The music industry has been getting over on artists since it became an industry. This phenomenon isn’t just confined to the majors, but hits closer to home by infecting the garages and basements of local bands all over the world. If you have something marketable to sell there’s always someone who has something to gain from it … or you’re a target for any sleazy agency that’ll convince you with a good stroking of the ego that you’re the “shiznit” and you’ll go far.
the Indie Community: The Music Mafia - Godfathers or Hitmen?
By John Foxworthy and Chris Kinsey
So you’re a young, hip, energetic musician
with talent up the wazoo … or so you believe. Everyone tells you that your
material is great, but you still have doubts. Your inner demons lead you on a
quest for approval from a higher power. Just then, a promotions company tells
you that “you should have sold millions of CDs by now,” or you get an email
that tells you, “Your metrics are huge in Italy.”
The music industry has been getting over on
artists since it became an industry. This phenomenon isn’t just confined to
the majors, but hits closer to home by infecting the garages and basements of
local bands all over the world. If you have something marketable to sell
there’s always someone who has something to gain from it … or you’re a
target for any sleazy agency that’ll convince you with a good stroking of the
ego that you’re the “shiznit” and you’ll go far.
If any of this sounds familiar you’re a
potential victim of one of the easiest scams in the business … the “Stroke
and Run” scheme. The idea is to approach artists with a golden (almost
impossible) deal and use their hunger for fame and fortune to squeeze the cash
out of them only to abandon them to pursue new marks.
A short time ago, email from several sources
began pouring in vis-à-vis Capitol Imaging Group’s AlternativeSpin and
RapVibe programs. The concept is simple: For an investment deposit of $500.00,
CIG will solicit an artist’s material to 50 record labels and 100 college
radio stations. They also guarantee that if an offer isn’t received from a
publisher or label during the contract’s tenure, the artist will receive a
So began the pursuit of information. All of
the customary resources were explored: BBB,
company web site, independent music boards, etc. A majority consisted of bad
press, yet Capitol Imaging Group has no complaints filed in the BBB’s
database. AlternativeSpin, however, has one resolved complaint made by a client
who was described by CIG president Corbin Grimes as a “real bitch.” Given
that CIG has only been a BBB member since April of 2003, this wasn’t a
revolutionary piece of evidence.
The revelation actually came when the
company officers’ backgrounds were investigated. Corbin Grimes, formerly known
as Hooman Karamian, served as VP for Talent 2K as recently as June of 2002.
Grimes doesn’t deny that he is Karamian, declaring that his new “stage
name” is simply the product of need for an easier address.
A Little History
Corbin Grimes, or Hooman Karamian, was at
one time an executive officer of the less-than-reputable Talent 2K, a
promotional agency owned and operated by Carlo K. Oddo. According to
testimonials from ex-employees, acquaintances and by Grimes’ own admission,
Talent 2K associates regularly used aliases to create a larger corporate
ambience, meaning every “employee” could invariably be three or more
different people. As for T2K, their guarantee of a record label deal was
frequently met by Deftone Records, also owned by Oddo allegedly working under
the guise of Vincent Malnotti. The dubious offer from Deftone would then void
the refund clause expressed in the contract. The same was true for 97 Radio,
which is also an Oddo-owned venture.
Grimes contends that after the fees were
paid, he wasn’t responsible for dealing with the artists, and would no longer
have any contact. Apparently Oddo would exclusively deal with the “client”
from that point.
97 Radio and Talent 2K have since racked up
a plethora of complaints, which subsequently cost Talent 2K their BBB
membership. Most of the complaints were regarding refunds, or lack thereof, drop
in contact after the fees were paid, or Deftone Records’ approach with an
expensive pay-for-play offer that never panned out.
The CIG Plan
To fully understand the storm surrounding
Capitol Imaging Group, it’s paramount to be familiar with their method of
operation. While it is unclear at this point where CIG uncovers the artists they
contact, their technique is certainly proactive. Artists are approached by CIG
unexpectedly with an offer to shop their music to labels and college radio
stations for a 10% deposit of $500, where the company will back the remaining
$4500 of the actual promotional cost of the campaign. Clients are also offered a
comprehensive tracing program that provides FedEx tracking numbers for the CDs
that are sent to labels and radio.
There are two versions of this program, one
named RapVibe and the other AlternativeSpin, each catering to their respective
genre. CIG makes no guarantee that any client will get signed, but does promise
a full refund in the event that no offer materializes. In the mind of the eager
artist, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
So, what if a client is presented with a
deal? The agreement native to the AlternativeSpin program does state that,
“… at the presentation of a contract recording or publishing (signed or
unsigned), that AlternativeSpin has the right to retain security deposit.
If artist/group decide to pass on a presented contract AlternativeSpin
will still represent the artist/group for the full 180 day term no matter how
many contract offers are presented.”
