A Muse's Muse Interview with TAXI's Michael Laskow
conducted by: Jodi Krangle
If you're like a lot of songwriters, you've heard about a whole host of various ways to promote your songs and get them heard. Here's some more detailed information on one of those methods and what TAXI is - and is not - to the professional songwriter. Michael Laskow reveals how it all started and where TAXI is heading in the future.
Question: How did TAXI get started, Michael? What gave you the idea for it?
In the 70's, I was an engineer/producer who was fortunate enough to work with several top artists like Eric Clapton, and Neil Young. But in between working with the superstars, I often worked with local artists and songwriters on their demos. Time and time again, I would see these artists spend exorbitant amounts of money on their demos, only to have the doors of the record companies slam shut on them. I made a mental note that someday I would do something to fix that problem.
During the late 80's and early 90's, I had a nice job with a six-figure salary, an office on each coast, an apartment on each coast, and lots of frequent flyer miles. Problem was... I wasn't happy. The person I worked for was not the nicest of people, and I missed working directly with artists. I asked for a raise. My boss said "No." I handed him the keys to the company BMW and waved good-bye!
That was the moment I had the idea for TAXI. If I had had a clue as to how many 18 hour days I would work over the next couple of years, and how utterly broke I would quickly become, I'm not sure TAXI would be here today. It was a very sobering experience going from a hefty salary to balancing the rent payment with the ability to eat. I Didn't go to a movie for a couple of years. Didn't go to restaurant for a couple of years. Fending off creditors became a way of life. It was character building, and it helped me understand what a lot of struggling musicians go through.
Question: How long has TAXI been in operation and what is its mandate?
TAXI just celebrated its tenth anniversary. I started the company on January 15th, 1992. It's mandate is simple; TAXI is here to help bands, artists, songwriters, and composers get their music to executives at major record labels, music publishers, and film and TV music supervisors.
Question: Can you explain what usually happens once someone joins TAXI? What literature can they expect to receive? How does their membership work?
When a member joins TAXI, they start receiving our Industry Listings every two weeks. Each update of the Industry Listings contains firsthand information on what major labels, publishers and music supervisors are currently looking for. When a member sees one or more items on the list that sound like a good match for their music, they send that music in to TAXI with the corresponding listing number on it. Our A&R staff prescreens every submission for each of listings to find the music that's stylistically on target for what the company asked for, and is good enough for us to forward on to them. The end result is that an unknown artist or songwriter from anywhere in the world can now end up on the desk of a top executive in the music industry who is looking for that exact thing at that moment in time. Then it's up to the executive to decide if they want to sign it. If they do, they contact the artist directly and make the deal.
The other aspect of what TAXI does is to give feedback to the members on the music they submit. Every submission is prescreened by our A&R staff. The A&R people are assigned to screen music in genres that they are expert at doing. In other words, you'll never have a case where a Country screener is listening to R&B tapes. Getting feedback from somebody who has been VP of A&R at a major label or a top radio program director is a huge deal. For TAXI members, it's something that occurs hundreds of times a day.
Question: What are the sorts of benefits they can expect from their membership and what's the difference between a membership to TAXI and, say a membership to NCI or AS?
Besides the obvious benefits of gaining access to the industry and getting high-level feedback on their material, TAXI members also get our monthly newsletter, The TAXI Meter, which is a topnotch newsletter crammed full of great information for songwriters and artists. They also get two free passes to our annual convention, the TAXI Road Rally which, if I can be immodest for a minute, is far and away the best music convention going. If you were to buy two passes to South by Southwest at the walkup rate, you'd pay 0. If you belong to TAXI you get two FREE passes to a far superior convention. Our panels are populated with top industry people who are there to share what they know, not give the typical "If you're good enough, we'll eventually hear about you" crap that you get at a lot of other conventions. We also buy a one-year subscription to Recording magazine for each of our members so they can keep current on their recording and production chops.
Question: What sort of individual should be joining TAXI?
Smart, dedicated songwriters and artists who understand that this is an industry that rewards people who work hard and have tremendous perseverance.
Question: What is it that TAXI can and can't provide?
What TAXI can provide is unparalleled access to the inside track in the music industry. What it can't provide is a miracle. If the songs aren't good enough, all the access in the world won't help. The better a writer or artist is, the more TAXi can help them get through the doors they need to get through. If the writer isn't there yet, I can think of no better way than TAXI to improve one's craft.
