Still Groovin' After All These Years
Sound Spectrum celebrates Record Store Day
By Daniella Walsh
Record Store Day on April 17 shines a promotional spotlight on the
culture and survival skills of independent recordstore owners.
Such stalwarts are indeed rare, survivors of free Internet
downloading and similar music business perils that sunk major chains.
Laguna Beach is home to one of the oldest, perhaps even the grooviest
of the holdouts who remain.
In 1967, the year of the Monterey Pop Festival, Jim Otto, an
entrepreneur of the counterculture, who learned to navigate a fickle
industry defined by Darwinian theories of survival, established Sound
Spectrum. Besides selling records, Otto also stayed afloat early on
by as an independent ticket agent, selling concert tickets. ("Imagine
selling tickets without computers, with nothing but a phone and a
book of seating charts," he quipped.)
Otto's stayed in business long enough to enjoy a recent resurgence
among independent music stores due to reviving interest in vinyl
recordings, which create an earthier sound than that emanating from
computers and MP3 players.
"People are rediscovering vinyl because of the sound quality," he
said. Newly issued recordings pressed today are thicker and less
prone to warps and scratches than those made during The Beatles'
heydey in the '60s. Young music collectors and their elders are
snapping them up again and thus business savvy groups such as MGMT,
Vampire Weekend, Broken Bell and others offer fans a twofer by
putting their music on vinyl and including a computer downloading
code as well, Otto said.
Nevertheless, Otto credits his store's longevity to service and
adaptability to customer tastes. "Sometimes entire families come in,
parents with their children, even grandparents with
grandchildrenboomers and kids listening to the same stuff," he
remarked. He also selects the store's background music to speak to
his clientele. "I select music I like, but more often I check out
what section customers gravitate to and play something from that," he
said. He carries nearly anything from jazz to rap, from acoustic folk
to heavy metal. (When not dejaying at the store, he hosts "Reggae
Showcase" at KSBR 88.5 FM on Sundays from 3-6 p.m.)
Housed in a converted 1930s home, Sound Spectrum still resonates
hippie ambience: music bins and shelves are made from faded wood,
posters and t-shirts line walls, ethnic and summer-of-love style
jewelry are displayed along with postcards of icons like Janis
Joplin. (Note the $10 vintage 1971 calendar whose days coincide with
those of 2010.)
Over all, the vibe suggests one could encounter the ghosts of Janis
Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison or Timothy Leary and others now
departed after closing time. Also to mind come members of the
so-called Laguna Hippy Mafia to which Otto reputedly belonged, but
about which he prefers to stay mum. "Those who say don't know; those
who know don't say," he said.
Instead he likes to talk about the creative ways vinyl recordings are
presented, including a re-edition of Hendrix's "Valleys of Neptune."
Featuring a watercolor painting on the record sleeve, it reveals
that, unbeknownst to many, Hendrix was also a promising painter.
To help celebrate National Record Store Day several music companies
and groups have issued albums exclusively to independent record
stores. There are editions by the Elvises, Presley and Costello, Jeff
Beck, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Soundgarden, Jakob Dylan
and Phoenix (on pink vinyl yet), among others. "You can't get those
at any of the big chains or on the Internet," Otto said.
Old-school vinyl reigns supreme today
Neighborhood record shops celebrate with new releases, collectibles,
live music and prizes
By Malcolm X Abram
Apr 17, 2010
The digital download revolution has killed most of the big-chain
record stores, leaving giant catch-all retailers such as Walmart and
Best Buy as well as mall mainstay F.Y.E. to pick up the slack.
Likewise, the compact disc, the sales of which continue to plummet
while download behemoth iTunes grows, already has one plastic foot in
the music format graveyard alongside cassettes, eight-tracks,
reel-to-reel, mini discs and others.
But while chain music stores and CDs have proven ephemeral,
independent record stores and the old-school vinyl the majority of
them stock are apparently eternal.
In 2008, 1.8 million LPs were sold, and more than 2.5 million in
2009, while digital album and track sales rose only 8.3 and 16.1
percent respectively, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Digital sales
made up 40 percent of all music sales in 2009.
