By Sherry-Lynn Lee
Reprinted with permission.
To have a shot at getting your songs licensed, you have to be a prolific creator. It’s a numbers game. But it’s not just about writing more songs. It’s about writing more songs that are in frequent demand. Here’s what I was doing wrong in the beginning.
1. Submitting Square Pegs for Round Holes
When I first joined TAXI, I made the mistake most new members made: I tried to pitch my existing songs, which were created in a vacuum, to opportunities in a sync context. Perhaps worse, I wasn’t sure whether my music was better for sync, for artist pitches, or for anything at all, really. Guess what? Duh! Very few forwards. I even left TAXI for a number of years.
After learning a lot about sync in 2018, I re-joined with adjusted expectations, and a new approach. I’d write songs or instrumentals for particular requests, aka TAXI’s Industry Listings. I’d pick ones that seem to have reference tracks that come up often, and that are up my alley production-wise. That was when I started getting forwards.
FIX: Don’t try to force-fit old songs into new listing submissions. Chances are they kinda but not fully fit the request if you’re new to sync licensing. Write new ones that check every box from the get go!
2. Not Checking Every Box
Another very common noob mistake is to submit songs that fit some of the criteria, but not all of them. It’s easy to get excited when you see a listing that somewhat sounds like something you already have. You want to stop reading and just submit, right now! RESIST! Read it through again and again.
In a world where music was scarce, maybe this could occasionally work. Alas (or thankfully), technology has afforded us lush jungles of great music for every micro genre your imagination can conjure up. So, of course, our friends at TAXI will NOT forward your somewhat relevant song, even if they like it on its own. If it’s not the right song for the right project, it just doesn’t get sent to the client.
If you look at TAXI’s forwards blog, you’ll see that sometimes there could be 20 songs that could be the right song and they all get forwarded.
Many, many songs forwarded.
PS: See all the blue links? You can go to these members’ profiles and listen to the song that was forwarded. Do it.
And sometimes, nothing gets forwarded. That’s right. TAXI doesn’t settle for somewhat on target.
Nothing got forwarded for this listing.
Think of it as applying for a job. TAXI is the recruiter, and your song is your resume. You never want to apply for a job if you are not qualified to do it, right? When you send a resume, you make sure that it checks all the boxes the employer is looking for, right? You tweak it, have a friend proof-read it, and make sure you’re on the right track. Do that with your songs, too. If you submit a resume that doesn’t showcase the skills required for the job, the recruiter would never book you an interview!
FIX: Read the TAXI listing carefully. Make sure nothing about your song conflicts with any of the requirements. If it says MALE vocals, you stand zero chance if you send in a song with a female vocal.
3. Not Listening to the References Carefully
Related to the point above, your song might fit all the criteria in text, but if texturally, sonically, the vibe isn’t quite similar to the reference, you will not get forwarded. For example, if I had sent a track a la Vampire Weekend for the request below, it probably wouldn’t work event though it might be anthemic, indie pop, commercial sounding, with epic chorus with a solid vocal. You really have to ask yourself if your song was next on a playlist with those songs, whether people would stop and wonder who changed the music. If it flows seamlessly, has a similar vibe/feel/attitude, then you’re in the ballpark.
ANTHEMIC, INDIE POP SONGS with Male or Female Vocals are needed by a very successful Music Publisher with an impressive track record of placements in Film, TV, and Commercials.
NOTE: This awesome company just started running Listings with TAXI, so chances are you don’t have any material in their catalog yet! This is a great chance to start a relationship with a company that’s actively looking for new music!!
They’re looking for Mid-to-Up-Tempo Songs that could be found on the same playlist as the following references:
“Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons
“Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man
“Believer” by Imagine Dragons
Please submit Anthemic, commercial-sounding Pop songs that have a cool indie sound and style. Fresh songwriting, contemporary melodies, and an epic chorus are all elements your song should have if you want to nail this request. Your vocal performance should be solid and confident.
Lyric themes can vary, but you’d be smart to avoid references to brands, places, profanity, and names for this request. Do not copy the referenced acts or songs in any way, shape, or form. Use them only as a general guide for tempo, tone, and overall vibe. Broadcast Quality is needed.
FIX: Listen to the reference tracks back to back with yours. Make sure the vibe, level, mix are comparable.
