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Moderated by Michael Laskow
Live at the TAXI Road Rally, November 5, 2022

Jeff Freundlich, Craig Pilo, Greg Carrozza, Michael Laskow, and Michael Eames grab a quick shot after their panel.

The first two answers are from Part 4. We’ve printed them here to give context to the beginning of this installment. —Editor

Michael Eames: The only reason I point that out is there is more money in masters in the music business right now than there is in publishing, as far as streaming goes. If you had a huge radio hit, you’re going to make more money as asongwriter and a publisher than you will as a master owner, because they don’t participate in terrestrial radio, which is a different topic for another time.

But masters make five to six times more money on every stream than publishing does. So that’s why it’s critical that you upload all the information that you have to every possible place. If you’re getting airplay on SiriusXM or Pandora, you better know about SoundExchange and have registered all of your masters on SoundExchange. Because I know artists who are not signed to a record label… I know one guy in particular who is in the smooth jazz market, right? He hires a radio promoter, he hires a publicity person for each single, and he’s gotten it down to a system where he knows exactly how much money is going to come back when he hits each chart position on the smooth jazz charts, and it continually self-finances itself for each new single. But the majority of the money that he recoups is investment through SoundExchange, it’s not through ASCAP.

That’s interesting. How can an average musician keep track of all this? It’s mindboggling.

Jeff: Honestly, I think that’s the purpose of working with us. I mean, it’s a lot, and it takes a team. And if you’re lucky enough to be in a position where you can do a tour, and there’s actually something to manage, then you probably need a manager, and you might need a publisher to help collect the nickels and make sure that everything is… I mean, I just don’t know anybody that does everything by themselves, I just don’t. So, you need to find some trusted people, and you can find those trusted people through TAXI. I mean, that’s really the honest-to-God truth.

Michael Eames: And do your research to learn about this stuff. And I mention this truly… Whether you believe me or not, this is not a shameless plug. But you can tell I’m passionate about everyone making sure they collect all their money, and many of you I’m sure know Bobby Borg, who is here—I don’t know if he’s in this room—but he and I are doing a panel right after this, actually. But nonetheless, when the pandemic happened, he called me up, because we co-teach a music-publishing class together at UCLA Extension. And, of course, he’s a great author, has done a bunch of books, and he was just like, “Hey, man, so what are you doin’?” “I don’t know; kinda of sitting at home like everyone else.” And he was like, “You are? I love this.” I didn’t even plant that. Anyway, Bobby says, “Let’s write a book,” and I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got nothin’ to do.” So, we wrote this book, Introduction to Music Publishing for Musicians. It’s all about doing research. The Internet, all the great things and bad things that exist on the Internet, it’s an incredible resource for information. So do all your research for all the different areas of what you do, and then do your research on maybe who does it better, so that, as Jeff said, you can then reach out to those that are reputable and hopefully they like what you do, and then you’ve got a team member.

All this goes to answer people who say to me, “Why do music libraries get half the money?” Are you starting to get a feel for why they do?

Michael Eames: I mean, it’s a lot of music to do a music library. And as Jeff said, the competition is insane. There are so many music libraries out there, and libraries that are giving it away for free, only for the back end.

Greg: That’s simple math. Like you said, 100% of zero is zero. So, it’s not a big deal to have a 50/50 split with your publisher if they are the ones who know how to deal with all this stuff and collect those nickels. So, it’s not a bad deal; it’s a perfectly equitable one.

“You can’t buy a laptop that comes with Logic, go get a membership to Splice and bang, you’re a producer.”

There are all those musicians that have been told a bunch of old wives’ tales for decades. You know what, they’d rather be cocksure of themselves and right, and righteous about being right, then give a publisher half the money even though they’ll end up with nothing. It just makes no sense to anybody with any modicum of logic in their brain.

Okay, broadcast quality. Broadcast quality is a mistake that people make over and over again. And by the way, not to brag, but there used to be master quality and demo quality, and being the owner of TAXI in the early days, I couldn’t describe to people that for film and TV it didn’t have to be a Michael Jackson record. It would be awesome if it were that well-engineered and well-produced, but it didn’t have to be. And I opened up a copy of Shoot magazine and there was a guy holding a Panasonic shoulder-mount video camera on his shoulder, and it said, “Broadcast Quality.” That’s where it came from. Seriously, try and find any evidence that anybody used that term before me back in like 1993; it doesn’t exist. So, yay me. I’m really humble. [Audience laughter]

I hear people that can’t hear that their stuff isn’t broadcast quality. You are certainly aware of that, being the head screener and having thousands of hours of training under your belt.

