To say that music is Anthony Newett’s life would be, as he puts it, a severe understatement.
Just as that life was beginning to take shape at the tender age of 2, his music-teacher father placed a baritone ukulele in his little hands. The elder Newett cleverly decided the small, four-stringed guitar-like instrument would be the next best thing to a real guitar for the toddler.
It wasn’t long before Newett Sr. discovered his only child had a natural gift to replicate pitch. "What that means is I have perfect pitch. I can hear a car horn and know it’s D flat," notes Newett.
Honing his son’s gift, Newett’s father worked on developing his ear in lieu of teaching him music from an instruction book, recalls the 35-year-old multi-instrumentalist/producer/engineer.
By age 3, Newett could play the Dick Van Dyke theme on the ukulele. And he’s been making music ever since.
It’s been a lucrative career for the owner of Newett Music Studios, 1437 S. 13th St. No signage marks the entrance, which is actually just around the corner on Wilder Street.
The owner claims he doesn’t need a sign, or any other form of advertising for that matter, because he has more business than he knows what to do with. Nice work if you can get it.
"My client base is exclusively referrals from other artists. I also get referrals from Philadelphia’s top entertainment attorneys and managers. They send their clients to me based on my reputation as a perfectionist," he says.
Established in 1985, Newett Music Studios is a one-man show. Exceeding the services of a conventional recording studio, projects are developed from their rawest form.
The bulk of Newett’s business comes from local and national songwriters who bring him rough versions of their work. He dons multiple hats, acting first as musician — laying down whatever instrumentation is required; then producer/engineer — turning the work into a commercial-quality song. The studio offers all those services in-house, saving the client the additional costs associated with producing a quality project, Newett says.
When he’s not working his magic for other people, the producer is furthering his own craft.
A few years ago, he wrote and performed a song that appeared in the Jennifer Tilly movie, Relax, It’s Just Sex. And he recently finished performing, mixing and mastering the soundtrack for Strut!, the Mummers documentary. The 18-track instrumental album features covers of popular tunes like Oh Dem Golden Slippers, When the Saints Go Marching In and Greased Lightning. Newett even sang on two songs, Come Softly To Me and Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.
The man behind the music describes the film as a great portrayal of the Mummers’ history. The National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences, of which Newett is a voting member, nominated Strut! in three categories.
Being a NARAS member enables Newett to vote annually for Grammy nominees and attend the awards, which take place this year in Manhattan. In order to be a voting member of NARAS, one must have six nationally released albums, he notes.
Newett’s first national release, on which he played all the instruments and produced, was a 1998 CD by local jazz artist Clyde Terrell.
Among Newett’s better-known local production credits is an artist named Bria. Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertgun signed the singer on the strength of the Newett-produced material, the producer claims. Another local credit is Danielle Ingerman, who edged out hundreds of artist submissions and won the Q-102 Philly Idol contest with a Newett-produced song.
The South Philly native realized early on that his life’s calling was music. By his own admission, Newett was a spoiled child born and raised at 13th and Reed streets.
"But it paid off because [my parents] put so much into my career in terms of supplying me with instruments and equipment," he says.
His father also happened to work at Zapf’s Music in the Olney section of town. With myriad musical instruments at his fingertips, Newett Sr. could easily nurture his son’s ability by bringing home the tools of the trade.
Newett is proficient in so many instruments today, he has trouble remembering them all. Sitting on the piano bench inside his studio, he closes his eyes and rattles off the list: drums, guitar, bass, trumpet, violin, five-string banjo, tenor banjo, mandolin …
"Which one am I forgetting? Ah, piano!" he says with a laugh.
Of all nine, guitar is his favorite because that’s the instrument he started with. Newett recalls he had original designs on following in his father’s footsteps. But in his early teens, he developed a strong interest in music technology, so he decided instead to pursue the production end of the biz and remain behind the scenes.
"I learned at an early age that a producer in the music business is very much like a director in the movie business. All commercial-quality records involve the services of a producer," he notes.
When the musician married at age 26, he moved to Abington, where he lives today with his wife Alissa and 2-year-old daughter, appropriately named Aria.
"Those two are the loves of my life. Every project that I work on ties in some way to my relationship with Alissa. They are both my inspiration," says the producer.
On Dec. 18, the couple celebrated their ninth anniversary.
Talk about ending on a happy note.