Taxi vs. A&R Select: A Review Of Music-Placement Services
Since I have had the experience of using both services in the past seven years, I wanted to extend some insight for those artists like myself who don't tour frequently, have home-based recording studios, and are trying to stay lucrative between CD releases and promotions by offering their music for licensing in Adverts/Film/T.V., and motion picture placement. I do this quite a bit myself, as it is very helpful during periods when money is quite slim, and its great work, once you secure it.
TAXI A&R Services.
Michael Laskow, a successful music promoter during the 70's and 80's from Los Angeles, decided it was time to establish a "vehicle" for unknown artists to be heard for potential recording contracts and licensing, and is the originator of this type of service. In 1992, he established "Taxi", and converted his business in to a internet-only operation right around 1998. This model proved very attractive, as it is completely "full service": offering professional critiques of your music , as well as listings and opportunities either mailed or e-mailed to you every two weeks, where by you can submit to the opportunities your genre of music is best suited. Recently, they have offered this same service whereby you can submit online using mp3s, instead of the 'burrito' method that was instituted before, where you would 'wrap' your CD/Cassette, along with a song list sheet, and your pre-assigned customer barcode identification and send through the mail.
Taxi has a vast network of industry professionals associated with the company. Because of its unique status as being the first music placement organization of its type, it does enjoy quite a bit of recognition from the industry establishment as being the place to develop, market, and sign new, undiscovered talent. It has an absolutely clean record with the Better Business Bureau of America, having never been the recipient of legal litigation for business malpractice, or service misrepresentation. It is what it states it is: a means for you to gain potential traction for your art.
Their "Road Rally": an annual industry convention held every November in Los Angeles, is offered free of charge to subscription members, does allow heavy contact and interaction with A&R representatives, world famous musicians and noted songwriters who lend their advice, and their ear to unknown artists. It is a two-day event, where you can submit your music for open critique by a selected panel of recording label representatives in front of an audience of potentially thousands of your contemporaries. It is also a great place to connect with other fledgling labels, producers, and other like-minded groups.
'Taxi' is a business. And a business of generating revenue for itself. While this is not exactly startling, or even unethical, it does become its own hindrance. The company has only able to really aid those who make mainstream music as their primary style, and lacks the imagination to work with those who are experimental or cross-genre. Taxi lends more preferential favor to those whose music is formulaic (i.e, a repetitive "hook", simplified lyrical structure, and common major scale chord arrangement and instrumentation), and is less inclined to deal with anything outside that level of commercial marketability.
Another example of this is their fees. On top of the annual membership fee (currently at $299.00 US), Taxi charges a $5.00 per song submission fee, which makes no economical sense. Taxi's entire service is predicated in the submissions format, and being the most popular, why the fuck charge $5.00 on top of the annual fee, when that's really all you do? Artists are cash starved as it is, why make it even less appealing? This is a subtle form of making the process seem more "official" and important, as they explain these fees cover screening and mailing costs, which also makes no sense, as you still have to provide the media (CD/Cassette/mp3), and pay for postage (if you mail). They contend that because they take no percentage of what ever you garner from your submissions, that this is somehow justifiable. However, it's not when only 1% of your artist based clientele ever make any substantial money from the submissions in the first place.
The critiques one receives every time music is submitted for consideration can be irritating, even baseless. Many times when a band or artist submit for potential opportunity, they not really interested in the opinion offered by Taxi, and you haven't a real choice but to take it. And even though you can opt just to receive the feedback, it often has the look of being forced, insincere, even inaccurate. For example: "Your guitar play and chord transition are very good, but I would suggest more lyrical simplicity, as to allow for better rhythmic syncopation of the piece" is a good critique. "Sounds good, but no hook, nothing to sing to. Sorry" is not. Both of these examples are what I received as a member from 2000-2001
The "Road Rally" has the tendency to be an artist bashing purely for the enjoyment of the A&R Panel that is paid to participate by Taxi. In November 2000 when I attended, I received in the mail a standard form letter generated by Michael Laskow, stating in part "prepare for some brutal honesty. Most A&R reps are very jaded. It's nothing personal, that's part of how this business works. Don't be offended by their input if it's less than favorable". I felt that was fair enough, as all I wanted was a FAIR assessment anyway. During the last event of the first day, it was time for the live panel review. During the course of this rather long segment, the panel repeatedly insulted every third song they heard, and at one point crassly blasted a country song with such ire, using language such as "fucking trailer park shit", and responding with such insults as "dumbass, embarrassing music". Many on the panel were so busy laughing as they uttered these barbs, that the actual songwriter who composed the piece quietly got up, lifted his hat, wiped his middle-aged balding head, and walked out, tears in his eyes.
The song was bad, indeed, and one does have to have some real inner-strength to be in this business, but when the lines of constructive criticism suddenly blur into senseless, personal attacks for the sake of self-amusement, then the process of critiquing loses serious legitimacy. It turns into a carnival; a form of raunchy entertainment at the expense of the artists themselves. The "Road Rally" is nothing more than a circus. And your potentially going to get roasted to the delight of the panel.
Michael Laskow's cheap attempt at comedy relief during the Q & A session of the panel, where the artists ask specific industry questions to the A&R Reps., is also intrusive and repugnant Constantly, he cut off people in mid-questioning with acidic barbs and comments about them, trying to entertain and keep it loose. When it came my turn to ask John Lind (A&R Hollywood Records) about why the labels were veering away from "organic" (live instrument) music, Michael interrupted me , saying "Oh, he means why are you not picking HIS music!". At that point, I snatched the mic from Mr. Laskow, and finished my question, determined to get it answered, unobstructed. I had to force the issue and complete the comment. Michael, to this day, has no idea how he came to getting his ass kicked in front of 2, 000 plus people that day. It should not have been like that. Period.
