When Jim Otto opened Sound Spectrum in 1967, it wasn't just to sell vinyl--he wanted to turn people onto the best music in the world. '67 was the year of the Monterey Pop Festival, a three-day event that preceded the iconic Woodstock. Otto still loves talking about watching The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Mamas & the Papas, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, and Janis Joplin perform. In fact, that experience was a huge inspiration for Otto to open his shop in the first place. Since then, the store has seen the music business evolve from records to tapes to CDs to digital down-loads. Though they've tried to keep up to these changes, customer interaction has always been Otto's driving force.
Sound Spectrum also has a proven track record with audiophiles in OC. Sound Spectrum was one of the first indie stores to report to Soundscan which compiles the national sales charts. They also report to KROQ fm and KSBR fm were for the last 25 years, Otto has broadcasted a radio program called the Reggae Showcase every Sunday from 3-6pm. It's also webcast at KSBR.org. We recently spoke to Otto and his long time friend and employee, Wave about how a small, local record store manages to withstand the continuing shift of the music industry.
How does music connect people? Jim Otto: People come into a record store and say gee, I really like Eric Clapton and I'll say have you heard the first Yardbirds album because that was the band he started in. Things connect. A good record store takes someone who is usually one dimensional, they're in love with Hard Rock or Jazz, and expands their musical horizon. They start listening to Miles Davis or Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis. Now jazz blues meets country fusion. Wave: In the '60s there were no Starbucks. I went to the record store 4-5 times a week then. It became a meeting place for young people, it was an experience. Sound Spectrum is still here because of those relationships. We've never undersold big chains but we have a loyal, faithful following because people like sharing old stories and finding new things. Even if they don't buy anything they just want to be here.
With the resurgence of vinyl in the last half-decade, are your customers Baby Boomers or Millennials? JO: I'd say 75% of people buying records are under 25. I wish more Baby Boomers would get back into vinyl because we have records that kids aren't buying like Engelbert Humperdrinck and Johnny Mathis. Kids haven't discovered Jackson Browne, who came into the store once! Records are an education, even though kids have the Internet when they see vinyl and touch the picture they get to know the lesser bands-- beyond Led Zeppelin, The Beatles or Stones. You know, like The 13th Floor Elevators, one of the first psychedelic bands.
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JO: People always ask, what is it about records? Why do people like them so much? It's the cool factor, what they look like, what they feel like, what they smell like. You know, the inner liner note with all the lyrics or something the band wrote. Wave: It's tactile. Young people don't have anything like putting a needle on a record. It's a visual circle that's turning. My favorite part of my job is teaching a kid between the age of 5-10 to play their first record. When the needle hits, the record starts spinning, their eyes just go 'how does that...!' They'll dance around it but when you hear music from a CD or audio file there's a disconnect, it's like where is it coming from? That's why vinyl isn't just a trend. JO: Yeah, there's a richness, a fullness to the sound. Wave: The act of setting the needle on the record activates a youthful part of me. I look in the mirror and I'm not getting any younger but I feel young again through the physical act of playing a record. I think other people relate to that.
Lovers of vinyl, on April 18th hundreds of groups will release remastered vinyl to 3,000 independent records stores throughout the U.S. for Record Store Day. Drop by Sound Spectrum in Laguna Beach to further your music tastebuds and explore.