Lessons from the TAXI Road Rally

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the TAXI Road Rally, through my membership with the Arizona Songwriters Association. The TAXI Road Rally is a convention hosted by TAXI, an organization based in Los Angeles that helps independent songwriters, artists and composers get their music to record labels, film and TV music supervisors, music libraries, music publishers, music licensing companies, ad agencies and video game companies.

Basically, once you join TAXI, you receive listings from the above sources then can submit your songs for those listings. You receive feedback on every song you submit and if the TAXI listeners determine that your song fits the criteria listed in the brief, they will pass your song on to the person/company who is looking for songs for their project.

The Road Rally offers an opportunity to hear from experts in the sync-licensing field, as well as a chance to network with others who have the same goals and professionals who are working in the industry.

The sessions covered lots of topics, ranging from music business and music production tips to a guide to what music supervisors are looking for, marketing for musicians and how to make your songs more contemporary for today’s market. There were also open mics, jam sessions, one-on-one mentor meetings and so much more.

I took lots of notes throughout the sessions I attended so I thought I’d share them here for anyone who stumbles across this post and may benefit from them. These are notes scribbled in my notebook and not direct quotes, but the messages that I heard in that moment and hopefully will still be helpful.

Finding Success in the Music Business

Keynote interview: TAXI Founder and CEO Michael Laskow interviews Michelle Bell, vice president of Creative at Roc Nation (the entertainment company founded by Jay Z)

You learn by doing. Learn from other creatives. Be able to critique yourself. When you’re recording the vocals, find the catchy part and teach it to yourself really well so when you record it, the catchy part comes out.

If you get stuck on a song, go away from it and come back later. Move on to the next one and if that first song sticks with you, then come back and try again. Sometimes it’s better to discard it if it’s not feeling like it’s moving. It’s OK to move on.

In the music business, the roller coaster of ups and downs is better than going right to the top (then right to the bottom). Longevity is key. The consistency of a long run is what really counts and there will be highs and lows.

What is success in the music business? It depends what your definition of success is.

Don’t give up.

Michelle Bell

How do you ensure your songs sound contemporary? The production style is what dates a song. What never changes is the beautiful melody and lyrics.

To sell the song – no drums, then it’s timeless and classic. Drums tend to date a song.

There are not many successful songs these days that have only one writer. They are seeing songs with multiple writers, as people get songwriting credits if they do one part of the song.

Lyrics and melody are the heart and soul of a song Vocals on a demo are very important.

Ads are shorter now and use ear candy as songs. They need to be catchy and catch your attention. Polished-sounding songs. Beginnings and endings are important. TV, film and ad songs are as competitive as radio songs.

Don’t wait for the brief to come along to see if your song fits it – write to current briefs and chances are another opportunity will come up for similar briefs in the future that you can submit that song to.

There are no bad songs, there are some that need work; they may still connect with someone, as songwriting is subjective.

Think of sync licensing as casting – what film and TV people do for a brief. Who would this song be for? (What scene is this song for?)

Publishers pitch to record labels and music supervisors.

Put your music out – there’s an audience, all you have to do is try. An advantage of today’s music industry is that you can put out your own music. People are finding music all the time, don’t be afraid. You have to start somewhere. Get the music out there!

Generally, music supervisors want songs that are released. (Once they are shown on a show, people can search the song on Spotify and other platforms). Sometimes for commercials, ad agencies want unreleased songs.

Connect with people.

Don’t give up.

Vocals for Film & TV

Juliet Lyons, an award-winning and Billboard-charting recording artist, a singer/songwriter/composer for film and television and a vocal coach. In this session, she discussed the difference between vocals that are good and vocals that are good for film & TV, what makes a vocal sound dated and also listened to lots of examples.

Authenticity is important. Vocals should share a point a view and creates a mood and feeling. “Layman vocals.” Focus on character and mood.

For film and TV – your voice is not in the spotlight. Your job is to support the scene and can be in the background.