Capitol Imaging Group artists under both
programs have been presented with deals from labels; however, all of their
reports have one major consistency … the names of the record companies. CIG
brings “good” news to clients in the form of a recording contract from a
company called Infinity Music Group who, according to Grimes is a European label
now based out of Chicago. Infinity offers the bands exclusive recording deals
for a fee. Of over thirty testimonials, every CIG artist has been offered a deal
from Infinity. Some have even received calls from Corbin Grimes with deals on
the table from Deftone Records, to whom he claims no affiliation.
The Rest of the Story
In seeking out Infinity Music Group, two
unfailing results surfaced: A contemporary Christian music label and IMG, the
actual label offering contracts to CIG artists. Their web site doesn’t contain
much information at all, just a shell of what seems to be the start of a new
company. It hasn’t been updated since at least July of 2003 and the only
usable information is a street address in Chicago, which houses a company called
HQ Global Workplaces. No Infinity Music Group was discovered there. The only
other fragment of useful fact was a name: Joe Polizzi, the apparent owner of
Infinity Music Group.
IMG has been one of the only offers put on
the table to CIG artists thus far.. The contract itself is vague and only 21
pages in length, which is unusual but not necessarily troubling. In those 21
pages, there is a grand total of 11 spelling or grammatical errors, not
including the frequent misuse of the terms “compact disk” and “compact
disc,” which both appear several times. The artist must pay IMG $5000 up front
to get started and IMG doesn’t even provide funding for any recording. Bands
must send Infinity 30 minutes of music along with the check.
It’s also been noted that IMG has no
interest in meeting prospective clients. When asked by a band representative if
IMG was interested in meeting to talk over the conditions of the contract
Polizzi replied, “You can fly out here to Chicago if you want, and my
secretary will get you a cup of coffee.”
Is this the usual treatment afforded artists
who are drawing interest from a record label? Why would any company in music
promotion or a label be interested in signing with any act they have never seen
IMG doesn’t seem to be interested in
talking with any potential signees, except to tell them where to send the
payment. After re-examination of the IMG contract, an interesting fact emerged.
The band/artist name appears nowhere in the contract, however, on page 18, the
contract states, “Capitol Imaging Group shall be deemed an authorized agent of
Artist…” The contract appears to be a template, meaning that identical
copies were forwarded to all bands/artists. It’s also reasonable to assert
that all of IMG’s potential clients are found through Capitol Imaging Group.
The focus of the investigation then turned
back to CIG, which boasts an office on the seventh floor of an impressive
building near downtown Phoenix. Once again, the address was that of an HQ Global
Workplaces. HQ Global Workplaces is the equivalent of Mailboxes Etc. on
steroids. HQ Global offers offices, meeting rooms, mail services and any other
amenity a business needs to don a corporate façade. AlternativeSpin and RapVibe
both claim to occupy offices at City Tower Center in Orange, CA, but the address
is another HQ Global location.
At this juncture, CIG nor any of its
apparent affiliates seem to reside in any viable locales, only proving the
utilization of a seemingly valuable service. But, when reviewing records from
earlier in this investigation, it was discovered that 97 Radio’s new address
at 3131 Camelback Rd in Phoenix is also located at an HQ Global office …
ironically so is Deftone Records’ most recent address in New York City.
Deftone’s Los Angeles address is the setting of a company called Vantas, which
is owned by HQ Global as well.
While Polizzi and Grimes claim no
association, some technical research turned up noteworthy results. The same
web company hosts the AlternativeSpin, RapVibe, CIG and IMG web sites, and
they’re all contained on the same computer. Furthermore, the domains were all
registered through the same service on the same date with the exception of IMG,
which was registered six months later.
Corbin Grimes also claims no affiliations
with 97 Radio, Talent 2K or any of Carlo Oddo’s dealings, including Deftone
Records, a Carlo K. Oddo enterprise. However, on many occasions, artists gave
accounts of Grimes conveying information that Deftone Records was interested in
extending a contract. In fact, Grimes claims that Carlo Oddo has filed a $25M
lawsuit against him and Capitol Imaging Group for Copyright Infringement. CIG
clients are also describing calls from 97 Radio regarding any one of several
tours they are organizing across the U.S. Again, Grimes denies any involvement.
If Grimes has separated from Oddo’s
operations, then why is his new venture an exact replica of the 97 Radio/Talent
2K model? Also, why have 97 Radio and its united companies began using the same
service as CIG to house their addresses? Why is CIG relaying Deftone deals to
its artists when Grimes has claimed no affiliation with them?
Corbin Grimes agreed to an interview that
would possibly have shed some light on a few of these questions. Conversely, he
declined the interview on the very same day he received the questions under the
pretense of the impending suit by Oddo, which coincidentally was filed that day
In telephone conversations, Grimes did still
admit that Vincent Malnotti of Deftone Records was indeed Carlo Oddo and that
Thomas McManus of 97 Radio was also Mark Kingston (a.k.a. James Bennett). In
other conversations and emails, Grimes additionally added that 97 Radio is a
scam and that he was in mortal fear of Carlo Oddo, yet sources close to the 97
Radio operation claim that the parties still engage in discourse and that there
is no lawsuit between them.
