We had the good fortune of connecting with Danielle Taylor and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Danielle, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Taking risk is 100% built into the music business. There are so many different ways to find success as an artist… and each one presents a zig zag obstacle course of risks. My personal journey has been fraught with mistakes — poorly mitigated risks that were presented in shiny packages intended to dazzle. Unfortunately for as much talent as there is in the business, there’s an equal number of wolves in sheep’s clothing hoping to take advantage of a hopeful heart and a deep pocket. I started my musical journey in 2008 – I didn’t know anything about anything but I knew I wanted to sing. Over time, I learned to play an instrument (piano), to write songs… to be a business woman. The first opportunity to do something exciting came in 2010, in the form of an “Artist Showcase.” There was a buy-in of $75 and a caveat that you had to sell 20 tickets at $20 a pop in order to perform 2 songs for “label executives.” I was over the moon and immediately met all the requirements. When I arrived at the venue, there were almost 30 other artists that had signed up to perform, each paying their fee and selling their tickets. Two hours went by and they finally called my name. I performed my two songs and after was invited to sit down with these executives. When I did, I was disappointed to find that none of them were decision makers at their respective labels and not one of them enjoyed or worked in my genre. They told me that they “saw potential” … and they “loved my voice” … but they couldn’t do anything for me. I left feeling dirty – taken advantage of. I did the math and for that event, the hosting company made a minimum of $14,000 for that 3-hour night… and they had 2 other nights lined up. Each artist there, including me, was desperate to be discovered and signed… but none of us were. Two years later I attended the TAXI music conference in downtown LA. When buying my ticket to the conference, I was presented with a few add on options. I could attend a “Meet and Greet” lunch and/or sit down one on one with an industry veteran for a “Listening Session.” Each add on came with an additional cost and of course no guarantee that it would be beneficial, but I did my research on both the event and its offerings and decided to pay for both opportunities. The lunch was a round table with a series of music industry folks that would rotate every 10 minutes or so trying to answer as many questions as possible while they were with you. It was over in a flash but was really informative. The second, add on — the “Listening Session” — was incredible. As I said earlier, I did my research and selected the industry veteran I wanted to talk to. I walked into the room and met Mr. Don Grierson (former SVP of Epic Records). Time was limited so we got right to it. He listened to my music and after a few minutes, turned it off, took out his business card and told me to call him after the convention. He loved what he heard and wanted to mentor me! It was beyond exciting! That was 100% a worthwhile investment. Don went on to teach me about songwriting and performance and helped me see a clear way to make money as an artist. Because of his insight, I was able to eventually leave the 9-5 world and become a full-time musician. The idea of leaving a secure paycheck for an unknown one is absolutely terrifying, but as far as risk taking goes, that was a much easier leap of faith because the opportunity for success was wholly in my hands. Working for myself absolutely presented challenges — it still does. But it also freed up my time to write more. Before long I had a collection of songs I wanted to record and I wanted to find a bangarang producer to bring my vision to life. Enter Erich Talaba. I had a small sum of money and a whole lot of passion when Erich and I first met. He’d previously worked on a Sara Bareilles album and I KNEW he was the guy for me — he understood what lane I was in and knew how to take me to the next level. When Erich and I got into the studio, the waters got a little shaky for me. Not because of any of Erich’s shortcomings, but because of mine. I was intimidated by his Grammy, completely lacked self-confidence, was being challenged as a vocalist — which had never happened before. He was asking me to rise to a level I never knew existed and it was terrifying. I struggled internally every day. I wanted to follow his lead and take every suggestion he had because I assumed he was better than me in every way… after all, he had a Grammy and I didn’t. At the same time, I wanted to fight for myself and my ideas… I had something to bring to the table too. It was a back and forth inside my head and frankly it sucked. Eventually I had to look at the pros and cons of the situation and just make the decision to trust him. He pushed me, he surprised me, … he made me better. That first EP we recorded together threw me into the big leagues. Now my songs, music and voice could compete with what was on the radio. Almost immediately after recording that EP, I signed a deal with SonyRED for distribution. It was the first big contract that floated my way and I gobbled it up like I’d never had a meal. I didn’t review it with an attorney — I couldn’t afford one. Instead I researched what common practice was, what a reasonable term was and decided to take a chance. The deal was split 80/20 with the record company collecting every cent and disbursing at the $100 mark. They got me a VEVO channel, put my single and its accompanying music video up on iTunes and I looked like a fancy fish in the great big sea. It felt great. … until it came time to get paid. I try to keep very organized records of everything I do, every penny I spend, every stream I get, every everything. But when I tried to get reports from the label for my EP … it was silent on the home front. Whenever I tried to get paid, month after month, I was told, “you haven’t hit your payout