Saturday, June 6, 2009

Backtrack Records gets back into the game

Published in Directions 2008, a section of the Lincoln Journal-Star, Mar 2, 2008

Backtrack gives customers, both old and new, a place to find their vinyl... and more

After doing business exclusively on the Internet for seven years, Jeff Loos re-opened Backtrack Records, his vintage record retail store, in April.

Now former customers are finding their way to the tiny shop, tucked into a line of businesses on North Cotner Boulevard, and new patrons are discovering the fun of finding that special album.
Since re-opening, business has increased steadily, Loos said, surpassing sales at his former College View location, which he operated from 1988 to 2000.

Vinyl records are making a comeback across the country. Rhino Records, which was one of the first to stop selling records when CDs came out, has started pressing records again, along with other recording companies, such as Mobile Fidelity, Classic Records and Fantasy Records. Although still a small share of the market, total record sales were up 15.4 percent in 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The main appeal of vinyl, Loos said, is the warmer sound of analog recording versus the digital sound of CDs and downloads.

"Analog is basically a wavelength and no gaps," he said. "Digital is a sample; there's a gap between each piece of sound. People are finding that LPs are a bit warmer, and the sound if it's on a clean piece of vinyl can outdo a CD."

Turntables never went anywhere. There are millions of them out there, and now people are looking for something to play on them.

"I had a kid in here other day who inherited his dad's turntable, and he was amazed at the quality of vinyl because he never really understood it before. Now he's playing some of his dad's records, and he's in here buying records."

Some collect vinyl as a hobby or investment, but most of his customers are interested in the music itself, Loos said. They like finding albums that aren't available anywhere else, and they appreciate the value.

Most records at Backtrack Records sell for $1 to $10 each. Those who prefer digital files can use a newer turntable with a USB port to transfer the music to MP3 or CD format.

Other customers pay more than $30 for new half-speed master records. A local group meets to play those high-end quality recordings on old-fashioned "tube amps." Enthusiasts say the sound quality is worth the wait for the glowing tubes to warm up.

Loos re-opened the retail store because he missed the customers. He's on first-name basis with many of the regulars, and his shop is often a gathering place, where patrons listen to tunes and relive the memories the music brings back.

"Customers always surprise you," he said. "I haven't seen someone for seven years and they walk in the door and say, 'Wow! Glad you're back open. I'm still playing records.' That kind of blows you away, not seeing somebody for a while and have them come in and they still have their turntable."

Chris Callahan, a librarian at Bennet Martin Public Library, remembers September 1988, when he first stepped into Backtrack Records at the College View location. He soon became a regular at the store and collected several thousand records. He was excited when he found out the store had reopened. He said every visit renewed old memories, and he likes finding music that isn't available anywhere else.

Blake Smith visits Backtrack Records about once a week and usually starts by checking out the "New Arrivals" section. He started collecting records a couple of years ago because he "needed a hobby." He's collected about 700 so far.

At 25, most of his friends are "confused" by his hobby, he said, and ask why he doesn't just buy a CD or download the music. But the fun is in the hunt, Smith said.

"It's kind of like people who hunt animals," he said. "You could just go to the store and buy the food you want - I could just go to the Internet and find a record - but it's fun when you find something you want that's in excellent condition."

Loos' customers are loyal, he said, because he carefully chooses which records to purchase, inspecting each for scratches and warping. He also guarantees everything he sells.

Vintage records is a niche market, and Loos is quick to emphasize that he's dependent on people bringing in those old records. He's always looking to buy record collections and offers cash or trade for clean, quality records. In addition to new and used vinyl, Loos buys and sells posters, tapes, CDs and DVDs, and takes turntables on consignment.

Although he focuses on classic rock from the '60s and '70s, Loos carries music from almost every genre. About 15,000 records are crammed into the 900-square-foot store, and the walls of the narrow shop are covered with posters, album covers, picture records and other nostalgia.

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