Fleecing the Indie Community: Godfathers or Hitmen?
By John Foxworthy and Chris David
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. 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 full refund.
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 which, 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 or heard?
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 as well.
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 to 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 CDs, 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 CDs 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.
Author’s Note: 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.