4. Sending in a Lyrical Faux Pas
Funny story. When I first joined TAXI in 2009, I submitted a super happy, upbeat song for a car commercial. Except one of my lines was “taste some wine,” which I was informed [by the TAXI A&R person who was screening it] doesn’t pair well with the concept of driving cars. Doesn’t get any more noob than that!
FIX: Read carefully who the client is, and what the project is about. Try to glean as much information as possible, and avoid sending songs with incompatible lyrics for the project.
5. Not Being Contemporary Enough a.k.a Not Reading the TAXI Forwards Blog or Doing Research Regularly
When I used to submit to TAXI intermittently, my forward rate was very low. Why? Because I wasn’t in tune with the industry as much. I didn’t know what songs the latest shows were using. I wasn’t going back to see which TAXI members got forwarded for the opportunities where I missed the mark. I was an amateur. A hobbyist!
Now, I look at TAXI’s listings and listen to references every day. I do research on current needs and uses every week. I read the forwards blog as soon as I hear back on my submissions. This helps me in a number of ways.
- I am more familiar with references when they show up, because they often repeat. I can’t even count the number of times Imagine Dragons has been a reference in the last 2 years. This means I don’t have to spend as much time listening to them when reading listings. I already know their repertoire very well.
- I am getting better at deciding whether my song is close to the reference or not. I find that to be the most difficult part when starting out. Doing extensive research regularly helps with that.
- I am also noticing members who are regulars and check out their music. I contact them sometimes too. It’s a great way to network and potentially collaborate in the future.
FIX 1: Check TAXI’s forwards blog for every submission you make. Listen to all the songs forwarded while re-reading the listing.
FIX 2: Use other resources to proactively research current music needs. What shows use music that you like/want to make? If you’d like a list of my research tools, drop me a comment below!
6. Not Collaborating or Soliciting Feedback
While it is perfectly fine to write and produce on your own, it is a lot slower. Self-critique is hard when you don’t know what you’re doing wrong to begin with. Getting critiques from fellow members and critiquing their music can help you train your ears faster.
First, try the Mix Me Facebook group. It has been incredibly helpful in testing my mixes on more systems, and getting general feedback. Keep in mind that feedback is a subjective thing, so don’t get offended. There is also another group for female producers called Mixing Is Cake. Both groups are run by very successful TAXI member Patty Boss and both are very supportive communities where TAXI members help each other solve problems, offer ideas for improvement, critique mixes, and provide “a la”s among other things.
If you really want to boost your output, you might consider collaborating with another member who is better/faster at certain things than you are, and whose weaknesses you can complement. You will both win by focusing on the parts you enjoy the most, and having better creative output faster. One of the best places to find such a collaborator is on the TAXI forum. You have to sign up separately from the main TAXI account, but it’s worth doing.
Lastly, take a look at the feedback you’re getting from TAXI, and read it in the correct context: it is feedback given about how on point your submission was for the opportunity. It doesn’t necessarily say anything about the quality of your music, though sometimes that might be the case.
Your song might be amazing, but it might not be right for the job. The feedback isn’t meant to crush your ego, but to give you a little bit of direction. I heard somebody on a podcast say “rejection is redirection.” It’s so true. “Rejection is redirection” – some smart people.
7. Not Using Similar Production and Mixing Techniques as the References
Example of feedback I got from TAXI for a piano-vocal piece that I’ve used to improve my mixing technique.
As I got better at writing for the listings, my returned songs were increasingly because of my production chops. I am still learning and have a long way to go, but I am starting to see a small white spot at the end of that tunnel.
My approach these days, is two-fold: learn the techniques + delegate until you learn the techniques well enough.
FIX 1: I take the feedback I get from TAXI to learn or refine techniques that will get my mix a little closer. The more you learn, the more you realize you had no idea what you were doing before, but that is no excuse not to do it at all! Learning from your mistakes is exponentially better than not learning anything.
FIX 2: I produce the genres I’m comfortable with, then co-produce or outsource production entirely to a collaborator who is more proficient in genres I’m not great at. Sometimes, if the song has a more lush production, I’ll produce it, then send it to someone else to mix and master. The idea is to be as autonomous as possible, but to not letting your shortcomings hinder your progress.
If you apply these fixes mentioned above, I’m wiling to bet that your TAXI submission history will undergo a transformation akin to this:
If you’ve enjoyed this blog or found it boring but helpful, be a good friend and share it with your fellow TAXI members.
Editor’s Note: Thank you for writing this incredibly helpful article Sherry-Lynn, and for letting us share it with your fellow members! Gratefully, Michael Laskow