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Bill Michelle, owner and operator of Left of the Dial Records

Bill Michelle, owner and operator of Left of the Dial Records

Published by Leonardo Calcagno

In collaboration with Kaneshii Vinyl Press

Who are you and what is your current job?

I am Bill Michelle owner and operator of Left of the Dial Records in downtown Santa Ana, Ca. After six years as a Special Education Assistant at a South Orange County middle school, I literally stumbled into this store is available at the end of May, and I had the keys just three or four days after I set foot in it! Honestly, I was not looking to buy a record store, just do some shopping on my first day after the school year had ended. To back up, my wife and I had some friends (maybe 4-5 couples) over for an afternoon and evening of food and music on Memorial Day last year, just a couple days prior to my visiting LOTD. We spent time outside, and I brought out maybe 50 or 60 LP’s and hooked up a vinyl rig on my covered patio. As the evening went on, a great deal of the conversation was about music, and people chose records to play, we spoke of concerts and our friendships over the years. I have always been known as a music and gear lover, and my friends recognize me as such. One couple, in particular, spoke of getting back into vinyl, and I joked that I could set them up right now. They thought I was joking, but since I had like three working turntables and various speakers and receivers throughout the house, I quickly gave them a set of Polk speakers and a Denon receiver and offered to help them get a new vinyl player to allow them to enjoy being back in the record game. The lovely woman Stephanie casually mentioned I should run a record store and she would be my first customer! My wife hollered out “Please don’t give him any ideas!”. In fact, she ordered a turntable right after I bought the place and although she lives 20 plus miles from the shop, she is a frequent visitor and customer!

I consider myself more of a gear head and audiophile than an encyclopedia of music and bands and genres. In the shop at all times are multiple used receivers I have cleaned and tinkered with that have Phono connectivity that people can use as the backbone of their vinyl system. I also have a contact who refurbs and repairs turntables for myself and my customers so I always have a collection of new and used turntables.

I recall the first week I bought the store a young man, maybe early 30’s, came in to congratulate and thank me for buying the store, as it was rumored to be closing. He asked if I was a millionaire to be able to buy a record store, in fact, if I was a millionaire, an investment in a record pressing plant might have been more appropriate, as there is not enough capacity to keep up with demand as I understand!

In which city are you located?

Santa Ana | California

What musical styles do you specialize in?

The store tends to carry Classic rock, punk, funk/soul and jazz predominantly, as those are the kinds of music that comes into the shop for trade in mostly. Reggae, classical, oldies, soundtracks and world music also have traffic in my shop.

Can you give a small tour of the music scene in your town?

The city of Santa Ana is a true melting pot, restaurants that have evening DJ’s and various live music venues, all types of eateries and a local not for profit movie theater. It has terrific aspects of years gone by and has evolved to include new businesses and high-class eating and business entities. The shop is actually in a building that shares a wonderful operation that allows bands a rehearsal space and where local teachers can teach (mostly) young people the art of voice, drums, and guitar.

What’s it like working in a record shop? 

I think the perception of what it takes to run a record store is quite a ways off the mark. Oh sure, I can play tons of great music during the business day, but I also have to be flexible and willing to test play stuff for people who are interested in the quality or content of a certain record. I get people in store and phone calls every day asking what I give for used records, and if I have a certain item in stock. The shop is a reflection of what I have come across and found, but also a function of the music that people trade in. 

New record sales are the tricky part, as there are a growing number of people that do not want reissues or re-releases, saying they are simply two-sided analog CD’s. Many customers are happy to find a gem or two at my shop and come back in a couple weeks to check what might have arrived. Many have ongoing lists they are searching for, and many are willing to try various shops in search of their faves. A growing number of my customers would rather wait and keep the search up in favor of an online purchase, as you can’t see first hand the quality of the jacket or the vinyl itself, and most everyone has had that disappointing arrival (myself included!) in the mail that falls well short of expectation.

The “indie record store” thing to me is just not a big conglomerate, more of a partnership with local community and customers who have developed a relationship with the owner and the items in the store that provides a comfort level that creates trust in the quality/price relationship that provides the highest likelihood of a satisfying experience. I do not spend a lot of time or money on new releases, although I am happy to use my buying powers to get people the items they would rather deal with their local record store if they wish me to purchase on their behalf. For a store to survive in this day and age, it has to be an inviting and engaging experience, to the point that you talk it up on social media, bring it up with friends and acquaintances who share similar interest in the record community. I am not the most knowledgeable guy when it comes to rap and hip hop and newer artists, but I know a bunch about the era I grew up in musically, and that coupled with my love of vintage gear for the newcomer and long-time enthusiast makes me a more engaging guy than the typical owner you might come across.

What does it take for an indie record shop to survive? 

As a function of my street cred earned through countless hours of enjoying live and recorded music since the early 70’s, I have been fortunate to have made some strategic partners very early on in my tenure here at left of the Dial Records, allowing me to seamlessly present a flow of quality used records and vintage gear that is desirable and valuable, allowing me to get off to a good start and cultivate a loyal following in-store and on social media. Two gentlemen, in particular, absolute experts in the field of used records, met me in first couple weeks in June, and I have been able to learn from them and gotten support from them in the form of records and knowledge that has proved unimaginably valuable. Behind the scenes activity in a lot of ways, but critical to my success, as we have a trust that would normally come with years of working together and doing business regularly.

What does Record Store Day, mean to you and your business? 

Record Store Day is a fascinating animal to me, as every day is a record store day to me. It fascinates me that one day a year we drive hundreds of new and in many cases rare releases into one day, and have so many weeks with so many ho-hum how’d that ever get the released type of items. Considering this is my first true RSD as an owner, I am nervous and exude cautious optimism about meeting another breed of customer, many of whom I may have not yet met or had the pleasure of serving them in my store. Don’t get me wrong, as I know that the excitement generated by the annual event is not to be understated or taken lightly, and I have adopted a position of active participant for Record Store Day 2018, but I am also aware of the fact that a large number of my regular weekly or monthly customers will be nowhere near a record store on that day. It is necessary for me to be the” Target” of record stores, in the same way, that the retail chain has grocery, pharmacy, and in-store Starbucks all under one roof to be a one-stop shop to their regular traffic, so too I must make choices for the business that allow it to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. In for a penny, in for a pound, right??

Tips for musicians launching an album? 

I live twenty minutes south of Santa Ana, and maybe once or twice a month I go out with my wife locally and maybe meet friends at the local establishments. I am not an authority on the local scene and am not a fair judge of what this town has to offer.

What mind-blowing album are you listing right now? 

I am currently listening to the original Starset release titled Transmissions, from July of 2015 on vinyl, released the prior year on CD. Three sides of songs on vinyl, the fourth being very cool etchings, frontman Dustin Bates is literally a rocket scientist, and much of their music includes references to how science and technology affect society. My 20-year-old son Blake discovered them online, and we have seen them perform live multiple times here in Southern California. Cinematic, scientific, breathtaking and original, I literally find new stuff to love with every listen! And their stage show and life experience are stunning and unforgettable!


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