L.A. Grapevine

There was a time, way before my time, when record labels groomed an artist. They would pluck them out of obscurity, polish up their image a bit and put
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Centerline Music and Entertainment partner/producer Howard Scott Lipp is ready to take on the music biz.

Photo: Ed Wolf

There was a time, way before my time, when record labels groomed an artist. They would pluck them out of obscurity, polish up their image a bit and put them through weeks of rehearsals just to get them studio-ready. They would record in a label-owned studio, with label-approved producer, engineer, musicians and songs. Then the label would do its part to get the music to the public. That artist often didn't have much power and, in worst cases, didn't see many royalties, but they usually had a career that lasted longer than one album.

Nowadays, artists have a lot more creative control, but the notion of artist development is pretty much gone. The artist may fare better by going the D.I.Y. route or teaming with a few savvy individuals or companies that take an active role in the artist's career. Thankfully, there are still a few people out there who are doing just that.

Howard Scott Lipp and Chris Abraham formed Centerline Music and Entertainment Inc. (http://centerlineentertainment.com) in 1999 as a place to write and perform their music and develop and produce new talent. They converted an old 1940s schoolhouse into a spacious recording studio, and started getting some bites from the film and TV worlds. After Abraham departed in 2002, Lipp composed music for Beyond Tough, a program for the Learning Channel about daredevil occupations hosted by Ice-T. Producer Patrick Hildebrand's 2003 arrival led to more music work for Independent Film Channel's Film School, NBC's Starting Over and a track for the Miramax film My Baby's Daddy.

At the same time, plans for entering the music business began to take shape. The first release on the Centerline Music & Entertainment label, from hip hop artist Kev, was recorded at Centerline's studios, which runs Logic Pro software on two Mac dual-G4 computers networked to an Xserve RAID with a 750-gig hard drive. A Yamaha 02R acts as the primary control surface in the 1,200-square-foot control room with cathedral ceiling, also stocked with Avalon, Focusrite, Digimax and Presonus mic pre's and monitoring from Mackie HR824s. The 200-square-foot live room houses a drum kit, Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Rhodes, Kurzweil and a Hammond M3 organ.

While most Centerline Entertainment bands take full advantage of the cool instruments and living room vibe, their first rock act, Dig Jelly, barely saw the control room. “They came in with an album that was pretty well-done,” says Lipp, noting that most acts show up with nearly finished products recorded at a home studio. “It's raw, but it's good.”

After teaming with D1/Innovative Distribution Network last year, the Centerline roster has grown to include a range of rock, alternative and hip hop acts — some newly formed, others looking for a new home after getting dropped or ignored by a larger label. “We started working with bands that are a little bit further down the road,” says Lipp. “They're not as young as the bands that the majors like to pick up; they're not kids.”

They're also treating them differently, considering themselves partners with, rather than financiers of, the artists and focus their promotional efforts on Webcasting, Internet marketing, street teams, and videogame and film/TV licensing. “We're definitely not falling into the box as many labels have,” says Lipp. “We're no longer beating the ground trying to get radio because that doesn't sell records.”

This, Lipp believes, is where Centerline Entertainment differs from a lot of businesses, including recording studios, that have added “artist development” to their list of services. “A lot of studios partner with bands to get them recorded, but they're missing some of the puzzle,” he says. “While they have great facilities and producers, they don't know where the homes for the music are today. You can't just put a record on iTunes or in stores and hope that it sells. We partner with our bands.”

Ajay Shah at The Button Room

Producer/programmer Ajay Shah got his start working with some of the major players; namely, Babyface and Tracey Edmonds' Yab Yum Records, a part of Edmonds Entertainment Group, which includes music publishing, artist management and the TracKen Place studio. Under their wide umbrella, he worked his way over from the marketing department to the studio where he collaborated on projects for Jon B, Shanice Wilson and Laurnea, among others. After four years at the Edmonds camp, he worked with Jordan Hill for David Foster's 143 Records, now under the Warner Bros. umbrella, before going solo.

About a year ago, brothers Jeff and Scott McLean approached Shah about producing their debut album. Shah had never worked with an unsigned act before, and the sibling vocalists had never recorded a “pro” product. “They're brothers, but they look and sound nothing alike. I don't even think anything about their personalities is alike. So to take all of these things and make a record with that — it's like putting Smokey Robinson with Guns N' Roses. Can that work?”

Shah and songwriter Ashton Zyer spent weeks with the McLean brothers (sons of composer/performer Michael McLean), honing their sound and figuring out how to best represent two polar opposites in song form. “Scott just wants to sit on a barstool with a guitar and sing straight to you,” says Shah. “But Jeff wants to be the superstar!”

Zyer emerged with tunes tailor-made for the McLean brothers. “She went into the studio and wrote 12 to 14 songs and nailed about 10 of them,” says Shah. “It's like Sinatra meets Eric Clapton meets Maroon 5.”

They recorded mostly at Shah's project studio, the Button Room, in Malibu, Calif. He's got Logic as his DAW/sequencer paired with MOTU's 2408 interface and a Tascam MX-2424 recorder, which he uses “solely for the converters.” A Soundcraft Ghost serves as the control surface.

Shah hopes to see the duo's release, Beautiful Mess, out early this year. He's currently entertaining offers from indie labels and “has interest” from a few distribution companies. In the meantime, they plan to get the music to the masses via “niche” distributors and digital routes.

Mix assistant editor Heather Johnson is filling in for our new L.A. editor.