Fleecing the Indie Community: The Music Mafia - Godfathers or Hitmen?
Date: Saturday, March 06, 2004 @ 21:03:27 UTC
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
By John Foxworthy and
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
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
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 ambiance, 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
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
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 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
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 Seeger. 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 for them. His exact position in the company is not clear, but Conlin is
presumably 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 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 names 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