Grimes also made an interesting move in
early summer of 2003. The BBB has Grimes listed as the sole owner of Capitol
Imaging Group, along with its subsidiaries. Grimes, though, informed his artists
via their message boards that he had received a “big promotion” from Vice
President to President of the company, and that he was then in better position
to work for the artists. According to Grimes, his new position atop the company
gave him better leverage with label executives. How is it that Grimes had to
work his way up the corporate ladder of the company that he owns?
All of the bands also had a message board on the
AlternativeSpin site. Grimes would leave updates every day to the effect of,
" … talked with Geffen today. They really like what they heard. Haven't
started talking numbers yet. Have another meeting in two weeks," which were
exactly the same for each of the bands.
One band out of Rochester, NY touted Hooman
Karamian (Grimes) as their agent. According to them, Karamian claims to have
worked with bands such as Megadeth and Bob Seager. According to Karamian/Grimes’
web site, he is only 24-years-old. Additionally, if Karamian had worked with
such big-name acts, why would he want to be known by a different moniker?
Other artists who signed with CIG have given
similar accounts. Andy Conlin, who was also employed by Talent 2K as an
assistant, made many of the initial calls them. His exact position in the
company is not clear, but Conlin is assumably close to Grimes and reports to him
directly. After Conlin seals the deal, Grimes basically takes over from there.
Another element of the CIG appeal is that
they offer FedEx tracking numbers for all of the material they send out. This
appears to add legitimacy to the promises made by the company, but after some
research, several inconsistencies were found. In the case of one artist, many of
the packages sent out by CIG were accepted in locales that were not coherent
with the locales of the labels to which they were being sent. Furthermore,
numerous packages were signed for and accepted by the same person.
In the case of two other bands, FedEx
tracking numbers were compared. Many of them were identical. One of the bands
later discovered that CIG was actually creating and sending compilation CD’s
including one song from a number of different acts. This differs greatly from
what CIG promises in their contract.
Does this work in the best interest of the
artists? Given the nature of the music industry and the methods by which labels
evaluate talent, it would be difficult to imagine that the artists are getting
their money’s worth. According to CIG, the cost to burn one CD is $.59 and
those CD’s contain several songs from a several artists. A majority of radio
stations and record labels discard these as quickly as they arrive.
Where do the rest of the artists’
investments go? That’s still unclear at this point. The CIG contract promises,
“the agent will assist musician in… publishing and publicize musician’s
name and talents.” None of the artist testimonials have included any proof
that artist name and talents were ever published or publicized in any manner, in
any medium whatsoever. Cameron Cohen, another of Grimes’ assistants, has been
telling artists since September 2003 that a web site featuring all CIG artists
was almost up and running.
Regular inquiries have been made to Cohen
since then, and each time he reports that the web site will be ready “next
month.” CIG promises $.05 per artist play on college radio. Every artist that
has provided testimonial to this point has reported receiving a check every
month in the amount of approximately $2.00. Grimes has said on several occasions
that he would provide a listing of the college radio stations that CIG provides
music to, but he has yet to come through with the list. Also, according to the
CIG contract, if an artist attempts to contact any of the stations, or labels
for that matter, the contract will be terminated with no refund.
The AlternativeSpin and RapVibe web sites
also provide a list of labels to which the clients’ music will be shopped.
Infinity Music Group and Deftone Records are not among those labels. The list
was researched and companies contacted. Restless Records, which was only
recently added to CIG’s list, was actually bought out by BMG only to fold in
2000, three years before CIG came into existence. Another on the list, Fowl
Records, seems also not to be. Executives from Cruz Records, Vagrant Records,
and Octane Media claim to have never spoken to or heard of Corbin Grimes, Hooman
Karamian, Capitol Imaging Group or AlternativeSpin. Many of the indie labels
were not verifiable and inquiries to the others have not yet been returned.
Many of the labels that were confirmable
were genre specific and most likely not interested in adding new acts to their
roster. A Vagrant Records executive even stated, “In my opinion, these
companies are usually a scam. If we did receive something from them, we probably
didn’t take it seriously. Hopefully people will start to understand how not to get signed.”
During this investigation, there were
several phone conversations with Corbin Grimes that usually resulted in the
censure of his former employer, Carlo K. Oddo. Sources inside the organization
contend, however, that the two still meet regularly. Meanwhile, a growing number of artists
are coming forward with their experiences and concerns with CIG and in the midst
of the recent sudden closure of 97 Radio, some fear that this may be the new
reunification of an old familia.
Your experiences with Capitol Imaging Group on any level are welcome. If you
have information to be included in a future follow-up, please email Roadrash@garageradio.com.