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Name: Joe Aukofer
Residence: Atlanta GA
Year joined TAXI: 2004

Q: You currently live in Atlanta, Georgia. Tell us about the music scene there.

I have performed in Atlanta music venues for many years. I find the camaraderie among the musicians, the people who support the local scene, and the people who make it all happen behind the scenes, to be very encouraging.

Playing original music can be a hard road to travel. At the local level it doesn’t pay as much as playing covers. But I think that’s likely the situation anywhere. This is where film and television play a great role for original, independent artists and music to thrive.

In a way, music libraries are sort of like the new, independent labels. They have the ability to break new bands and give them exposure that wouldn’t normally be available to them. If a band or artist is featured in a film or television show, it in turn can be talked up on web sites, Facebook, Myspace and even tweeted to casts of thousands.

I think, too, in the minds of the fans, it gives the band/artist credibility. If a killer song is submitted to a music library and it’s right for what they need, they use it and it’s a win/win. They get a killer song to use, adding to their credibility, and the artist/band adds to their credibility as well and gets all the exposure and bragging rights.

Q: You are a songwriter, artist, engineer, producer and performer. What first got you interested in music?

I have an older brother who plays, one of those kinds of guys who can pick up any instrument and make sense out of it pretty quick. And good sense at that. I remember specifically when I was young being really moved by music. I was lying under a desk in my room, wearing headphones and listening to April Wine, “Just Between You and Me,” over and over again, engrossed in every aspect; the melody, the guitar tone, that intro solo, just everything about it.

I remember, too, at Christmas time sitting in our family living room trying to figure out the intro to “Freebird.” I really didn’t know what slide guitar was. Instead I just fretted it, trying to figure out all the nuances.

Also around that same time I remember watching my brother play “Flirtin’ with Disaster” and thinking, “Man, if I could just play that”….I was so captivated by it.

Music is just as vibrant to me today. I can still be stopped in the busyness of the day, maybe driving in the car or something and be moved to tears by a song. It doesn’t even have to be a sad song.

Several years back at one of Taxi’s Road Rallies my brother and I sat in to watch one of the writers’ showcases. They had guys there who wrote for Bonnie Raitt, The Eagles, etc. I don’t remember now if it was Chuck Jones or Steve Seskin who played “Pictures.” About half way through the song I looked over at my brother and we both had tears in our eyes. What a fantastic song that is! It’s not sad at all. It is just so wonderfully written and evokes such emotion. It struck a chord with both of us. I later downloaded the lyrics and read them over and over.

One of the first mentoring sessions I had as a result of attending one of the Road Rallies was with James Dean Hicks (look him up; he’s got a few things going on). After he sat and listened to one of my songs he immediately grabbed the lyric sheet and started scribbling out words and offering up suggestions. By the end of our time together the song had new life. I kidded with him asking if he wanted co-writing credit to which he said, “No, these are for free!”

I left that session and went straight back to my hotel room and spent the next several hours rewriting that song. It later went on to take an honorable mention at the 7th annual NSAI/CMT songwriter contest.

Q: Did you play an instrument as a child? If so, which ones and were you self taught or did you study?

I play electric and acoustic guitar. I play other instruments as well but I would call those my main ones. I’m mainly self-taught. I would, from time to time, and still do, seek others out for varying reasons. I started playing long before YouTube was on the scene, where you can get just about every matter of instruction—some good, some bad. Back when I first started I wore the grooves out of old ZZ Top records, as well as others. I would also go to shows and watch the other players very intently, then go home afterwards and try to emulate what I saw and heard as much as I could.

In my studio I have a framed piece of music notation paper my brother sent to me when he was in college. It’s one of those pages that have blank guitar notation boxes for writing dots on to show chord formations. It has all the basic chords filled in. Written at the top of the page it says, “Joe, you can play almost any song with these 17 chords. Try and learn them.”

Q: Who were some of your early musical influences?

I bought a Tobacco Burst Les Paul that I still have today because of Gary Rossington. I also bought my first early Marshall non-master volume because of a picture I saw of Billy Gibbons playing one. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Beatles, Bad Company, Stones. Stuff I’d hear blaring out of my older brother’s stereo in his room. He had the coolest record collection. XTC, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Pink Floyd, U2, Zeppelin, The Who, Aerosmith…Just great bands and artists of that era.

Q: At what point did you focus on music as a real career?