A trend is vocal music in reality TV – abundant opportunities for placement, a big opportunity for singers.

Some examples for reality TV:
– Swaggering and sassy, short phrasing, low to mid-range
– Sing-talking, slightly rapping, swagger/attitude, simple melody, short phrasing
– Breathiness. Chorus has a lift. Emotional – song started breathy then had a lift, rhythmic phrasing, not much reverb, no trace of vibrato

Another song she played didn’t have much space between vocals, the range jumped up a lot, really low starting in baritone, really long phrasing, overly treated, takes attention from the scene (scene-stealing). Not a popular genre. All of this made it less likely to be syncable.

What makes a vocal sound dated or amateur?
Vibrato, range (don’t go crazy with the range – mid-range is the sweet spot), don’t over sing (instead create feeling through vocal style), Effects may not match – don’t use too many effects, Bad engineering (overcompressed vocal, distortion, poor EQ, poor recording, choppy edits), Backgrounds may have complex arrangements, especially forward in the mix, Any pitch imperfections (can be fixed in Melodyne).

Examples of timeless songs that tend not to get outdated: Soul, classical, jazz, holiday

Attributes of contemporary songs: minimal to no vibrato, breathy tone for females, falsetto for male, rhythmic, shorter phrases (not carrying a note for too long), register shift (between chest voice and head voice), sing-speak style, perfect pitch (Melodyne), stacked vocals (2-8 vocal tracks for the chorus)

Seven top tips for getting vocals placed:
1. Melodyne
2. Beware of Ballads
3. No vibrato
4. Mid-range
5. Authenticity trumps training – build mood and emotion
6. Nonsense vocals make perfect sense (humming, lalas)
7. Mastered version, an instrumental version and stems

Most placed: Hip-hop, Christmas songs, pop and upbeat pop, R&B, acoustic (I think there were others, but didn’t right them down fast enough)

Least placed: Duets, heavy metal, jazz, drums & bass

Most requested: female empowerment, party, indie-modern, feeling good (Lizzo and Dua Lipa type songs are popular)

80% requested are uptempo

Money Ball: Production, Mixing, Songwriting and Money Collection in the World of Sync Music

With Grammy Award winner Rob Chiarelli and multi-platinum producer Ron Harris

Distributors pay for streaming – usually need to make at least $100 in streams for a payout.
Interactive streams: People pick the song (like Spotify and Apple Music)
Non-interactive steams: The service picks the songs (radio, Pandora, iHeart Radio). These are paid through Soundexchange.

When signed to a record label, traditionally they own the master because they paid for the recording. If you own the master, the songwriting and the publishing, this is ideal as you will receive all the money. Master royalty – when a song is used, the sync company pays half to the owner of the master and half to the songwriter/publisher. So if you own your master and are the songwriter and publisher, you get 100%.

If you signed an administrative deal for a song with Tunecore or CD Baby or others, you can’t submit to some sync libraries (or to TAXI). When you sign this administrative deal, you are giving them your publishing rights.

Arizona songwriters represented!

Demystifying the Cue

With Dean Krippaehne, a veteran songwriter, musician, author and music producer and owner of All Screen Music, a boutique music library.

What is a cue? A request for a composition, track, song, instrumental, vocal to use in the foreground (hear that part of the song, with no talk-over) or in the background (such as music playing at a restaurant in a scene)

Cues are typically two minutes or less (though songs can be 3 minutes).

Stinger: Clear ending, no fading out

Emotion – usually builds every 4/8 measures.

Underscore – music incorporated into the scene, underneath the dialogue

End on the key of the song.

Submit full version then a version with vocals muted for instrumental
If it’s an instrumental song, create a version with the main melody removed so it doesn’t conflict with dialogue in the scene

Versions: Full, underscore, drums, bass, instrumental

Make sure everything is in tune. Prepare everything before you record it. Don’t fix it in the mix.

Moods/feel/vibe – cures are moods. Great cues are not noticed, they simply enhance the scene’s mood. Don’t mix moods within one song – the director is trying to create a mood.

