time in LA for the TAXI convention, I was overwhelmed with the excitement. I remember standing in the Road Rally registration line in the parking lot and meeting some amazing TAXI members! I still can’t believe that was almost 10 years ago! I heard so much about TAXI and there was a lot of chatter about the organization in Toronto, so I thought I better go and check this conference out! I am so glad I did!

"I was especially excited to find out one of my songs I collaborated on was forwarded to a major label artist!"

Did you make any rookie mistakes in the beginning, and if so, what were they?
Definitely, yes! I recorded my very FIRST demo at this gorgeous recording studio in Ontario. Rush and Barenaked Ladies recorded their hit records in this studio and I thought...well... if they can do it :) The studio was absolutely stunning and was situated on 40 acres of land. It had the best gear and a shiny grand piano overlooking an incredible view. I remember bringing in my three-ring blue binder filled with lyric sheets, highlighter, and multicolored pen. We recorded three songs in two days. Of course at the time I thought these songs were going to be the biggest hits of all time!! Probably should have tested them out first and perform them a little more before recording my demo. But hey... I loved the experience and wouldn’t change a thing. However, if my younger self asked me, “Hey Tamara... do you think I should record here?” I’d probably say, “Test those songs out first, try some pre-production on your own at home, play them out live, and then see where you’re at!”

What were some of the things you started doing differently that resulted in more forward momentum?
The best piece of advice I heard at one of my earliest Road Rallies was to write every single day. Period. This way of thinking resulted in a lot more forward momentum and got me in the groove early on. It’s been very important to be efficient with my time in order to crank out more music. Having clear goals in mind – weekly, monthly, yearly and writing them down and posting them on your wall at home (not just on Facebook) so you can visualize them clearly. Keeping a journal and writing every morning has been invaluable. Attending conferences like the TAXI Road Rally year after year definitely keeps me inspired. I’ve teamed up with other musicians and producers both locally and internationally. I love recording in different studios... new scenery always inspires new songs and has helped keep the creativity in a state of flow.

Overall, seeing what works for you, and going full steam ahead is probably the best thing you can do!

Speaking of things going “forward,” do you remember how you felt when you got your first song or instrumental forwarded by TAXI’s A&R team?
I was super excited to get my first TAXI forward! Especially early on when I started producing my own music in my home studio I thought, “Hey, I can do this!” This definitely kept me going. I was especially excited to find out one of my songs I collaborated on was forwarded to a major label artist! Now that was an exciting forward.

"It’s a good thing to have TV show editors see your name multiple times in their database. If you only write a few cues here and there you will likely get lost in the shuffle."

Do you subscribe to the TAXI member-created mantra of “Write, Submit, Forget, and Repeat” and if so, why?
YES! Writing music for production music libraries and TV placements is a big numbers game. It’s important to play to your strengths. It’s a good thing to have TV show editors see your name multiple times in their database. If you only write a few cues here and there you will likely get lost in the shuffle. It’s so important to supply a lot of music so editors can find you! I think that the more music you write the more placements you will hopefully get! So, keep cranking out those tunes so that they can find the right homes.

Since joining TAXI, has the education from TAXI itself and from the member community at-large resulted in you having a more realistic view of the music industry and what you need to do to become successful?
Every year, The TAXI Road Rally is filled with hands-on music business classes and recording techniques that you can directly apply to your production projects. There is a wealth of information from both the panels as well as from speaking with other members in the TAXI community. The weekly TAXI TV episodes (which if you happen to miss one, you can always catch it later on YouTube!) are always fun, and you can learn a ton of industry tips and specific hands on engineering techniques from weekly special guests. TAXI’s A&R team and panelists are all in the industry so of course you will learn a ton about the current trends every year. You’re right in the thick of it!

I am so impressed with the level of talent and expertise in the TAXI community and it’s a great feeling to know that we are all going through the same motions in the business and that we can all learn from one another. TAXI continues to be a family of support and encouragement in a business that can steer you in so many directions. Thank you Michael and your outstanding staff for always having our backs and believing in our work. You continue to inspire so many of us songwriters and composers. Thank you!!!

Well, thank you for that compliment – on all our behalf. It’s nice to know that our members feel the connection and know that we’re on a mission every day!

Don’t miss Part 2 of this Passenger Profile in next month’s TAXI Transmitter!

Check out some of Tamara’s music here!