TAXI - From a member's perspective

Over the last few weeks I've started to notice that I'm personally getting asked a lot of questions about TAXI. The questions range from "Is TAXI worth it?" to "Is it legit?" to "How much money have you made as a result of TAXI?" and on and on. So after getting asked once again today I thought I would take the time to do a blog about my experience with TAXI so far.

Let me start by saying that I am not a paid spokesperson for them. I do not get any monetary compensation from them. That being said, in order to give full disclosure, I have to mention the fact that at the 2009 Road Rally, I was a part of a 10 member panel during one of the sessions and I was also presented with the TAXI 2009 Inspiration Award. But that being said, I promise you that the opinions that I express in this blog will be completely and 100% my own. Now let's get to it...



Photo credit: TAXI.com

I'll start off by explaining what TAXI is. It's an independent A&R company that acts as a kind of a middle-man between musicians and the industry. I'll stop right there and say that some people are already going to have a problem with that model as they don't want to have to go through a middle-man to get to the potential client. I completely understand that, and even agree with them to an extent. I'm about to go off on a slight tangent but please bear with me as it does relate to TAXI.

As an independent musician, it's very challenging trying to navigate through the current system. Sure, there are more opportunities than ever before, and technology has made it much easier for people to record their own music, but there's a downside to that as well. The downside being that it's much easier for people to record their own music. Not every one can play guitar like Dan Huff or Brent Mason. Not every one can mix like Chris Lord-Alge, David Bender or Ronan Chris Murphy. Those guys have put YEARS into honing their skills and their craft.

Let me stop here and say that I'm just as guilty as anyone when it comes to this. When I first started recording back in 2005, I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. Seriously. Not. One. Clue. If you don't believe me, I've got a few former co-workers who can verify this story for you (I'm looking at you Joel S., Chuck S. and Cody B.) In fact, I really don't consider my starting point for learning the art of recording until January 2008. Why that date? That's when I joined TAXI. See, I told you I'd get back to TAXI.

When I joined TAXI in January 2008, I had maybe, 10 songs to start with. Most of them were in the hard rock and metal genre. But none of them were "ready" for use. In fact, I can remember this very clearly. I had been a member for a couple of weeks. There was a listing looking for romantic instrumentals. I had written one track that I thought might fit. I had programmed my drum track. I recorded my bass and then my guitars. And then it hit me. What do I do now???

I called up a friend of mine who happened to own a studio. I told him where I was at in the process and asked him what I needed to do next. He simply asked "Well, have you started mixing it yet?" I was like "What?" He replied "When do you want me to come over?" :-)

I ended up submitting that track for the listing and it was returned for being off target. But then I went on a run where my next nine submissions were all forwarded. I suppose I should stop here for a second and explain what I mean about forwards and returns.

When you submit a song to a listing it goes into a queue of songs. Once the deadline has passed, each and every song will go through a screening process by a TAXI screener. On TAXI's web site you can get a list of people who work as screeners, past and present. The screener will listen to the song that you submitted and then make a decision on whether or not they are going to mark the song as a return, or that they are going to forward the song on to the client who ran the listing. Some of the listings are marked as Y/N listings, which means you do not get a critique. But for the listings that do get a critique, you are provided with some information as to why the screener decided to forward or return your song.

I need to note that there is a $5 submission fee for each song that you submit. Some people don't like being charged to submit their music. I understand that. In a recent Ustream chat, TAXI CEO Michael Laskow commented on why they have a $5 submission fee. I tried to find the exact spot in the video for you but Ustream seems to be having issues. I think it's about halfway in. If I remember correctly, I think his answer was that it's actually to help CUT BACK on the number of submissions that they receive. By putting a small fee on each submission, the intent is to curb the amount of "spam" that they receive for each listing.

What do I mean by that? Here's an example. Let's say that a company is looking for songs that are in the range of Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne and Lady Gaga. Now, if they didn't charge per submission, then the likelihood of people submitting anything and everything for that listing, like Jewel, Beyonce or The Killers, in the chance that it "might be what they're looking for", is much more likely. Even with the $5 fee, I know early on when I was submitting, I would throw in a song or two that I thought was "close" but I wasn't 100% sure that it was what the listing was asking for. Then when it would get returned I'd usually say "Well, I knew it wasn't on target" and I'd wish I had my $5 back! But over the last year, I quit doing that.