Search library sites for examples of cues that were used: Megatrax, 5 Alarm

Space vs. Clutter: Everyone needs time to talk. This applies to all aspects – lyrics, melody, arrangement, production, etc. Less is usually more. Too many notes compete with dialogue

One real instrument can usually trick the ear to believe that all real instruments are being used.

Actors’ dialogue needs to be front and center.

Let it all out in the creative process then go back and edit.

Learn your gear.

Push air – route your virtual instruments through a speaker – mic the speaker and record it as an audio track.

Write and perform great “parts” – get each part to sound great.

Copy the contemporary masters, copy the pros, use reference tracks for recording and mixing

Vocalist – comp tracking. Perfect vocals – keep positive, this can turn a demo into a master. Find the right singer for the right genre.

The mix – everything affects everything. When you make a little change, listen how it affects the other tracks. Listen on multiple speakers. Let perfectionism go.

Panning: vocals, snare drum, kick drum centered in middle. Percussion to the right and left.

For safety, convert all MIDI tracks to audio (WAV files)

Lyrics – stay with one theme throughout as the director needs to be consistent for the scene. Keep your songs lyrics in the same scene. Keep them general.

Speed – quality and quantity. Cues vary. To become quick and efficient, know your gear (and the sounds). Catalog your cool sounds for a quick find. Build document files and label the sounds. Quality first – the speed will come. Build templates. Write, submit, repeat.

Learn cues: Learn sounds, have go-to instruments, build templates/styles, know genre vibes (chord progressions, tempo, melodies, etc.), have a go-to quick mix (pan, verbs, mastering, etc.)

Example of process: Start with drums, add guitar (blues harp, loop), harmonica & guitars, added snare and bass (to help song build), keyboard – less is more (to help build emotion.

Second example: Starts with piano, pizzicato, strings, added clarinet, cello.

10 Commandments of Dean Krippaehne

  1. Have a good relationship with yourself (eat well, sleep, strive for well-being.
  2. Be professional, positive and polite.
  3. Ask the universe for help.
  4. Ask other people for help.
  5. Be nice to all people.
  6. Get to know your audience.
  7. Hang out with the biz folks (networking)
  8. Be kind to those who are not as far along as you are.
  9. Get a pet.
  10. Share your expertise with others.
  11. (A bonus one…) Give back to the world.

Activate Your Inner Music Mogul: Mindsets for a Successful Music Career

With Nancy Moran, recording artist, touring singer/songwriter, energy healer, artist development coach and co-founder of Azalea Music Group in Nashville).

She described a triangle of needs, with the following order, from the tiptop of the triangle: External intentions (what you want), Habits (your behavior of doing what you have to do to reach those intentions), Capabilities (what you’re capable of doing), Stories and beliefs and Identity. Surrounding the triangle are wealth, relationships and health.

Know your why.

People don’t buy what they do, they buy WHY you do it.

Mindset – limiting beliefs. How do get over them? Consciously reframe them. What are you resisting? What are you avoiding?

“Yeah, but” syndrome – it works in your field, but not in mine.

Know your why.

Nancy Moran

Top 3 limiting beliefs:
1. Not good enough to become a professional singer/musician/songwriter
2. Not good enough performer to play live.
3. People wouldn’t be interested in what I have to say.

Tips to move past this:
1. What are you resisting?
2. What is the limited belief behind this?
3. Reframe this belief.
4. Find an action to take to now prove the new belief.

Example: “I’m too old.” Reframe: “Age doesn’t matter.” Prove it to yourself that this new story is real. Example: “I may make mistakes.” Reframe: “It’s OK to make mistakes.”

Tips to reframe: “Up until now, I…” “Yet.” “What if it was possible?” “How can it get any better than this?”

Helpful tips
Create email templates. Create DAW templates for songs.
You don’t need to it all by yourself. Hire others, get fans involved, get a coach or mentor. “I can do anything but I can’t do everything.”
Weekly meeting – to help keep on track. Helps keep focus and propel forward. Celebrate good news and accomplishments. contemplate what others are saying, discuss obstacles and challenges. Create. Focus on one theme for the week to help you decide what to focus on.