Wow, did I just get promoted? I wish I could say that I fully support myself and family strictly from music. But I can’t….at least right now. I will say, though, that it was about seven years ago that I really began to take a serious focus on songwriting, but I had always written before that. For me anyway, writing and playing go hand in hand and you can’t really separate the two. I remember one of the very first songs I wrote with a buddy who played drums. It was called “Shine On.” We didn’t know enough at the time to be very good at mimicking others’ music, so we came up with our own. It is that freedom and approach that I still love to this day; from the creation aspect to capturing the spontaneity. Someone can’t tell you you’re playing it wrong if it’s your own stuff. All the mistakes come out as, “I meant to do that!”

I think the tools you learn through the education side of Taxi can help you learn how to take that spontaneity and turn it into a song. That is where the craft of songwriting comes in. And Taxi is a great resource.

Q: How do you manage to balance artist-songwriter-performer-engineer-producer? Those are really 5 separate careers?

They sure are! And I am learning the hard way that it is difficult to juggle all of them. It is quite diverse. Really this came about out of necessity. When you’re an independent writer on a budget trying to be as competitive and relevant as possible with your role models, you need to be able to juggle a few things. We do not necessarily have access to all the top, great producers looking over our projects or top-notch players working over the parts. For us independents, at times, we need to be all those people. For me, that translates to getting as close as I can to what is needed in production, engineering, playing, writing…by myself. I find that I talk to myself quite a lot. When I actually start to physically change sides of the room to answer questions that I ask out loud to the walls of the studio….it may then be time to seek outside help…..and I don’t mean studio help!

I realize, too, that the primary reason we try to do too much is that we have never taken the time to discover that portion of what we do that makes the biggest difference. We tend, I think, to feel some sort of obligation to work on our weaknesses, more than play to our strengths. Getting together with others who have strengths in the areas where we have weaknesses is vital to progress. This is where the power of collaboration comes in; the value of coming together with others to utilize the strengths of the whole, rather than the weaknesses of the one. This is where I am at right now….getting a handle on this!

Q: With all of the successes you’ve achieved, what was it that made you become a member of TAXI?

I think it would be more accurate to say that quite a few of the successes I have achieved have come about by being a Taxi member. Following on the point of what I mentioned earlier, progress requires change. The popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. If you are going to make progress in anything you enter into you should be prepared to change. You must be willing to evolve. In order to become better, more relevant, more disciplined and better aligned with what you’re doing, you must be willing to change. That’s what Taxi did for me.

I have played in local bands and I have played in traveling bands. I have two full length CDs available from the time I spent playing and traveling in a Southern Rock/Alt Country band selling merchandise out of our cars. We even had major label interest. However, it wasn’t really until I became a Taxi member that the music I was writing began to attract attention. It is a different mindset, really, being a writer, say, for film and television or an aspiring band. However, you realize that Taxi actually is a resource for both. With the help of Taxi, if you get hooked into music production libraries, as I mentioned earlier, it can begin to open doors for you and/or your band.

Q: How has TAXI helped your career?

Taxi has made inroads for me into the music business that, without their help, would not have otherwise been available. Their focus on the independent artist, or even people who have written songs and stuck them away in a drawer somewhere, is a great asset. And if you choose to get plugged in, you can learn quite a bit along the way, not only about the music business, but also about yourself. I touched on this earlier. To me, Taxi is split in two. One side is a resource for getting your songs out to music libraries, artists, producers, etc. The other side is all about education. It is a living, breathing, vibrant community of people who are there to help guide you through the process to whatever level of success you may want to achieve. A song is your biggest ticket. From a songwriting perspective, if you choose to look at some of the critiques Taxi offers honestly and squarely, it can bring about change—in your songs, in you.

Q: What have you learned from being a TAXI member?

It reinforced the epiphany that we need to change the way we do things and change, as well, some of the beliefs that we have carried with us. I remember a few false notions that, for whatever reason, stuck with me as a kid. How crazy do these sound? Peas have cholesterol. Rubbing gasoline on your poison Ivy will help it to go away (this one I actually tried). If your cuticles grow up over your fingernails, you’ll die. There was a time in my life that I believed some of these things, probably because they came from seemingly credible sources. Obviously, you can’t believe everything you hear, especially when it comes to the music business. By joining Taxi, I have gained insight and knowledge into the inner sanctum of the music business. Frankly, if you are of a willing heart and mind there is much to gain through being a member. Not only is it built upon a community of people who look out for your best interests, it is also filled with people just like you and me—people who may be struggling to get a handle on a certain aspect of writing, or people who want to gain connections for their band, all the way to those who have achieved great success, all rubbing shoulders together, in one place. It’s a beautiful thing.

Q: What achievement in the music business are you most proud of to date?

The first time I learned that someone wanted to use one of my songs in a TV show. I realized something that I always had in my heart. That changed a lot of things in me.

Q: What future goals do you hope to achieve?

I would love to get a Country artist cut. That would be absolutely wonderful!