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Panel interviewed by Michael Laskow at TAXI’s Road Rally conference, November 2023

Panelists (left to right) Pedro Costa, Mason Cooper, Michael Laskow, Matt Vander Boegh, Craig Pilo, and Vince Nicotina grab a pose after wrapping up their, 'Does it Feel Like Your Music Has Gone into a Black Hole?' panel at TAXI's Road Rally 2023.
Panelists (left to right) Pedro Costa, Mason Cooper, Michael Laskow, Matt Vander Boegh, Craig Pilo, and Vince Nicotina grab a pose after wrapping up their, "Does it Feel Like Your Music Has Gone into a Black Hole?" panel at TAXI's Road Rally 2023.

How many of you have had music forwarded by TAXI and feel like it’s gone into a black hole? [Lots of audience members’ hands go up] That’s why we’re doing this panel.

We’ve got a bona fide panel of experts up here to help you understand if it is a black hole or it isn’t. On the left we’ve got Pedro Costa, who’s a music library CEO that started out as a TAXI member, so he’s seen the black hole from both sides of the coin. Next to him we’ve got Mason Cooper who’s a highly-experienced music supervisor working on films and TV shows. We’ve got Matt Vander Boegh, who has become one of TAXI’s more successful members over many years. Next to him we’ve got Craig Pilo, who is TAXI’s head screener, as well as a composer and a music library owner himself. And then we’ve got TAXI member Vince Nicotina, who is the reason we’re all in here for this panel.

Every month, before the TAXI members’ Success Stories go out in our Newsletter, I actually get my eyes on them, and I read this TAXI Forum post from Vince.

“Recently, I’ve received a series of cue sheets, and got some nice payoutsfrom instrumentals in my ASCAP quarterly statement, too. It seems that my music was played all over the place in 2022, and I had no idea about it.

Some of the places I’ve had music in 2022 were Stromboli, a Dutch movie on Netflix; Celebrity and Somebody, Korean TV shows on Netflix; Emmerdale and Coronation Street, long-running British TV shows; as well as other TV shows in the U.K., France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, Honduras, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia; and The Con on ABC, a true-crime show.”

Then Vince wrote a follow-up email. “In 2023 so far, I’ve had tunes in the finale of Grease, Rise of the Pink Ladies, on Paramount+. Had some stuff on German TV, but it’s probably too soon to know what happened overseas. The Paramount+ placement paid me a $1,000 sync fee. The true-crime show came from a deal I made through TAXI Forward, and my co-writer was somebody I met in the registration line at the Road Rally. My Paramount+ deal came from a library I learned about from a guy I met at the bar at the Road Rally.

“This just goes to show that there really is a long gap of one to two years between when your music gets placed and when you learn about that placement. It takes even longer to get paid, so if you’re frustrated that you got some tunes in a library and they never got placed, just wait a couple of years before you do anything rash.

“The rule of thumb is just keep making more music, getting it in more libraries. That’s the plan. I only have a little over 100 tunes in libraries, but the action is finally starting to pick up. Now I need to press for 200 tunes.”

Thank you, Vince for inspiring us.

I’ve been collecting questions and comments from some members that I thought would be applicable to this topic and panel, so let’s get started!

Question: “Your screener told me my music was good and pretty darn close. Why can’t you forward it and let the industry people decide if it’s good or not?”

I’d like to get some industry perspective on that, Pedro.

Pedro: Okay. So, if you were forwarding everything that’s pretty darn close, we would end up with 100 tracks to review as opposed to 10. I’d prefer to see the 10 that are the best and that are on point with what we’re looking for. Because odds are that we’re going to find someone in that mix that maybe had some tracks that were pretty darn close anyway in the playlist. Then we start working with them and it turns into a long-term relationship where they are supplying way more music than the one piece of music, so it’s helping us, minimizing our work and really putting the best foot forward also.

And that was one of the things that I appreciated when I was a TAXI member. I started to understand that I wouldn’t really want to have my track that was ‘pretty close’ forwarded to the client, who would then look at it and say, “Well, this Pedro Costa is pretty good, but he’s kind of meh; he’s got some time to go here.” So, I would prefer to wait and have the best track forwarded to that client, so that the client’s first impression [of me and my music] is the best one!

That actually leads to another related topic that I want to address, which is sometimes people will submit three, four, five, six things to the same listing, and TAXI only forwards one or two of them. Now, I can’t speak for all of our screeners, and they are not—and I underline not—working under specific instructions to do what I used to do back when I was still screening, which is; if saw a bunch of submissions from the same person, and two of them were A-plus and the other three, let’s say, were kind B-plus-y, A-minus-y, that’s pretty darn good. I didn’t forward those other ones for exactly the reason that you said. I wanted that member to ultimately get a deal and start a relationship, so I would forward the stuff that in my mind was unquestionably the best and the relationship starter. Because who knows, when they listen to that playlist of Forwards from TAXI, they could hit a B-plus or an A-minus track first and go, “Yeah, I’ll keep him on my radar, he might be good enough in a year or two,” versus “Wow!” And after hearing that great track calls the member and says, “Do you have any more of these dramedy tracks with flute parts in them?” and the member goes, “Why, yeah, I do, I’ve got three more that TAXI didn’t forward,” and the library ends up signing the stuff. Well, okay, maybe the library would have signed all the stuff if we’d forwarded it, but maybe not. We always want the best foot to go forward.

