Matt Vander Boegh, Sherry-Lynn Lee, Michael Laskow, and Bob Mete are all smiles after they wrapped up their panel!
TAXI ROAD RALLY, 2019
Panelists: Matt Vander Boegh, Sherry-Lynn Lee, Bob Mete
Moderator: Michael Laskow
How many people wish they had more forwards and more deals? Everybody in the room, right? Well, these guys are gonna tell you how to do that. The gentleman on the left is Matt Vander Boegh, star of stage and screen and TAXI Television. You’ve seen the TAXI ads about the guy making music out of his toolshed in his backyard? Meet Mr. Toolshed, Matthew Vander Boegh! [applause]
It was a scant few years ago that we met at the Road Rally, and he showed up here and said, “Oh, I’m doing the wrong stuff. I should really be doing instrumentals… film and TV stuff.” And now he was able to walk away from his job as a college professor, because he is now making more money by making music in a toolshed. Doesn’t get much better than that. Mr. Matt Vander Boegh. [applause]
In the middle, we have Sherry-Lynn Lee. The reason I invited her to be on this panel is she wrote an article on her blog about this very topic, and I thought it was so incredibly good that I called Sherry and asked her if I could reprint it in our newsletter. If all she did to tell you what was in that article, I’d be thrilled, but I’m sure she has got much more to offer. Miss Sherry-Lynn Lee. [applause]
And last but not least, another member who I call a friend, Bob Mete. Bob travels for work a lot. He’s in the air probably four or five days a week, flying around the country doing sales-training stuff, yet somehow he finds the time to make incredibly good piano music, and some Jazz ensemble material as well. He’s just really buttoned-up, really professional, and obviously what he has learned in his regular day gigs has carried over to the music side, so I figured he would have some great stuff to offer. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Bob Mete. [applause]
So this is an extremely rare circumstance, I didn’t prepare any questions for this panel. I just asked them to each come up with five tips. So let’s start from left to right. Matt? And do the long one first, I don’t care.
Matt: I told Michael I had a long one, and it’s not going to make sense for a while. But about month ago, I decided I was going to make waffles for my daughter—it already doesn’t make sense. [laughter] So it’s like Friday night and I’m planning what I’m going to do for my daughter for breakfast the next day and I thought I want to make waffles. I had a waffle maker that I’d never gotten out of the box, so this would be the perfect excuse to make waffles. There was only one problem, I didn’t know how to make waffles. I’m not a very good cook. So I decided to do what everyone does nowadays—I just went to Google. I put my daughter on my lap and we typed in “waffles.” We got all these pictures and recipes and stuff, and I said, “OK, baby girl, you pick whatever waffles you think you want.” So she scrolled through the thing and finally picked one out—the one with whipped cream and strawberries. I don’t think she wanted the waffle at all, just the whipped cream. So I said, “OK, we got that picked out; now we gotta go to the store to buy all the ingredients.” This was Friday night, and I wasn’t gonna make the waffles until the next day. But I didn’t want to be mixing stuff and ready to go on Saturday morning and then find out that I didn’t have a certain ingredient.
So we go to the store, I buy all the stuff, and then when Saturday morning rolls around, we start putting these waffles together. I even watched some videos on how to separate an egg yolk. That’s probably a no-brainer for a lot of people, but I’d never done it before. I’m a little incompetent in the kitchen. So I put together the egg yolks, did all that stuff, made these waffles and threw them in the waffle maker. Three minutes later, they came out and they looked pretty close to the picture, and once I put the whipped cream and the strawberries on top, that was really all that mattered. So my daughter ate mostly whipped cream and strawberries, but she was very happy that I made her exactly what she wanted for breakfast that day.
I got to thinking that that is like a perfect analogy for what we do here when submitting music to TAXI listings. It all starts off with someone—like a client or a TV station or whatever—sending a picture of waffles, or in this case a reference track to TAXI, saying, “I want something that looks or sounds like this. Can you make me that?” And that’s exactly what my daughter did. She found this picture of the waffles with the whipped cream and said, “Daddy, I want that.” OK, that’s great. So now I gotta make that, otherwise she’s going to be disappointed tomorrow morning.
So it’s the exact same thing when it comes to writing music for the TAXI listings. It starts with the reference track; the client wants something that sounds like the music that they supplied to TAXI, so you have to make them that. And then, like when you’re making waffles, you have to follow the recipe step-by-step. Well, actually, before that, you have to have the ingredients, right? All the right ingredients. You can’t just be, “Oh, I don’t have any baking soda, so I’ll just use cayenne pepper. This is gonna be great.” But it just won’t taste good; it won’t be what the person wants. You have to have the right ingredients, and in music that’s like having all the right sounds and all the right samples and all the right equipment—the microphone, whatever… you name it. If you want something that sounds current and contemporary, you better have current and contemporary sounds, otherwise, it’s like throwing cayenne pepper in your waffles.
