This Article Originally Published January 1998
by Roy Bohon
Last March, I sent off a song and a copyright form to the Library of Congress. Some three weeks later, instead of getting back my copyright confirmation letter, I received an unsolicited six-page ad from a company called TAXI and a second solicitation from Amerecord. Although I've received this kind of solicitation before, this time, I was so outraged that I called my attorney to see if there was some way I could get my name and address off of their mailing lists.
My attorney advised me that everything submitted to the Library of Congress always becomes Public Domain, and that was that. Not willing to accept this advice, I was determined to take action on my own: I wrote a letter to the Register of Copyrights with a copy going to President Bill Clinton to be passed on to Tipper Gore, since she likes to keep abreast of goings-on in the music industry. On March 26th, I wrote some new lyrics to the tune of "Give My Regards to Broadway", and sent them off with a letter to both Amerecord and TAXI.
Satisfied, I forgot about the entire situation until TAXI President Michael Laskow called me. "I sure wish I had the time to sit down and write lyrics", he began, and away we went. I was bowled over by how nice he was, and how unlike the President of a scumbag outfit he seemed to be. Soon after, I wrote him a letter of apology and told him that I might bite the bullet one day and, if ever I joined anything, it would be TAXI. Finally, on June 13th, after receiving my second six-page ad, I joined TAXI. Incidentally, I received a boilerplate letter on excellent stationery from the Copyright Office that was signed by two people! Talk about wasting money!
I have been extremely happy in my relationship with TAXI and I feel that with each critique, my musicianship improves. So when I read about the TAXI Road Rally, I grabbed the phone. During my checkered career, I have run many conventions, but thought this one to be the best one I ever attended. From my vantage point, it went off without a hitch.
On Friday night, my first indication that the TAXI crowd was pretty hip was when one performer began his song with a quote from a 17th century Italian art song—and I wasn't the only one who noticed. Alas, for all my listening, I heard very few performers whose lyrics came through. This was a shame because the singers must have had something interesting to say. Otherwise, why write the song, right? Saturday night was no different—it was still virtually impossible to hear the lyrics. And it wasn't the fault of the sound system—it was simply sloppy enunciation. When I was able to understand the lyrics, I noticed that many of them had a narrow, self-indulgent, personal focus—as if a form of therapy. Not universally appealing enough. Oh, and there was this one guy who insisted on talking far too loudly both nights—except, of course, when he was on stage.
I thought that the panels reflected a very impressive cross-section of the music business, and since they were so varied, I got more from some than from others. And that seemed right to me. Every attendee should have found something, somewhere, that was really rich and important for him to know.
We were all truly amazed at Michael's illuminating description of a well-meaning TAXI critique that actually brought a retaliatory death threat from a member! How bizarre, although nothing would surprise me anymore.
When some of the convention members began to grouse, I was reminded that back in the third grade, no kid who ever got an "A" ever complained. The only ones who bitched were those with lesser grades. And each time someone complained, the teacher always had the identical answer—you didn't do your homework!
Nothing has changed. With TAXI, you have to learn to read the Industry Listings very carefully. If the listing says, "major producer looking for up tempo mega-hit for new singer a la Jim Jones," by God, you had better know who Jim Jones is. And if not, you had better find out! Do your damned homework! Often, it is the major producer himself who is doing the actual TAXI screening.
Regarding the TAXI burrito, since so many are submitted incorrectly, I began to wonder if there is a correlation between an incorrectly packaged burrito and the very music it contains. If you can't get the burrito right, can anyone expect you to get the music right? Is TAXI a baby sitting service? And then I wondered—-if Beethoven wrote a sonata and mailed it to TAXI, would he get the burrito right? Would Brahms? Would Irving Berlin? The Beatles? I would think so.
At one of the panels, I took note of some of the important songwriting tips given by country music specialist and TAXI screener, Rex Benson: Songs are not written, they're re-written. Make the hook the title of the song—especially in country music. All roads lead to the title of the song. Don't write songs about love; write them about life. Don't be an early settler—keep working at it. The song title is the reason the song has to be written. And lastly, throw away your first hundred songs!
So what a thrill it must have been for those two guys who sent in the song called "Little Things." To have their cassette played anonymously, and to be judged by the convention crowd, and to have the crowd burst into applause at the end must have had them walking on air. Rex Benson's statement that "this song will get cut" didn't hurt either. And that song was recorded on an 8-track in a back bedroom in Utah with one of the guys doing the vocals! Yes! It can be done!
It was disheartening to see how few members indicated that they read Billboard at least once a month. How can you expect to get anywhere In the music business if you're not tuned in?
On the lighter side, I did hear a good joke: A kid says to his parents, "when I grow up, I want to be a musician." The parents replied, "you can't have it both ways!"
I can't wait for the TAXI Road Rally next year.