Theresa Scotto never thought she would be running a music studio. But as fate would have it, her teenage daughter Gabriella started taking vocal lessons and, as Scotto sat waiting for her in the studio, she realized it would be the perfect setting for children’s birthday parties. Within just a few weeks, the company was running as a pop-up in Midtown. The response was overwhelming.
“I would get calls every day. ‘My daughter can sing.’ ‘My son can play the drums. Do you have lessons?’” Scotto explained. “And the answer was always, ‘No,’ because I was just renting space.” That all changed after Charlie Walk, executive vice president of Republic Records, had Scotto host his daughter’s birthday party. “You need your own studio,” he told her. And with that, The Chord Club by Billboard was born.
The state-of-the-art Upper East Side facility is complete with a recording studio. “The way I built it, Mariah Carey can come in and record an album. So this is a real, working studio. This not just a kiddie place,” Scotto explained. The studio is open to both children and adults, and offers everything from vocal coaching and DJ classes to drum lessons and songwriting instruction.
Scotto still hosts her signature birthday parties, where kids are made to feel like real recording artists as they work with an engineer in the control booth and record a track using their own voices. She hadn’t anticipated that adults wanted in on all the fun too. “We’re getting a tremendous amount of interest now for adult parties, which we didn’t even factor in,” she said. They now throw not only birthday parties, but corporate team building events and bachelorette parties for that demographic.
Besides the satisfaction she gets out of seeing her clients’ enthusiasm, Scotto finds joy in watching Gabriella learn the business alongside her. “I would have never been in this if it wasn’t for her. So on the nights that I’m working late, I do blame her for my being at the studio at 52 years old. But it’s all worth it.”
You started this business because of your daughter.At the time, Gabriella was 14 and she came to me one night and said, “I can sing. I want vocal lessons.” And my response was, “I’ve never heard you hum, nevertheless sing.” That year, I had done a benefit at her school and someone had donated a recording session. So I contacted the girl who had given it, who’s a friend of mine, and she told me it was from a friend of her father who owns a studio on 26th and Park Avenue South. I called him up and asked, “Can I bring her in and can you just tell me if she can sing? I don’t feel like spending money on lessons.” Long story short, I took her in and she came out, and he said, “She can sing.” So for seven weeks, I would take her to the studio once or twice a week and she would go into the booth and I would do my work. I’ve been selling corporate insurance for 25 years. One day, I said, “Imagine doing birthday parties for children in a recording studio.” I literally started it on a shoestring, and within three weeks, it was up and running. We called it Pop Star Parties. And we were sold out. So it’s all because of Gabriella. And she can sing. She writes her own music, performs at The Bitter End and wants to go to college for music.
How did your partnership with Billboard come about? Charlie put me in touch with Ian Behar, who is my partner now. And Ian is really quick when he thinks something is a good idea. So we met and he started looking for a space. In the interim, he happens to also be friends with the president of Billboard, John Amato, and we had all been out to dinner one night, and John heard what we were doing and was like, “This is such a great idea for Billboard to get their name out to the younger audience.”
Describe what goes on at a typical birthday party.For children who are seven and up, we do a recording party. We give out welcome kits with VIP passes, glasses, glow rings. And then there’s a Step and Repeat that they take pictures in front of which has our logo and well as Billboard’s behind it. Our party counselors, we call them “Chord-inators,” take them into the recording studio. There’s an engineer in the control booth who works with them. They get headphones as if they were recording artists. We have dropdown screens so the words come down for them. They’re recording to a track, but it’s their own voices. And the birthday child gets to sing a solo. We have a great party space in the back where we can accommodate up to 80 people.
What’s the demographic of the adults who take classes there?We’re seeing that 29- to 42-year-old group come in with four to eight people and all do a class together. Then we’re seeing that younger market, which is more like 18 to 26. Everyone thinks they’re going to be the next Avicii. They’re coming in and they want to do this for a living. And the younger kids- the boys go crazy with the DJ-ing. And it’s so funny to see the difference. With the girls, it’s all about singing and with the boys, it’s all about DJ-ing and the Pro Tools.
Your husband Anthony Jr. owns Fresco by Scotto. What are the pros and cons to being the wife of a restaurant owner?We’re married 21 years, which, in this day and age, is pretty great. And we still really like each other. And we have two really cool kids, Anthony will be 20 in two weeks and Gabriella will be 17 in April, who love to be with us. My husband Anthony works very long hours. He’s at the restaurant by 8 or 8:30 in the morning, and when he first opened, he would close and wasn’t home until 12 o’clock at night. So when we started having kids, one of the deals we made was that the kids and their schooling would fall on me. And it was my way or the highway. And he’s been really good with that. I’m sure there have been times when he wanted to question my decisions, but he never did. And I thank God that they turned out pretty good. But the business definitely has its pros and cons. It’s long hours, holidays. Christmas Eve it’s open; Thanksgiving it’s open. Fresco is a very well-known restaurant and he’s been there 23 years now. It’s a tough life, but Anthony loves the business. To me, he’s the best restauranteur there is in the city. It’s a lot of hours and a lot of being on. And you really have to love the business to be on that much. And he really does; it’s in his blood. It’s all he’s done since he’s 17 years old. The perks to being married to Anthony Scotto are pretty cool too because the restaurant is really well known. It’s a lot of good press because the restaurant is so great and they’re such a good family and he’s such a good guy.
For more information, visit www.thechordclub.com