Big Blue TAXI Submitting Tip of the Day: If you have to defend your song submission, then it's probably not on target.

Speaking of on target... Let me try and get back on target myself. So, where was I. Oh yeah... So some of you are probably asking why would you want to pay to have someone screen your songs? Can't you just submit to these companies on your own? Well, the answer to that is yes... and no.

If you have the time to do the research and find out which companies are in need of what material, then by all means, go for it. TAXI even says that they are the "2nd best way" to do this. But if you're going to do that, you want to make sure that not only you're music is up to snuff, but your music business skills are as well. You get one chance to make a first impression and from what I've seen in this industry, if you blow that chance, you may never have another opportunity with that company again.

Case and point. I just signed a couple of tracks this week to be made available for a production company that specializes in the extreme sports film industry. They made it abundantly clear that they will not tolerate any unsolicited correspondence from me or I would be permanently removed from their database. Understand now, this is a company that WANTS my music and WANTS to work with me. As they put it, they want to work with people that are easy to work with but they don't want a lot of contact and they definitely don't want any drama to deal with. Again, this is a company that WANTS to work with me. They also made it clear that this opportunity would not have happened without the work of one of the TAXI screeners filtering the music for them. I can say with 100% certainty that there is no way I could have gotten this deal on my own. So while I know it is possible to get deals on your own, which I have done multiple times, there are going to be times when it's going to take a forward from TAXI to get you in the door.

Also, let me add this as well. I've read that some people consider TAXI to be for amateurs. While I don't think that's a fair characterization, I do think that there is some truth to that. But let me add this...

If you join TAXI and within your first year of membership, and you submit your songs on a consistent basis (2-3 submissions a month), and you take the advice you get from the critiques, and you visit the forums (hadn't even mentioned them yet) and get some assistance in the Peer 2 Peer section, and you attend the Road Rally (I CAN'T STRESS ENOUGH HOW VITAL THE ROAD RALLY CAN BE TO YOUR SUCCESS!!!!)... if you do all of that within your first year, and someone still characterizes you as being an amateur... that's not TAXI's fault, that's all on you.

TAXI gives you plenty of resources and opportunities to help you grow from being an amateur into a professional. Now, I don't mean that you'll be doing this as a full-time career after one year. The business doesn't work that way. But if you take advantage of the resources that TAXI provides you with, then you should have no excuse to not make the transition from amateur to professional.

In fact, let me say this, even though Michael might not want to read this, if you utilize your TAXI membership to your maximum benefit, I believe there will come a point where your relationship with TAXI will change. And by that I mean, in the early stages, you will probably make a lot of submissions because you want to take advantage of the opportunities. But if you continue to get forwards and then those forwards start turning into deals, eventually, you will reach the point where the relationships you're making with the music libraries (I guess I'm referring more to the film and TV aspect of TAXI than I am the record label part) will be so time consuming that you won't have as much time or need to submit to TAXI listings. That, however, doesn't mean that you won't necessarily have any use for TAXI. I still would contend that the Road Rally may be one of the most important aspects of the membership and like with Nashville and Country music, I'm finding that with film and TV as well, it's all about the relationships. And the Road Rally is a great place to develop and foster those relationships.

OK, Let me try and summarize this monster of a post by telling you who I personally think would be a good candidate for TAXI and who I think would be better off saving their time and money.