I don’t know why people can’t listen to something that is broadcast quality and listen to their thing in the same genre and not instantly hear that the bass is too low, that the drums sound like a pencil on top of a Kleenex box. How can they not hear that? So do you guys have any advice, because both of you are very capable engineers/producers as well. How can people get out of that rut of not making their stuff sound better?

Craig: There are a couple ways to go about this, and one of it comes back to going back to the basics. One of the mistakes I also see people making out of the gate, whether you’re talking about broadcast quality or doing production, whatever it is. You can’t buy a laptop that comes with Logic, go to get a membership to Splice and bang, you’re a producer. Okay, start uploading tracks to TAXI—that’s the fastest way to get stuff returned and waste everybody’s time and waste your money.

There’s a little bit more that goes into all of it; from the production level, from the ideas to composing. And again, I don’t have a problem with Splice or any of those sample free libraries, I’ve used it for one-shots and stuff, but it’s got its place. You’re at the mercy of the court if that’s all you’re going to do is download stuff that other people have created and piece it together like a puzzle. And you owe it to yourselves and to TAXI to represent something that you have created.

So, my point is—I’m not saying don’t use any of those things; those are all certainly good tools that are at your disposal—but read a book on composition or understand how songs and cues are created. And then, when you get to the engineering point when you’re finished with it, make sure that you watch a video on some engineering. Just get some basic engineering skills. There are some fantastic things on YouTube where you can literally learn how to be a decent engineer after devoting some time and some effort into researching what makes something sound good.

As a screener, it’s pretty easy for us to hear something that’s broadcast quality or it’s not. One of the things that we have is our eyes; we can look at it. If you send us a file and it’s that thin and I can barely see it, I don’t really even have to press play to know that it needs to be remastered. Now, it might be great quality; maybe you transferred it from a [good sounding] record and you didn’t transfer it properly; you didn’t look at the levels and make sure that they are nice and fat, so when they lock it to a TV show you can actually hear it and they don’t have to boost it up and get it all distorted.

So, there are a bunch of things that you can do. If you’re transferring from an old record or transferring from another source to a digital format, make sure you pay attention to the engineering involved with that transfer, especially if you’re going from analog to digital for the first time. All the DAWs will do a good job, all of them, whether you use Pro Tools, Studio One, Logic, Cubase, whatever. They will all do a good job at that, but there’s a certain marginal amount of engineering talent that you need under your belt to do that. You need to understand how the levels work—LUFFS, dB, EQ, that kind of thing. And the good news is that a lot of that information is available for free on YouTube.

But it’s back to my original point: You can’t just get a laptop Logic splice and bang, “I’m an engineer.” There’s more to it than that, and you owe it to yourself to educate yourself a little bit and put some effort into the composition as well as the mixing and mastering. And the other thing you can do too, again, if you have no idea what broadcast quality is, is A/B that with the references that TAXI provides for the listing. If your music sounds comparable to what could go on a playlist… When these guys ask for music, they’ll give you a couple references, and I like to tell people those are your first two or three tracks on an imaginary playlisting you’ve been commissioned to complete. Make sure that what you submit is comparable to those first three tracks.

So, if you don’t have a general benchmark in mind, which there’s thousands for something that’s mixed well, start with the references that we give you—start with those. For that listing, that will be considered broadcast quality, whether it’s era-specific, whether it’s something that was mixed in the ’60s, which is gonna sound different.

My point is, there is basic information available for free that you can use to educate yourself as far as creating something that’s broadcast quality that the industry can use. Without teaching an engineering class, that would be a way to just… Again, arm yourself with the information and education for some minimal engineering skills to give yourself an advantage.

Greg, how did you go from being not broadcast quality to broadcast quality? How long did it take?

Greg: For me personally, I’d been doing engineering and production for many, many years before I tried to do music. So, I actually think I luckily stepped into this industry sounding good. I wrote a lot of crap, but it sounded good. [Audience laughter] So what I had to do was learn how to write it.