We did a Zoom call with like 20 or 25 of our music library clients some months ago, and they were so appreciative that we did that! One of the questions that came up was this very thing. And I said to them, “You know, we feel bad for our members. We want to get as much of their music under your nose and in your ears as we possibly can, so therefore, we’re thinking about starting a second list. When we send you forwards, let’s say we’ve screened 128 things and we found 19 that were A-plus, and we’re forwarding those to you (our clients who requested music), but we found some other stuff that was pretty darn good. Maybe it wasn’t that on-target for what you asked for, but you’d probably want to hear it.” And the music library owners who were in that Zoom meeting loudly proclaimed, “No, don’t include that stuff.” And we said, “We’ll put it on a separate list so it’s optional for you to listen, and they are like, “No, please, dear God, do not do that.” And I said, “Why?” And they said, “Because we love TAXI. The way it is right now it is so incredibly efficient for us, and we don’t have any other resource that’s as organized and consistently as good as the music that we get from TAXI. So, no, please don’t give us the ‘B’ list.” I was kind of crestfallen. I was hoping they’d say, “Sure man,” but they didn’t.

“I don’t also pick the best song for a scene, I pick the right song for a scene, because it has to service a different purpose.”

So anyway, that’s that subject. Looks like Mason has something to add…

Mason: We’ve learned to trust TAXI, and what TAXI has developed by virtue of the success, but also just getting to know Michael and the screeners and the system that has been set up. As a music supervisor, I don’t also pick the best song for a scene, I pick the right song for a scene, because it has to service a different purpose. So, when TAXI screeners are looking at a brief and you’ve sent in a bunch of your wonderful, awesome, great, best songs, if they’re not specific to the brief for me, I might love the song but can’t use it, it’s not what I need for my scene, it wasted everybody’s time. So, I use music from TAXI submissions because they’ve been very good at finding music that matches the callout in the brief.

Thank you, Mason.

Pedro: I have a question for you, Mason. So, what if we (as a music library) took that mediocre track that was “close,” and then sent it to you in response to a brief, what would you think?

Mason: Oh no, don’t send “close,” and you know that. So, it’s a leading question; you knew the answer to that.

Pedro: So, at every step (in the process), we don’t want “close,” we want spot on.

Mason: Right. You know there are different levels of success, and people here could probably talk to that also. What is success to you (in the audience)? Success is “I got a forward.” But then the forward goes nowhere—was that success? So just because Pedro or one of the libraries may take your song because, “All right, fine, I’ll sign it and it’ll sit there on the shelf.” They want to find songs that they feel they can get a placement with.

“If I didn’t feel music in my own library was right for that request, I wouldn’t send it.”

That’s great. How many of you in the audience have ever asked this question: “I got a song forwarded, but I haven’t heard from the company. Why do music libraries take so long to let us know?” So, I’m gonna go to Craig, who also owns a music library. And I’m gonna come back to you after Craig, Pedro, because I want two perspectives on this.

Craig: It could be a myriad of reasons. When music gets forwarded to a library, the way I operated was I was always, the same thing, answering to a specific brief from a music supervisor. So, for the most part, I would take the best that I had available in my catalog and send that. And sometimes, even if I had music in the library, if I didn’t feel music in my own library was right for that request, I wouldn’t send it. So, I hate to say that that contributes to the black hole, but that’s also just life in the big city. When I get a brief from somebody and they say they need something specific, I have to answer to the music supervisors just the same. And they are obviously under no obligation to use anything that I send them, but I want to put my best foot forward. So, let’s say I have 30 things that I think fit the bill, I might send them 20. The music supervisor might only consider 10.

There are a bunch of reasons. As far as getting forwarded to me and not signing it, that could be for a bunch of reasons too, most of which the TAXI screeners are pretty good at pointing out. There are a bunch of reasons why things could get forwarded to my library and I could choose not to sign it. It could be the mix. It could be the ending isn’t strong. I’m really big on that, because I do a lot of stuff for scripted TV, and I hear from the supervisors that I work with that every ending needs to sound like it could end a scene in a TV show or a movie. So, if the cue that I’m listening to is a great cue but it doesn’t have a great ending, that to me starts out as a B-minus. I won’t send that.

Okay, so now let’s assume the quality is there, and the material has no problems whatsoever. Pedro, let’s come up with some other reasons.

One that hits me is we get requests from libraries that they got a request from a supervisor that they need something in a week or two for a show—a specific piece of music for a specific slot in a show—and they reach out to their five resources, one of which is you, Mr. Library owner, and you don’t have anything that you feel great about, so you reach out to TAXI. “Can you guys do a quickie for me?” And we send you a bunch of stuff, and then the people whose music was forwarded to you don’t hear from you. I postulate—if that’s the correct word for this—that if another library got the placement, and you found out from the supervisor that they filled the need, then it’s dead in the water. Or you found something from one of your regular, go-to composers that satisfied the need, and you sent that, then the forwards from TAXI are no longer urgently needed.

Pedro, do you have any other scenarios that would cause a music library to not get back to composers quickly?

Pedro: Like Craig said, there are tons of reasons why we may not get back to you right away. So, in the case of, like you were saying, there’s a request that comes in, we are looking for music, we got the forwards, and we go through them. There is a potential that whatever that request was, it has changed, or they are no longer looking for that particular style of music. They’ve gone in a completely different direction. Let’s say we’re working with a production company and now they’ve changed the direction that they wanted to go for a particular show, so now we don’t need that [style of] music, anymore. It doesn’t mean that it goes into the trash. And if my team was here, they would probably tell you how many TAXI forwards are sitting within our work queue just ready to go. And we go back to them, we keep reviewing, the team re-reviews, they’re all picked, we know which ones we want when the time is right.

As far as an album is concerned, oftentimes we have so many on the go that we don’t have an opportunity to slate an extra one in. But again, it’s in the queue, it’s ready to go as soon as we are ready for that particular style of music. Those are just a couple of examples.

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