Identity: Who do you want to be? What stories do you want to tell yourself to create the capability. What do you have to do to reach your goal?

The Hidden Techniques Hit Songs Reveal – Are You Using Them?

With Robin Frederick, author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV”

The most important tool of songwriting? Your ears. Your ears are the university of songwriting. Listen to songs at least two hours/week.

Examined some hit songs.
“Ghost” by Justin Bieber. Her analysis is here.

Universal lyrics that show emotion. Use imagery to to help listener understand the emotion (but don’t get too specific, like a city name for sync).

She also analyzed “Trouble with a Heartbreak” by Jason Aldean and “Bones” by Galantis and OneRepublic.

Misc. notes
Raise melody in chorus
People listen to lyrics – no instrumental break, use a bridge instead. People want to hear the singer.

Robin Frederick also met people in the lobby for listening sessions and here is the advice I received for one of my songs.
It sounds like it could be children’s music but there’s a reference that children won’t get and one line has a negative message. Older kids who know what the reference would mean are listening to other styles of music and wouldn’t listen to this type of song.

If wanted to pursue making children’s music, check what production music companies are working on and write to them to see what they are looking for as far as children’s music.

This was a valuable review – I didn’t intend for this song to be aimed at young children, but was more a message for future generations but it was really helpful to see how this was perceived and also to know what lines hampered the song.

Instrumental Cue Immersive

A listening session with Michael Laskow

I was really looking forward to this session as I have no experience with instrumental cues and wanted to learn more. During this session, held in the grand ballroom, he played examples of successful instrumental cues and explained the elements that made them work.

90 seconds to 2 minutes long. Most productions use 10-20 seconds. Documentaries may use more than 2 minutes.

Evergreen material is important. Should build tension to keep it interesting. Little subtleties help keep the song move along and prevent it from becoming boring. For example whole notes in the background, music in the foreground moves with strings and plucks.

Ending notes:
Button as a down note – a period
Stinger: an exclamation point

Keep it simple.
Dramedy – upbeat

Goals for percussive cues: how can it be used?

Don’t Make These Career-Killing Mistakes

With Greg Carrozza (successful TAXI member), Michael Eames (CEO of Pen Music Publishing), Jeff Freundlich (COO of Phoenix’s Whirled Music/Fervor Records) and Craig Pilo (TAXI screener)

When you pitch a song, make sure it fits what the listing says.

Most songs (80%) are turned away due to pitch accuracy.

Read the brief. Hone into what the listing is asking for. That’s what libraries and supervisors are asking for.

CD Baby TuneCore – Don’t select the monetize option. If you do, you’ve signed a publishing deal with them. TAXI can’t use them because you’ve signed your administrative rights away for the publishing. (This is per song. If you did it with one song already, just don’t select that for the next song you release.)

Do due diligence: Are you a member of a PRO? (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC)
Do you have publisher membership in your PRO? Set up your own publishing company.

Songtrust is an administrator. When you select an “administrator” you are giving them an exclusive.

Register for MLC (Mechanical Licensing Collective). Songs that aren’t claimed after a minimum of five years will go to a market share and divided upon those who registered. So sign up to get what you’ve earned.

Library business – Libraries take 100 percent of publishing. Music libraries get half the sync license money.

IP# is how you get paid. Not membership number. Make sure your work is registered correctly with the PRO. Doublecheck the work of the publisher if your publisher submits the information.

Spotify – you can submit one song for each album submitted. So submit a single instead of an album.

Build brand by multiple touchpoints: Connection and consistency

Soundexchange is to get paid royalties for masters.

Broadcast quality ire required.

Learn basic engineering – EQ levels, composition, mixing, mastering.

Compare your track to the references that were provided in the listing.

Give ‘Frightless’ Performances Every Time You Sing

With Steven Memel, voice and performance coach

Having confidence makes you less anxious.