Question: Can you give us an anecdote or two about "a day in the life of" at the TAXI office? What is your typical day like over there?
We've got the hardest working staff in the music industry - period! I go to record companies all the time, and I don't see them working nearly as hard as the people at TAXI. Our staff is always on a mission, and to watch them work would be all the proof you need. You'll never see our staff chatting by the water cooler. You won't see them reading magazines. You won't see them putting around on the Internet. They deliver a level of member service that Nordstrom wishes it could, and that doesn't leave time in the day for much else.
A typical day isn't all that glamorous. We answer a lot of phones, and answer a lot of member questions. There are nine staffers, and usually six or seven people screening in two shifts a day. We live in two different worlds. One is the member world where we help our members learn about and succeed in the music business. The other world is label land where we deal with the needs and idiosyncrasies of the record labels. Happily, we've learned how to live productively in both worlds for the benefit of all.
Question: Who are some of the companies you send members' songs to and can you tell us a little about how those people got involved in TAXI and why they might have decided to do so?
The list of companies is over 600 at this point. Suffice it to say that TAXI works with virtually every company in the music business that any writer or artist would want to get to. A very short list of some of the companies we work with is; Arista, Asylum, Atlantic, BMG, Capitol, Capricorn, Columbia, Dreamworks, Elektra, Epic, Geffen, Giant, GRP/Blue Thumb, Hollywood, Interscope, Island, Jive, Maverick, MCA, Mercury, Motown, RCA, Reprise, Sire, Sony, Universal, Virgin, Warner Brothers, and Windham Hill.
As to why they request material from TAXI, that's easy. TAXI gives them the ability to widen their search without doing any of the work. They only want to hear the very best, and that's what we send them.
Question: Can you describe some of the successes TAXI has had with the placement of songs?
Well, the first thing to remember is that TAXI's job is to get our music on the desks of the people who have the power to sign deals. We're successful every time we do that. We've had hundreds and hundreds of people who've signed deals ranging from single song publishing deals, to multi-song publishing deals, to film and TV placements, to major label record deals. The most recent high-profile deal is the song 'Buy Me A Rose' by members Erik Hickenlooper and Jim Funk, which was cut by Kenny Rogers. It was #1 on all of the Country charts, including Billboard. Jim and Erik cut the demo in a bedroom studio on an 8-track, and got a #1 hit. Not too shabby for a couple of guys with no previous contacts or professional success. It's proof that some great stuff is out there, and that TAXI is certainly capable of getting it to the right people.
Question: Where do you see TAXI heading in the future?
We have always believed that by keeping our focus laser-sharp, and by constantly finding ways to add more opportunity and benefits for our members. One of the things we've added is the TAXI Road Rally, our annual, members-only convention. It's free to our members. Other conventions aren't nearly as powerful, and cost as much as 5 per ticket. Our members who have attended the Road Rally tell us that the convention alone is worth more than the cost of joining TAXI. We're proud of that.
Another thing we've done recently is to let non-members get our Industry Listings by e-mail twice a month, just like our members. Of course, only our members can submit to the listings, but this is a great way for non-members to keep updated on what the music industry is looking for throughout the year, while at the same time getting a feel for whether or not TAXI might be a good investment for them. Non-members can easily sing up to get sample listings sent to them every two weeks by clicking http://taxi.com/elisting.html
We've also added another great service which our existing members can upgrade to, called TAXI Dispatch. For an additional fee, Dispatch members get quick turn around opportunities from music supervisors working on film and TV projects. They often need songs faster than our normal process allows for. With Dispatch, the members get the requests e-mailed to them the day they come in, and can make their submissions to us online. We've had an extremely high percentage of members getting deals through Dispatch because the supervisors are in a time crunch, and looking hard for material to fill those slots.
We're very proud of how successful Dispatch has been in helping our members make deals. We plan to continue finding other similar ways to add benefits for members and non-members alike.
Question: How can people get more information about TAXI?
By going to our Web site at http://www.taxi.com/, or by calling for our free information kit at 1-800-458-2111.
Michael Laskow is the founder and president of TAXI. During his 20-year tenure as an engineer/producer, he worked with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Eric Clapton, Cheap Trick and countless others. He continues to write articles for magazines like Recording and Electronic Musician.