By B.Z. Lewis
What separates the people who are doing well in the music business from those whose name you'll never hear? The answer often lies in a phone call. Not to your mom, but from someone needing your music for a film, a Web site, for a music library catalogue, a major recording contract, or any one of a host of other possibilities.
The question is, "How do you get your phone to ring? Better yet how do you get it to ring often?"
If you've had even one song forwarded by TAXI, congratulations! That lets you know that you have the talent, the chops, the voice, or whatever it is that you need to move ahead in this biz.
The TAXI screeners are tough — I've seen them in action. I can tell you that they're not going to let a bunch of crap flood the ears of the people who run the listings. If you've made it through, then you know that you've risen above the cloud of mediocrity (for this song, at least), and you're doing something right. Take what you learn from the critiques and apply that to your next song. For most people, getting a few songs forwarded is the greatest honor they will receive in this business.
Why is that? Most people just settle, are unwilling, or are not aware enough to improve upon what they're doing and forge ahead. They settle for a feather in their cap so they can say, "Sure, I've had a song forwarded through TAXI."
I don't think it's enough to "get lucky" and have one song forwarded, but to consistently get songs forwarded—that's the level of musicianship to strive for. Vocalists might settle for a lyric that will convey the words, but will lack conviction. Instrumentalists might settle for a performance that will suffice, but not "nail the part." You can't settle in this business—there are too many other people doing mediocre work. You have to create a reason for your phone to ring. Your phone will ring not just because the screeners at TAXI think your song is good enough, but because the person who ran the listing in the first place has got to have your music.
Why do they have to have it? Because it's better than the rest—it's the best thing out there. It's the one call they have to make, and their job often depends on getting the right music in place for their project.
Imagine this typical scenario: Someone you've never met and who is not watching you perform live will listen to your music sight unseen. Maybe they've had an argument with their spouse, maybe they're in the middle of a billion phone calls and not in a good head-space. Somehow your music has got to cut through all the B.S. and reach out to them. It has to be that undeniably good.
How good does it have to be? I never really understood what it meant to be "undeniable" until I went to the A&R panel at TAXI convention, where several A&R guys and gals randomly listen to demo after demo in front of a large crowd.
They listen to a verse and a chorus of each song and then discuss it amongst themselves. They are brutally honest. It's amazing. It not only shows how many songs, bands, and artists there are out there, but it also illustrates that a song has to be top-notch for someone to consider working with it.
Time after time, a piece of music would play during the panel—a few times a promising verse would play. You could see everyone on the panel bracing as if for an impact for the chorus to blow them away, and almost every time the chorus would fail to deliver. It was as if you could see the wind fall from their sails.
Did the panelists really have to spell out what had happened as to why they were so deflated after the "less than stellar" chorus passed by? No. It was obvious to everyone in the room that the songwriter didn't put fourth the effort to polish the song. Only once during the two hour panel was there a song that had a good verse followed by a good chorus. Once!
It wasn't even a professional recording. Yet after listening to the song, the A&R people wanted to meet this songwriter—they had him stand up and wanted to meet him after the conference. Think of all the music they listen to, and how many times a day they are deflated when a promising song leaves them disappointed. Believe me, a good song stands out!
What part does luck play in this process? That's open for debate, but I think you have to create your own luck. You have to be patient and persistent. After all, you're never going to stop playing, writing or recording music, are you? If you've put in the time to learn an instrument, you know what patience is. Put that same level of work into writing your songs, keep submitting them, rewrite them, listen to your critiques, and with that time and effort invested, you'll get that phone to ring.