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"You tell investors, 'Hey, you're going to lose all your money. It's not a good business. You won't like the artist after a while, because they'll get cocky. She may never make it. Now do you still want to do it?'" The answer, Septien says, is frequently "yes," despite an incredibly low overall success rate for artists starting out in the industry. She says 80 percent of people who try never make it big.
"It's a sexy business...but the main thing is, you're probably going to lose everything." At this point in her spiel, the investors are "kind of laughing," Septien says. "Would you be better in the stock market? Absolutely," she tells them. "And they still do it."
Septien views her success in signing her kids to record labels with a certain degree of nonchalance, given the overall odds of making it. "The truth is...that's not really a feather in anyone's cap," she says. "If you know the formula, you can do it."
Once the funding is secured, it's relatively easy to come up with a professional-sounding recording. Right now, Septien has kept four of her master-class students, including her 21-year-old son Remington, on her in-house label. Thanks to investor funding, endorsement deals and her own expertise, Remington appears to be on the brink of fame. He's being marketed with former Guess model Erik Neff as part of the world's first "hunk rock star" duo.
Septien brings up Remington's tracks on the computer housed in her studio. Three flat-screen monitors display an array of Pro Tools audio editing and production software. She clicks the play button, and a wall of heavily produced sound permeates the room. Every guitar--and it sounds like there are several--is perfectly tuned, along with Remington's powerful, multitracked rock vocals. Septien, and just about every other recording artist in mainstream music, uses "plug-ins" that filter and mold the recorded voice into a smooth, slick product. It's a trick her students are well aware of, including Maddie Smith, who says that "I could be the worst singer in the world, and Linda could make me sound good." There are allowances for pitch in addition to myriad extras that can make a voice sound like it was recorded in different environments, from hallways to bathrooms.
"These are all things that make Ashlee Simpson sound perfect," Septien yells over the music. "All that stuff. It's for the voice to create a style that when you hear it, you go, 'That's Erik Neff's voice.'"
Erik and Remington have spent years together creating their own individual and combined identities. In the next few weeks, they'll be traveling to New York City to perform for A&R representatives and filming raw footage for a reality television pilot Linda hopes will air on MTV. "We had a great idea, and we wanted to try it with these two great hunk rock stars," she says. They all hope the reality show will be a major factor in breaking the two musicians. After all, reality television has been proven to make marginal stars household names.
"It's a Nick-and-Jessica-type thing," says Remington, whose sound is typical mainstream rock in the vein of Nickelback or Three Doors Down. His look is boyish and cute, with a hint of his father's Latin ancestry. Erik's voice, on the other hand, has more of an alternative feel that takes hints from the repertoire of Gwen Stefani's husband and former Bush frontman (and fellow pretty boy) Gavin Rossdale.
"The reason why [Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey's reality show, Newlyweds] worked is because they were always butting heads," Remington says. Their contrasting dynamic is more than apparent in the guys' joint vocal lesson. Tall and muscular, Erik and Remington dwarf their petite teacher in her familiar place at the piano. They're working on harmonizing their scales, but there's just something about it they both find funny at the moment, and laughter is keeping them from completing their sets.
"Stop looking at me!" Remington says, shoving his partner to the side. Erik's retort: "You stop looking at me!"
Linda orders the two to look each other in the eye while singing. After a couple of false starts, they manage it. It would be, admittedly, the kind of reality-show moment that MTV's female teenage audience would find hilariously entertaining.
Remington's confidence in their product is unwavering.
"We're going the easiest commercial way," he says. "The only thing that keeps us from getting anywhere is God himself."
But Remington believes in his mom's reputation and knowledge of what works in the industry: the hard sell.
There are only four major record labels left in the modern era of media conglomeration--Universal, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music Group--and untold numbers of musician hopefuls clamoring for their attention. As such, the big four have become the equivalent of very picky johns, cruising a never-ending strip of artists desperate to get into their deep pockets. Musicians have to make a lasting first impression if they're going to get a big label to pick them up. In order to ensure that her kids do that, Septien ships them off to "retreats," going as far as Los Angeles, where they meet music and film industry people who teach them how to act, how to look, how to get heard and who to be when bigwigs and media types come calling.
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