yet”. Even after a year — the label repeated that line like a broken record. I became completely discouraged and decided to end my contract. However, I hadn’t seen the ‘sunset clause’ built into the agreement. I wasn’t off the hook yet. Eventually SonyRED merged with the Orchard and the independent label I’d signed with faded into the background. Even to this day, that EP is shrouded in a spiderweb of confusion and I’m just now working with a team that’s helping untangle it all. I pressed on – as any good entrepreneur does – making two full length records with Erich. Those records have gone on to be great door openers for me. My music is now on SiriusXM Radio, I’ve been invited to their headquarters in NYC to talk about my songs, I’ve been interviewed by people I never thought I’d meet like former NFL player Mark Pattison… and I get to talk about my experiences here. There are of course a million other pages in my story, but in all I’ve learned that risk is built into the business. We can’t escape it. It’s inherent in self-employment and as artists — we are all self-employed. We just have to weigh the good and bad, take a deep breath and go for it. When we miscalculate and make mistakes, we can’t let them get us down or scare us into never taking a chance again. Instead, we need to analyze them, learn from them and get over them. Some of the risks I’ve taken were less than ideal — but many of them were amazing. It’s all about trial and error, trusting yourself and learning from the past.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Well.. the pandemic has thrown a major wrench into my music world… into everyone’s world. In a typical year I perform several times a week… unfortunately for now, that’s sort of over. But no matter what twists life takes, I strive to live under an umbrella of never-ending optimism. Even during the best of times, the music business will legit chew you up and spit you out every few months… it’s just the name of the game. I think the way your soul survives that is hope. I love what I do — I love singing, I love writing songs that connect with people. I love performing and meeting new people and going new places, so no matter what’s going on in the world, I try to stick with it. Hearing a stranger’s story inspires me– when I’m inspired, I write a song that in turn inspires someone else. Haha it’s the music circle of life! Getting to where I’m at – even though I have SO much more I want to do – has been tough for sure. I’ve been self-employed for 6 1/2 years now. Every day I work to be a better songwriter, singer, performer, pianist… but that’s not all I do. I have to dominate the paper-pushing side of things as well. I send out hundreds of emails every day to people all over the world trying to make new connections, friendships, and opportunities for myself. I get so many rejections, there are honestly too many to count… and even with my ‘can do’ spirit, it can weigh heavy on me from time to time. Sometimes, I don’t even get a response — those are the worst! But I know it’s all a numbers game. You get 200 no’s for every 15 yes’s … you’ve just got to make the most of those yes’s ya know? The biggest lessons I’ve learned are absolutely the most cliché. Work hard, be honest with yourself, track your progress, be kind and don’t give up. Luck is undeniably part of the equation, but if you have all of these other factors in place, you’ll be ready when you finally get your chance. Art is subjective and the internet has made sharing art insanely easy, so as long as you don’t give up, you can have some level of success… at least that’s my take on it. 2020 has been a funky year but it has let me focus on the ancillary parts of my business and I’m really grateful for that.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Omg I’m a food and drink hound for sure! I love LA for all of it’s variety and deliciousness — it’s almost too hard to choose favorites. If I had to cite my absolute ‘must visits’ I’d say, Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City — get any pasta, you’ll melt away for sure! Hama Sushi in the Japanese Village Plaza — honestly every bite of every thing is incredible! Mélisse is crave-tastic, elegant and the closest to France I’ve ever been! Mmm and a chill afternoon in DTLA takes you to both Wurstküche for some brats and beer and then across the street to the Pie Hole for a sweet treat! Ok and last for restaurants, I can’t leave off the Boiling Crab and Ham Ji Park in K-Town. Omg I’m so hungry now haha! Drink wise, I love a good hole in the wall speakeasy like The Know Where Bar or The Misfit Restaurant + Bar… and I love love LOVE a good wine bar like the V Wine Room in Hollywood or Garçons de Café down near Pershing Square. This city is FULL of culture and magic and I’m always trying to gobble it up!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First and foremost, shoutout to the late Don Grierson for putting me on such an amazing path!! I don’t know that I would’ve found myself here if it weren’t for his guidance!! Second, shoutout to the incredibly talented and patient, Erich Talaba! He saw more in me than I saw in myself and created a safe space for me to learn and succeed. Third, shoutout to my voice teacher Lis Lewis for being my music soundboard today. Not only does she teach me how to enhance and protect my voice, she’s a wonderful friend that listens to my worries and offers great advice. Fourth, shoutout to Brian Kimble! My wonderful bass player and business manager. He is the backbone of my music and my business and I definitely owe him soooo much! Last, shoutout to my amazing fans! The smiling, supportive, loving fans that come to all my shows, buy my music, tell their friends about me and share their lives with me. It’s the greatest to be able to connect with so many people through music and I legit love you all!
Other: Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7sXPxWcXq4L8IQ3uIHiVkr?si=s5E2UU3TRsegsmOsrpbhJw Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/danielle-taylor/376312162