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Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

Small Biz Taxi

By Lisa Steen Proctor Contributing Reporter A chance late-night meeting with a rock band that never hit the big time became the seed for Michael Laskow’s career. One night in 1978 while making a run to a 7-Eleven, Laskow bumped into the members of a band with which he had once worked as a studio engineer. The band, Laskow remembered, had been very good. But the band members told him they “couldn’t get through any doors.” Laskow always kept that meeting in the back of his mind. And 13 years later, while working one day as general manager of a post-production company in Hollywood, Laskow recalls, “My boss ticked me off. I went back to my office, kicked back and thought about what I could do. I remembered that I had identified a need 10 or 15 years ago.” The result was Taxi Inc., a Woodland Hills-based company that helps unknown bands get record deals. Laskow started it with $75,000, most of which came from an old friend. Since Taxi’s founding in 1992, the company has almost doubled its revenues every year, and Laskow says it’s on track to hit $1.5 million in revenues this year. Bands, songwriters and other musicians buy a membership to Taxi for $300 a year. The annual payment allows members to submit material (at an additional fee of $5 per submission) for Taxi’s “Who’s Looking for What” list a compilation of the material being sought by Taxi’s contacts, including record companies, music publishers and film and TV music supervisors. The submitted material is then reviewed by Taxi screeners, who decide which submissions should be sent on to the company contacts. A member whose material is not forwarded is provided with a written critique (and thus, says Laskow, tips on how to further hone his or her craft). Adam Dudley of the Austin, Texas rock band Spacelady had a rocky start with Taxi, but now he believes its services are worthwhile. As a new subscriber, Dudley initially complained that the screeners were too concerned with a tape’s production values, rather than the songs themselves. But after complaining and getting a personal call from Laskow (who he now calls a “cool cat”), Dudley was sold. “They can relate with people who are frustrated with dealing with L.A. (jerks),” said Dudley. “And they give really insightful, articulate, relevant critiques.” Laskow admits that it’s often tough to convince skeptics that he’s not just out to take their money. So he encourages prospective subscribers to call the Better Business Bureau, and he points out the quality of his pool of screeners many of whom are former artists-and-repertoire (“A & R;”) executives for companies like Virgin Records, A & M; Records and Mercury Records. “There’s a lot of turnover in these jobs and we get these people as screeners while they’re between jobs,” said Laskow. Laskow himself has an established reputation and numerous contacts in the music industry. Starting as a floor-sweeper at a recording studio in Miami after graduating from college, Laskow worked in the music business for 20 years. He eventually became a studio engineer and producer, working with the likes of Eric Clapton, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and Neil Young. Contacts, a strong reputation and 20-hour work days are the ingredients necessary to make it, says Laskow, who is not aware of any other companies that compete with Taxi. “We always expect competitors and several have tried, but they’re out of business in less than six months,” he said. “We have established a beachhead.” Its reputation, Laskow says, allows Taxi into the doors that its members can’t even knock on. A & R; departments at most record companies won’t listen to the flood of unsolicited material they receive, relying on recommendations from well-known managers or music attorneys. But Taxi has convinced some major labels, including Virgin, A & M;, Arista Records and MCA Records Inc., to depend upon the company to weed out the potential hitmakers from the tens of thousands of submissions its screeners review every year. (Last year, Taxi reviewed 40,000 submissions; this year, it is on track to review 60,000.) “It’s great that they can act as a filter and hear hundreds of thousands of tapes and pick those that are ready to be heard,” said Bruce Wheeler, marketing director for MCA Records. “Some A & R; people look at (Taxi) as a necessity because of the amount of material floating out there.” MCA was recently sold on one of Taxi’s finds, signing a deal with a Dallas band called Bobgoblin. But, Laskow says, not every member is so lucky. “About 40 percent of our members have at least something sent (on to a contact),” he said. “But only about 6 percent will score some kind of deal. The deal may be a single-song deal by a small publisher, or it may be a six-figure deal like Bobgoblin’s.” Despite the odds, Laskow is genuinely concerned about ensuring that good talent doesn’t go unsigned. “I get to earn a living helping people who have wanted something all their life,” said Laskow. “It’s really a rush.” Taxi Inc. Year Founded: 1992 Core Business: Hooking up bands, songwriters, composers and other musicians with record companies, music publishers and movie and TV music supervisors Employees in 1994: 2 Employees in 1997: 7 Revenues in 1994: $250,000 Revenues in 1997 (projected): $1.5 million Top Executive: Michael Laskow Goal: To expand the ways in which the talents of unsigned artists are exposed to more people. Driving Force: The ability and expertise to sift through a flood of music for A & R; departments and publishers in an increasingly competitive music business.

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