Fear and hope tangles together inside.

You can’t control the audience.

You’re there to bring your expression to the audience.

Interpret the lyrics. Mean what you say because when you’re in the song, that’s what it is. Make sure you know what you mean when you’re reading.

The stage is just another part of the floor. Walk up to the stage as if you belong there. Do it 100 percent. Bring your A game, you don’t have a B game.

Never announce you’re playing an original.

Map out the story – it’s a performance. Sing about the emotional place, not from that place. Becoming a character of the song helps you focus on the character rather than being nervous.

Be accurate so you have clarity about what you need to work on.
Stop telling yourself that you need to believe in yourself.
You got to not judge yourself for judging yourself.
Practice the problems. Shift context to try it in a different way. Break the pattern that owns the mistake.
Ask yourself this question: What am I here to communicate?
Do the job.
Make the commitment that you’re leaving feeling good about yourself no matter what happens.

Old Folks Boogie: Why Age is an Asset in Today’s Music Industry

With Fett, an independent music producer and engineer, author music career coach and co-founder of the Azalea Music Group in Nashville.

In the former music industry, a record label or publisher used to be the only ones who could submit songs for placement in TV and film. Now musicians and songwriters no longer need permission to write and share the songs they want. Now it’s all up to you to do the work.

For sync – the value of the unit has decreased but it’s possible to make more units now with streaming because there are many more opportunities.

Why do we mix? We want to provide the best connection with the listener.

Older songwriters have life experience to put into songs. Physical changes in brain and chemical can lead to a change of perspective and drive.

TAXI feeds collaboration over competition. Instead of seeing rejections, see returns. Don’t get emotional from feedback, be more understanding. It’s less competitive, more collaborative. It’s who you know and how you know them.

EMP: Experienced Music Professionals.

Time experience and life experience gives us perspective. Business experience provides mechanics of how a business runs, management skills, organizational skills, communication skills. Clarity about what matters in life and what life is about.

More discerning about what we like or don’t like and decisiveness about what works or not. More disposable income.

Comfort with the world around them and themselves. Lack of awkwardness and impatience.

Usually don’t get their first forward in TAXI for three years.

GHERM – Nashville term for someone who is trying too hard. Don’t be a GHERM.

There are many paths available now and universal access to the same exact same career- building resources.

Don’t need to find a record label. Music career is up to you how you do it.

YouTube, Facebook Instagram, TikTok, streaming services, email, texts, snail mail.

You can create a dual musical career path – music for you and music for the market

Watch out for…

Attitude is everything because it leads to thoughts and behaviors.

Don’t lose your sense of humor.

Don’t get stuck in rut or old habits.

Don’t resist learning more. The music industry will continue to evolve.

There’s not one way of doing things.

Downside to disconcerting and decisive – that can lead to being too picky or particular.

Our role is to lift others up. Don’t complain about health. Don’t be arrogant about the younger generation. Don’t be inconsiderate against others, due to gender, race, background, etc. Embrace where we are now with societal norms.

Don’t be too nervous to share who you are.

Embrace your age and all that comes with it but still aim to think young.

Don’t be afraid to charge money for what you do.

Wrapping it up and moving forward

I know this is a lot of information – and this is just from the sessions I attended. There were at least 3-4 other sessions happening at the same time of each of these sessions so that can give you an idea of the wealth of information about the sync licensing world that was shared Nov. 3-6 at the Los Angeles Westin. Plus, they had some virtual sessions in the days that followed, which I still need to watch.

Hope you found something here helpful.

On a side note, during a Lyft ride to visit my relatives while I was in L.A., my Lyft driver was a violinist from Iran. Our conversation fit so well with the purpose of the trip, as his dream was to compose music for movies. I told him about TAXI and hopefully he will be able to realize his dream. (I wrote down his name, but unfortunately I can’t find that piece of paper.)

Next step – absorbing all of this information and getting to work to finish some songs to submit!


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