Here is a list of people that I would encourage to join TAXI:
  • People that are relatively new to songwriting and recording. The critiques are very helpful and informative.
  • People that have a decent size song catalog
  • People that are willing to learn
  • Instrumental composers (all styles and genres) who have a home studio and are able to crank out lots of material on a frequent basis
Here is a list of people that I would NOT encourage to join TAXI:
  • Country songwriters, with one exception. I would encourage you to join so that you can see how high the bar is set for country music. Then after getting that reality check, I would suggest you move to Nashville. As much as it's about the song, in all honesty, it's also just as much about the relationships you form with the people in the industry. And living in Nashville, I can attest to the fact that it really is a lot about who you know. You gotta have the talent. That's a given. But you gotta have the connections too.
  • People that have only written 3 or 4 and hope to retire off of them. Though it's possible, one of them could be a hit, the odds of you only attempting something 4 times and finding that level of success at it are not very good. Put it this way. Would you expect someone who's never swung a baseball bat in his life, to be able to hit a home run against a major league pitcher in his first 3 or 4 attempts ever? Me either. Possible? Yes. Likely? No.
  • People that are not willing to learn
  • People that can't handle constructive criticism
I'm sure there's much I could say but I need to get back to my studio. I've got to make a CD tonight so I can mail it off to the new client I got this week courtesy of TAXI.

Let me conclude by saying that TAXI is not a miracle worker nor a magic pill but they are 100% legit and they do exactly what they say they will do. I've had an opportunity to spend some time on the phone and in person with Michael Laskow and I can personally attest that he is a man of his word.

If you have any questions, or comments about TAXI, this post, or music in general, leave them below and I'll do my best to answer them.

Until next time...

5 comments:

Matt Stevens said...

Thanks Dude - awesome stuff mate v useful

Cody @ Captive Records said...

Awesome post, Barry. I know I've emailed you and asked you some questions, and this post definitely helped clarify some more things I was uncertain about.

Didn't know about that $5 per submission, but I see what you mean about it screening out the spam. That's how Broadjam is as well, although I'm not a member of either Broadjam or TAXI. I just remember reading that on their site.

Either way, I have the money set aside to sign up for TAXI now. I'm still just tossing it around in my head. I'm pretty sure I'm going to do it, though. Maybe I'll wait until I've worked in the forums there for a bit, get involved in the Peer to Peer activities, then go from there.

Thanks for the awesome post. You cleared up a lot of things for me.

Later!

Eliot said...

Excellent post, Barry. And a fair assessment of Taxi's role in your career. While I think you're further along than me in this, I'm starting to see as well that after a while, the relationships you've built thanks to Taxi start to take more of your attention, which kind of pulls you away from chasing Taxi listings. And I'll also attest to Michael's character. He's a very forthright, honest person that genuinely looks for the win-win scenario.

Cheers, Eliot Pister.

Anonymous said...

How about an answer to the question: How much money have you made with Taxi?

Big Blue Barry said...

@Anonymous... Usually I do not disclose my actual income online, particularly to someone who won't disclose their identity :-) but that being said, I'll give you an idea of what I've earned, from all of the different avenues available to you as a TAXI member, that includes pitching to their normal listings, the dispatch listings, attending the Rally, and relationships I've made from the forums (which are open to non-TAXI members).

In 2008, my first year of TAXI, I had 45 forwards but didn't earn one cent.

In 2009, I started landing deals from forwards that I had gotten in the previous year. I also started getting some opportunities via relationships I had made via the forums and I also landed a gig as a composer for a prominent daytime talk show. Added up, the money I made from those opportunities last year was in the low 4-digits, the majority of which came from the projects I got from networking opportunities via the forum.

So far in 2010, I've signed 2 new deals as a result of TAXI forwards, one of which is with a VERY selective library. I've only gotten one PRO statement and I'll go ahead and say it was for around $127. But the important thing to note about that is that it's the first statement I've had with any real placements on it, and it's only going to increase from there, thanks to some of the libraries that I'm now in as a result of a TAXI forward. Based on that PRO statement, and from what cues that I know have been placed, I expect that the next statement might have a comma in it, or at least be very close :-) And all of that is because of relationships I've made through TAXI.

And really, that's the key... It's ALL about the relationships. Yeah, the music is important. If your music sucks, doesn't matter who you know. But assuming that your music is good enough, the next most important aspect of the biz IMHO is your ability to interact with the industry folks and the relationships you develop with them.

Let me say that I truly believe that TAXI works, but I don't think it works for everyone. And in regards to the business in general, especially film and tv placements, this is a slow moving game. Painfully slow at times. But if you work hard, stay persistent, and remain patient, you can achieve success.

Hope that answers your question.

- Big Blue