And then you follow the recipe, and the recipe when you’re cooking is just like the TAXI listing. It tells you, “You need to do this, and you need to do this, and then you need to also do this.” And in some cases, the TAXI listings are so detailed that they tell you like, “At the 14-second mark, the track needs to do this.” I mean, they’re not all specific like that, but if you do get that level of detail, you need to follow it just like you’d follow a recipe in the kitchen.
In the end, you’re probably not going to make something that’s exactly like the picture, but it’ll be pretty dang close. And for us musicians, we’re making something that is pretty dang close to what was originally being sought after. And that’s how you increase your chances of getting forwards right out of the gate. You just have to approach this no differently than making waffles for your four-year-old daughter on a Saturday morning. Is that weird? [applause]
You made perfect sense. I loved it. It made perfect sense, and I was thinking about the cayenne pepper aspect and thinking, “Well, maybe in Latin America they make them that way. They like ’em spicy.
I want to add a little addendum to that, which is that you also have to develop some Spidey sense where you look at it and go, “OK, they’re not looking for the exact song.” It will say stuff like that in the listings, because, look, sometimes they don’t want stuff that’s dangerously close. They don’t want stuff that’s ripping somebody off, but what they do want is the mood, the tempo, the instrumentation, and the general production style. They want something that sounds and feels like it viscerally. It makes you feel the same, but it doesn’t have the same melody, doesn’t have exactly the same rhythm, but you would listen to it and go, “Well, yeah, I could see how this could replace that.”
Matt: Yeah, I forgot that part of my analogy. The secret sauce, or whatever, it’s the whipped cream and the strawberries that you put on top of the waffle. That’s not even part of the frickin’ waffle, it’s just this thing that you put on there. But for my daughter, it was the thing that captivated her attention. That was really what she was after, but it all came packaged in the form of a waffle.
“A lot of the time they don’t even know how to describe it, so your job as you listen to those reference tracks, is to figure out what that little strawberry and whipped cream is.”-Matt Vander Boegh
And when music companies or TV shows are looking for something, and they supply a reference track, it’s because there’s something in that track that was the whipped cream, and they’re like, “Hmmm, that’s good.” A lot of the time they don’t even know how to describe it, so your job as you listen to those reference tracks, is to figure out what that little strawberry and whipped cream is. Because just like my daughter, she didn’t even eat the waffle, she ate the whipped cream. Don’t we all?
How many of you guys were in here for the Jonathan Cain interview? He was great, wasn’t he? So while he was talking about writing songs for the character that the artist is, I so badly wanted to interrupt him but chose not to, just because he was so awesome. But it’s the same kind of thing; you could write the greatest song in the world, but if it doesn’t work for what the artist is all about, it’s just a great song, not a great song for that artist. So it’s the same thing you’re talking about. It’s not about being the greatest song, it’s about being the right song, or the right instrumental—following the recipe and understanding what the recipe is telling you to accomplish. The endgame must be kept in mind.
All right, Sherry-Lynn, what do you have?
Sherry-Lynn: Well, my first one is very similar to Matt’s, which is read the listing really carefully. Because when I started—and I think it’s a very common thing—because when you start, you’re really excited, and you probably joined because you saw this listing that you thought you had the perfect song for, and you submit it and you’re sure you nailed it. But you forgot there was this one little part… Maybe they had a lyric requirement about them needing an empowerment song, and your song was a love ballad or something. So make sure you read the listing very carefully. It’s a very easy mistake to make when you’re really excited to share your music, but it’s a very common new mistake. And as Matt said, listen to the reference track and try to figure out what is common among the reference track. Find out what is the strawberry and whipped cream is that they’re after.
At first, I think you’ll probably make a lot of mistakes, because it’s hard to know when you first start out. But as you go along, you’ll train your ears and you’ll get better at it. But, yeah, be careful with the mistakes.
Bob: I have an analogy, but it’s not waffles, it’s pancakes.
Sherry-Lynn: Now I’m gonna have to find a baking analogy. [laughter]
Bob: In terms of my timeline, I joined TAXI on July 14, 2007. It was my birthday present to me. I had seen the advertisements and thought, “What’s this about?” So I started reading, and I said, “I’m gonna do it.” So I joined July 14, and by November, right around Thanksgiving, I was zero for 39. [lots of laughter]
We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you, Bob.