In 2007 a group of concerned music lovers banded together and founded
Record Store Day, to celebrate the more than 700 ''indie'' stores in
the United States and hundreds more around the world. In its short
history, Record Store Day has grown each year as labels and their
artists, big and small, pay tribute by offering special
limited-edition vinyl and (some) CDs to entice music lovers to enjoy
the ''unique culture'' of the neighborhood shop.
Record Store Day 2010 is today and stores throughout Northeast Ohio
have stocked their display cases with first-come, first-served collectibles.
While some labels are offering items on vinyl, CD and even a few
DVDs, area record stores say vinyl is king.
Pete Freeman of Vinyl Underground in Kent, which opened last November
and is celebrating its first Record Store Day, said all the calls he
has been getting have been about the many slabs of limited vinyl
releases. One is a highly coveted Jimi Hendrix EP on colored vinyl,
Live at Clark University, which Freeman is looking forward to owning himself.
''I haven't gotten a single call or e-mail on a CD or DVD that's
releasing for Record Store Day,'' Freeman said.
Vinyl is ''a format that's been around since the turn of the [last]
century in some form or another. It's lasted over 100 years now, so
it definitely holds its own. CDs, MP3s are just the next wave of the
hottest, newest thing, but records are something that are to stay.''
Freeman also points to the fact that there is a resale market for vinyl.
''There's also an investment aspect. It's something that you have to be
aware of and take care of and it's something you can trade back in.
There aren't many used MP3 stores, now are there?'' he said.
In addition to the official Record Store Day releases, the store will
have some rarities from its and Freeman's personal collections,
including the extremely rare and infamous ''butcher cover'' Beatles
LP and some rare Elvis Presley 78s, as well as a sidewalk sale
(weather permitting). Live performances start at 6 p.m. by local
bands We Know Karate, Most Beautiful Losers, Extra Crispy and DJ
Spin More Records in Kent has participated in all four Record Store
Days, and will have live music at 1 p.m. from singer/songwriter
Valerie, as well as door prizes and a raffle. Among the exclusives
available will be CD and vinyl reissues of Devo's Duty Now for the
Future and a 12-inch single of two new Devo songs, Fresh/What We Do.
Dave Ignizio, co-owner of Square Records in Highland Square in Akron,
said last year's Record Store Day was the busiest day his store has
had in its six years of business, and he had several people waiting
outside for the store to open. Ignizio, who has participated in all
four events, said it's growing rapidly and he worries that it could
become ''too commercial.''
''The first year there was only a dozen or so releases, and last year
it got up into the 30s, and this year's just exploded and everyone
has jumped on the bandwagon,'' he said, noting he'll have 65 to 75 exclusives.
Square Records will have performances beginning at noon by Matt Haas,
Qix, White Pines, Swindlella and Akron Sound & Visual System, as well
as goodie bags of T-shirts, stickers, posters and promo CDs for
purchases of more than $25.
But Ignizio and other proprietors also noted that the spirit of the
event is being tainted by buyers who get the exclusives and
immediately put them on eBay. ''That happened a lot last year. If you
looked maybe two hours after stores opened, you saw a ton of stuff on
eBay, and it's like, c'mon people,'' he said.
Among his exclusives will be ''a good amount'' of the Black Keys'
12-inch two-song preview of the upcoming album Brothers, a 10-inch
vinyl by Afro-Beat king Fela Kuti and specials from the Doors, indie
rockers such as Modest Mouse, psych-rock pioneer Roky Erickson and
Sonic Youth reissues.
One owner, Scott Shepard of Time Traveler in Cuyahoga Falls, didn't
think he'd make it to another Record Store Day but hopes this year's
edition is as successful as 2009's. ''Last year was really good.
People actually cared last year. It was phenomenal.''
Shepard's store has been operating in the red for a few years, and he
admits he fell prey to the same foibles as the big chains too much
inventory and not enough buyers.
For several months, Shepard has been having a 25 percent off sale on
his inventory, but for Record Store Day, he'll be bumping the savings
up to the appropriate 331/3 percent.
Shepard said he's doing ''OK'' but hopes to move into a smaller space
where he can specialize in the hard-to-find items his loyal clientele seeks.
It's a lesson that many indie stores have learned: One of the keys to
survival is carving out your niche, be it indie rock, jazz,
hard-to-find items or vinyl, finding the audience and serving it.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758.