Founder & CEO
Years with Company: 30
Address: 5010 N. Parkway Calabasas, Suite 200, Calabasas, CA 91302
Email: [email protected]
Clients: Independent Songwriters, Artists, and Composers
As an engineer and producer, Michael Laskow recognized that artists often don’t know how to make important industry connections. He set out to right that wrong in 1992 when he founded TAXI, a first-of-its-kind A&R service that hooks up creative types with label deals, sync placements and more. Besides professionally critiquing their music, subscribers may attend the annual Road Rally convention, an event brimming with learning and networking opportunities for all.
An Early Lesson
I grew up in a small, family-owned store in a farm town in Illinois. I was taught that you always serve the customer. When I was little, my grandfather said, “If somebody wants a red shirt and all we have are blue shirts, walk across the street to our competitor and help find what they want. You’ll have a customer for life.” That’s always stuck with me.
Major Label Relevance
People often say, “I would never sign a major label deal. They’re just out to rip you off.” Yet when we run listings for major labels, we get a lot of submissions. So, what people say and what they submit to are two different things. People still want that major label deal. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just old-school thinking. But for some people, major labels are the way to go.
Sync License Time
[Sync license buyers] are looking for whatever would be hot on Spotify or radio, because that’s the soundtrack of our lives. And the majority of TV shows and movies are set today.
We’ve done really well, by the way, with music that’s been recorded back in 1974. [Old stuff] gets a lot of placements, no matter the genre. Anything from a certain decade that was authentically written and recorded back then, even if it sounds like a demo, that’s good enough for placement in a show. The music supe might not have it in their budget to license several hits from 1974 for an episode that takes place then, but they want music that sounds authentic to that genre.
Sync Licensers Want Nonspecific Lyrics
Sometimes, artists write songs that have a storyline. “I fell in love with this girl I met on New Year’s Eve under the arch in St. Louis. She had green eyes, ruby red lips.” A lot of visual, time-based and location-based details like that won’t work in a TV show or movie that’s got its own script and characters. It has to have lyrics that are universal and kind of generic.
Making Themselves Irrelevant
Some of our members don’t renew, because they don’t need us anymore. They have 10 or 15 relationships, all of which have been made through a TAXI connection. It’s kind of like Tinder for musicians. Our job is to help you meet people and build relationships. As much as we don’t like to lose members, we kind of enjoy the fact that we’ve done our job so well they don’t need us anymore.
Music supervisors waiting for their next gig will screen music at TAXI. Composers who do instrumental music for libraries that have been wildly successful sometimes do it. We’ve had people [who were] senior vice presidents of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. We’ve had people who were A&R people at Columbia Records and other major labels. We’ve had people who have been hit songwriters.
We hold them to a very high standard; we constantly monitor their work. We have a head screener whose job is to look at every critique. We have group meetings with screeners to fine-tune how they communicate with our members. Every screener who’s ever worked at TAXI has an incredible resume. Frankly, we turn away a lot more than we hire.
The Sound of Democracy
We put together compilations of genres we know certain parts of the industry are looking for. We did one for election season instrumentals. We got a few requests from clients. And we went, “The mid-terms are coming up. What could we send to our clients?”
We ran a listing looking for breaking news election results instrumentals. We probably got several hundred. We whittled that down, and then I got involved. If it’s going out with TAXI’s name on it, I want to make sure I’m proud of the quality. So, I helped.
We did the same for music that would be applicable for candidates’ TV commercials. “The candidate grew up in a small town in Iowa and served in Iraq, then came back and became a congressman. Now, he’s running for reelection.” You want that inspirational, patriotic music. When we do those things, I’ll get involved at the last stage.
The Feeling Factor
I started my career at Criteria [Studios] in Miami and the Bee Gees were there. I would see Barry Gibb every day. I walked by him in the hallway one day. I said, “Barry, what makes a great song?” He raised one eyebrow and said, “Emotion, mate. Emotion.” He was right. He really boiled it down to the essence.
Absorb yourself in whatever’s sitting atop the charts. Even if you don’t like it, you need to listen because there are elements you can use in your productions. Bass sounds today are different than they were in the ‘80s. Synthesizers are different today than they were back then. You have to understand how retro analog synth sounds from 1979 [could] work in this pop song that sounds like an Ariana Grande hit. You need to have a vast encyclopedia of sounds and production styles.
Melodies are crafted differently today. Beats don’t always fall on the downbeat. Lyric lines don’t start right on the one anymore. You need to be aware of what’s happening now. And then, you have to imagine what that will be in a year-and-a-half, because anything on the radio today got made a year or two ago. So, think about what the near future is going to sound like. How can you take something that sounds like an Ariana Grande hit and add an extra 15%?
Making Dreams Come True, Not Selling Them
People have accused TAXI of selling dreams. People come to us already with dreams. Our job is to help make those dreams come true. We’ve done that for thousands of people. TAXI is not just selling access—“Give us money and we’ll hook you up.” What we’re selling is the ecosystem and process. We’re going to help you learn how the industry works and what kind of music the industry needs, so you have a better chance of being successful.
How Much Is Your Time Worth?
Some people have said, “Why should I pay TAXI to help me get my music to people? I’m capable of doing it on my own.” If you’ve got the time to research the people you need to get your music to, get their contact information, and fire off dozens if not hundreds of emails, make phone calls and do the follow-up, you will do a better job than we will for you.
However, the vast majority of musicians have a job. They have a mortgage or rent and a family. They want to concentrate on making music. For those people, TAXI is a valuable tool, because we do all that legwork and educate them on how to present themselves in the best possible way.