Bob: I’m cryin’. But, do the math, it was what, $195 or something? At that point, I was like, “Hmmm, did I make the right decision? Is my music good enough?” But on the business side and the analytical side, I used to print out the listings and then the comments, and I had a binder. I went through and reviewed all the comments, and then I started noting where—just what Sherry was talking about—reading the listings. And I started to learn how to read the listings. Just because it said it should have a good bass line, and just because I had a song that had a bass line, but it was in the wrong genre… Oh, five bucks. I used to sit in Las Vegas when it’s $15 a hand or a throw; that’s like three TAXI listings.
But after zero for 39… Then, I think it was around December, ooof, I got a forward. I ran downstairs yelling like a little elementary kid, “Mom, guess what, I got a forward.” You know, the lungs filled, the chest came out and it was like empowerment. OK, so let’s study that. Why did I get that listing? Why did I get that forward? So then you go through, and you have to be very analytical. Then, it was when you did the mini-thing in Nashville…
Oh, you mean the film & TV thing in Nashville? That was forever ago!
Bob: No, it was 2010. Why do I remember that? Because I got my first deal that came through. I even brought you a bottle of champagne during the…
Remember Dean Krippaehne was my guest speaker for that, and he knocked it out of the park? He was so awesome.
Bob: Yeah, he had some great stuff. And that was my first deal. Whoa! I called my son—because my son and I write together—and he was sleeping, and I said, “Wake him up and make him go out in the hallway so he doesn’t wake the baby.” And [he yells], “We got the first one! Yay, this is all great!”
And then that turned into a placement on Californication within the year. So then, OK, let’s get the blinders on—like what they put on the horses—and let’s stay on this path. Master your genre; know your genre. I’ve done a number of mentor things here at the Rally, and what do I hear quite frequently? I do jazz, I do hip-hop, I do country, I do this, I do that. And I think Michael did one of the first videos I saw way back when in 2007. And he asked what was the V-word was that you should never say, variety or…?
Bob: Versatility. You know, zero in. If your genre is country, then master it. What’s the old thing? Ten-thousand hours? When people ask me what I do, I’m very comfortable now saying, “I’m a composer, not just a musician.” Not that there is anything wrong with being a musician, but I’m a composer. What do I play? Well, I play all the keys, I play all the saxes, and I play my DAW. That is an instrument in itself—learning your DAW, learning your software, learning your plug-ins, learning how to make the strings sound like strings. And when you’re writing for strings, or you’re writing for woodwinds… Now, I have the benefit of being a classically trained oboist and all that, so I’ve sat in the orchestra. I know what a viola sounds like—scary sometimes. But then, when you hear that your strings don’t sound like strings, well, you’ve never sat in an orchestra, dude. But learn how that instrument is played. So many people, when they take an instrument and they’re doing a plug-in, they would just play it like on a piano. But that’s not how the flute plays, that’s not how the clarinet would articulate, and you have to learn… I remember on the Forum… If you’re not on the Forum, newbies, get on the TAXI Forum. I can’t say enough about the Forum. The TAXI Forum.
The TAXI Forum. Forums.TAXI.com.
Bob: I’ve learned so much there, and met so many incredible co-writers on the Forum. Go there and learn. You’ll put your music up, and you have to have patience—we all know that—and thick skin. You have to be able to take what comes at you, and instead of being defensive, instead of trying to defend your position—because it’s probably wrong—because the person who knows more than you is trying to help you here, they’re not trying to hurt you. And learn from it. Learn from it. It’s so important!
“If you’re the best in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”-Bob Mete
It’s amazing how many people join TAXI, send in a few things, get discouraged, go online and complain about it. “Oh, I didn’t make my 300 bucks back,” or “The screeners don’t know what they’re doing.” Obviously, the screeners do know what they are doing, and the company works, because it’s got thousands of people who have made money. Maybe now, over all these years, maybe over 10,000 people who have made money—some that are making a lot of money. So the system works. It’s the same screeners, the same listings, the same company, the same everything ostensibly for every member, yet it works for some and doesn’t work for others. In my judgment, having run this company for so long, it’s the people who come to the Road Rally, who go on the Forum, and watch TAXI TV. If they put those three things together, it’s almost impossible to not have at least some level of success. But if they isolate themselves and just go, “Here’s my music, and it’s music that I already had, and, yeah, it’s got a bass part, and it says something about a funky bass, so I’m sending it in. It doesn’t matter if it’s the wrong genre.”
Bob: On your thing of isolation, so many— especially starting composers—lock themselves in the room, and that’s their world. Like I said in my presentation today, “If you’re the best in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
Bob: Yeah, you want to always be being stretched and being pushed and saying, “Wow, how did you do that? How did you play that? Talk to me, I need to learn how to do that.”
Don’t Miss Part Two of the Panel in next month’s TAXI Transmitter!