These two incidences lead me to believe that the professional intent of the "Road Rally" is more akin to 'hazing', than to development and licensing. It closely resembles more a fraternity initiation than a true gathering of music's best and brightest.
And lastly, Taxi's other bad trait is it overly-comfortable relationship with the Major Labels. They are not progressive enough to start a meaningful diversification of services to the artist, and driving out needless sub-charges because their business model does not possess fluidity for change. When a service company intends to keep its relationship with corporate monoliths, it can not institute any alteration of its practices to proactively engage in new opportunity for its clientele. In plain English, Taxi can't trail away from what it has been doing, because it doesn't wish to drive away potential earnings it gathers from the Majors via commercial artists and bands they shop. There is no room for truely "risky" music to have any play within their system.
I would only recommend Taxi for those who make really non-threatening, genre-specific, and formulaic commercial music. Avant Guard, experimental, or multi-/cross-genre need not apply.
Overall Grade (out of 10 possible): 5
Founded by entrepreneur and music enthusiast Mike Burns, A&R SELECT opened its doors in January 2006. Although it is the newest music placement company on the block, A&R Select has garnered notoriety from the Hollywood-hip set due to its youthful vibe, and new business applications. Apart from just being just another music placement entity, they run the gambit of services from CD Design, professional recording assistance (studio and engineer provided), press release services, website design, marketing, and music development. Clientele can set up their own profile page, upload their original music and bio, and submit music for placement via the "deal sheet" that is updated weekly in the "my songs" portion of the site. Upon joining, you are required to mail in a finished CD (full length or Maxi Single), and you are provided a HTML virtual player that allows you to transfer to other sites such as Myspace, Tagworld, and any number of blog/music sites you possess. The site even allows you to sell your music as mp3 downloads to your fan base. All services are optional, and you are allowed to pick a price "package" best suited to your needs.
A&R Select requires you to register your music website URL for prescreening, alongside your personal information. And, unlike Taxi, who will take anyone with a demo and an ample wallet, they actually predetermine whether you are suitable for access to their services. If they see you as fit to join, they notify you by phone or e-mail (sometimes both), and you can then select the program you feel comfortable with. A&R Select will work with you in arranging payment installments ( 2 payment installments at the most), if you not able to pay in one full amount. They are selective, but very open to avant gard, multi-/-cross genre, and experimental as well as mainstream music.
Their price ranges from $200 US for "submissions only" to the "full package" at $499 US which includes: One on One A&R Music Consultations (via Phone), Artist Image/Branding Consultations (via Phone and email), Publicity Campaigns, and Mobile Marketing Tools. By not offering a "one size fits all" approach, you have the election as to what services you wish to utilize. For the submissions package, there is no "submission fee." You can submit endlessly for one full year. And the process is completely on-line and user-friendly. In the recent months since I've joined, I have seen drastic improvements made to their website and services. The usability, which was a bit shaky at first, has a more consistent performance now, and is easier to navigate. Ratio of submissions verses forwards is about 10%, much higher than Taxi's 1%. Your odds are a bit greater at getting a paying licensing project for your music.
A&R is highly experimental and forward thinking. Recently, they launched their own internet radio program "A&R Radio", viewable from the Operator 11 video site as a live webcast which began in August 2007. The topics are always focused on the industry itself, and feature unknown artists who are making waves as independents, as well as advice from industry insiders, former A&R reps, and CEOs. Their hospitable nature and inviting persona is the product of Mike Burns himself, a firm believer in being independent and successful at the same time. Mike is also not solely allied with the Major Labels, which means he and his organization have freedom of movement, and can adjust quickly to the changing landscape of the industry to the advantage of both his company, and clientele alike. It also allows A&R to get creative in terms of seeking new sources for future licensing opportunities, as their circle is allowed to expand. They have unlimited potential to be the "flagship" in the New Digital era for the independent artist and label.
As with any young business, there are always 'growing pains', especially when your expanding at the rate that A&R Select is. From becoming a virtual unknown, to being a very recognizable (and media-covered) entity inside of their short two-year existence, one has to keep this bit of criticism in context.
The company does a take a percentage cut of paid licensing deals from artists. At last glance, I believe it's around 10% on average. Although they have a higher success ratio in this department that smashes Taxi, the mere fact this percentage is drawn out leaves me a little cold. To try to off-set this, A&R does offer licensing agreements with artists who have had previous success obtaining deals, in which they waive the fee altogether, but they need to decide whether to go "all upfront" OR percentage, and not do both. This can create slight animosity with young acts who don't fully understand their dynamic at this time (Nov. 2007), or don't have working knowledge about the industry.
The clientele services show great inconsistency from handling regular queries to updating the status of a submission. I've had it where I have received great service delivered with great patience and good rapport to sheer contempt and non-responsiveness, and it varies from to person to person (via phone). The inconsistency also carries through when a submission from the "deal sheet" is given, and an automatic e-mailed response is generated verifying the submission. This is good, however, it doesn't always occur, and can make it uneasy when your not sure they got the submission in the first place. And as mentioned before, you never know what your going to get as a response by phoning in. I attribute this, in large part, with A&R being currently understaffed. Taxi has 200 screeners, so their response is much more consistent. The staff that A&R currently employs is not even half that. They need more people, and a dedicated IT department to work out kinks that arise in their webserver.
The submission opportunities are about a third of what Taxi offers, but their success ratio is still higher. They are already getting higher paying licensing opportunities, and are currently making updates closer than the one week interval. Some recent changes (Nov. 2007) should yield a greater variety of opportunity in the coming months.
Overall Grade (out of 10 possible): 8