But I think I disagree with you a little bit Michael, about when you said, “People don’t hear the difference.” They do hear it. I think they hear it; they don’t know how to make it right or make it better.

So, they’re still submitting even though it sounds bad?

Right. I think they equate “I don’t know how to do it” with “I don’t hear it.” So, what I would suggest–and Craig is absolutely right… I mean, there are millions of YouTube videos, but I think what you should do is not try to do anything. It is to simply listen and keep listening until you do hear those differences. Find those videos on YouTube that are tutorials that will say, “Okay, this is what the kick drum sounds like, and now this is what the kick drum sounds like when I do this EQ to it, when I do this compression to it, when I do side-chain compression to change the compression of the bass with the kick plus the snare.” And keep listening until you can honestly say to yourself, “Okay, I hear what’s happening there.” And then you can put what you do up against a real released record or the examples that are coming out on TAXI and hear the difference and be able to apply those techniques to getting those sounds.

If you’ve spent what might be considered a reasonable time—and a reasonable amount of time is different for everyone—if you still don’t get there, then seek out other members to collaborate with who can do it for you, and concentrate on your strengths and let them concentrate on theirs. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than continuing to bang your head against the wall on a task that you seemingly aren’t getting better at, and then you’re not spending time on the tasks that you can get better at. So that’s what I would say.

Great advice. Oh good, only two questions. The panel is over at 5:15. So I’m gonna take these two questions because they were standing here.

Question: Hi, I’m Liz Walker from Canada. Thanks to the panel for all this information for us. And thank you also to Michael and the TAXI team for this fantastic Rally. [applause]

My question is for Michael Eames. Could you speak to the MLC and the relationship that non-U.S. citizens should have with it? Do you need to sign up for it still or does that depend on whether our country has a different organization collecting mechanicals for us, or is it even a country-specific situation, Canada to UK to the U.S.? Thank you.

Michael Eames: The shortest answer to that question given our time constraint is that whoever can be a member of the MLC is whoever is entitled to collect the mechanicals. So, if you’re your own publisher and you are not in a deal with anyone, you therefore are entitled to your mechanicals; you can join directly no matter what country you’re from. You’re in Canada, so if you are a member of SOCAN and gave them your mechanical rights, or you’re a member of CMRRA and signed an agreement with them, they have direct membership with the MLC, and they will collect for you. And again, it would vary on who you are, whether you’re a member of a performing-rights organization that might also be a mechanical organization. It depends on where you’ve assigned your mechanical rights.

You are so frickin’ smart.

No, I just live this stuff every day. There’s just no other way about it.

How long have I known you? 10, 15 years?

I think it’s been longer.

Whatever amount of time it is, when I see your face in my mind’s eye, I just see this like giant brain. Your capacity to remember stuff is mind-blowing.

“You don’t need an actual company, like an S Corp or a C Corp, or any of that. It’s literally that you are setting up a DBA, and it can be just you as an individual under your social-security number.”

Question: We’ve been told tonight to set up a publishing company, and I’d like to ask if there’s anything you need to do in order to set up a publishing company besides listing the name of your publishing company with your PRO?

Michael Eames: You don’t need an actual company, like an S Corp or a C Corp or any of that. It’s literally that you are setting up a DBA, and it can be just you as an individual under your social-security number. I’m glad you’re asking the question, because I don’t want anyone to think that they are literally having to go out now to Legal Zoom and incorporate, right? So, you literally just apply to your PRO, whatever you are a writer/member of, and set it up as a DBA of you. You’ll see “Sole Proprietor,” and that’s when it’s a DBA of just of you and your social-security number, and that’s all you need.

Craig: It’s like $150 on BMI, if I’m not mistaken.

Michael: Yeah, that one thing. And it’s $50 at ASCAP. But then again, it’s zero to be a writer and member at BMI and $150 to be the publisher. But it’s $50 to be the writer at ASCAP and it’s $50 to be the publisher.

Craig: There’ll be a quiz later to make sure you guys are paying attention. [Laughter]

Well, I sure hope they were paying attention, because the amount of great information you guys gave out during the last ninety-minutes is incredible! Let’s hear it for Greg Carrozza, Jeff Freundlich, Craig Pilo, and Michael Eames! You guys are great, and thank you so much for sharing what you know with our audience!