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Interview with Russ of 10,000 Hz Records: Building a Music Community in Opelika


Join us in an interview with Russ, the co-founder of 10,000 Hz Records, as he shares the inspiring journey from pop-up events to establishing a permanent vinyl record shop in downtown Opelika...

Russ, can you take us through your journey from hosting pop-up events to establishing a permanent storefront for 10,000 Hz Records? What factors influenced your decision to settle in downtown Opelika instead of Auburn?

Well, we did the pop-ups pretty regularly for about a year and a half - sort of testing the waters, I guess, and looking to find other people who were interested in some of the same things we were interested in. My wife Hannah and I were still pretty new to Alabama and Auburn/Opelika and we met a lot of people that way, just hanging out talking about records.

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The idea was always to open a shop, but we had to get a better sense for whether it was a workable idea for this area. Within 6 months or so, we'd built up a little crowd of regulars for those events and we felt ok about it so we started sorting out a good arrangement for a space that would be newly renovated for us and that wasn't going to cost a gazillion dollars to get into. We considered some spots in Auburn (there is a giant university there, you might've heard), but we didn't find anything that felt especially right and everything was substantially more expensive than in Opelika. I think we made the right decision. We live a mile from our shop and we have relatively low overhead...we'll have to try pretty hard to screw things up bad enough to go out of business.

Given your diverse inventory, could you describe the main genres 10,000 Hz Records focuses on? How do you balance mainstream offerings with niche categories like Japanese imports and audiophile pressings?

Yeah, I think where we are in the world (and where we've been) has a lot to do with what we carry in the shop. We're from North Carolina originally, and we lived in Chapel Hill for quite a long time and I played in bands and booked (and saw!) a lot of shows and toured and all that...there's a pretty rich indie rock tradition up there, and that's the scene both Hannah and I grew up in and around. So rock - most types and sub-genres and eras of it - is sort of our wheelhouse. It's what we're most knowledgeable about and it's the angle we come at this stuff from, so we carry a lot of it. But when we opened, ours was an hour+ from the next closest record shop. We had a good sense that the people who were into buying records would find us no matter where we were, and that they would probably go out of their way to do so because that's exactly what we did for the first couple of years we lived here. And so we figured out pretty quickly that if all kinds of people with all kinds of interests were gonna be driving here from half an hour or an hour or farther away, we should probably make sure they could find something they want in our place when they get here. I'm always amazed when I go to a shop in a proper city and it's all punk and metal, or all rap and DJ stuff. I'm glad that those places exist, but it would be extremely difficult to pull something like that off in Opelika, Alabama.

So anyways, we've got lots of jazz and hip-hop and country and soul and folk and electronic - a decent amount of, well, just about everything at this point. But I've gotta say, when we got started, I didn't realize how many pop records we'd be selling. There have definitely been weeks where it feels like Taylor Swift is straight up paying the bills, and I'm fine with that. Selling a bunch of Taylor Swift LPs means we can afford to take chances on bringing in records that fewer people may have heard or that aren't likely to sell as fast, but whose audiences are maybe more appreciative when they find them here in the wild.

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And we do have a pretty extensive audiophile selection at this point. MOFI, Analogue Productions, Speakers Corner, Pure Pleasure, some fun Japanese and Brazilian and otherwise Euro pressings. That sort of grew alongside our website around the start of Covid. As I'm sure you know, scarcity was a big problem in the vinyl industry from 2020 until about the last year or so. I suppose it's still a problem for plenty of things, but most best-seller kinda titles have more or less been widely available again since about last year. There were weeks and months for a while there where we couldn't find copies of, like, Rumours. In the first year or two of the pandemic, we'd always try to load up on MOFI and other audiophile titles from wherever we could source them because we were finding we could always sell more copies of those releases than we could get our hands on. We were charging normal prices, and some of that was certainly re-sellers and flippers buying things from us and then plopping them on eBay or Discogs or whatever for twice as much, although we try our best to fight that kind of thing with quantity limits and some other safeguards. But yeah, selling 40 copies of the MOFI press of American Beauty in a day or whatever was the kind of thing that helped keep us afloat when things were fairly uncertain. And it wasn't just flippers buying that stuff - a lot of those people became regulars both on the website and in the shop, and so it just started making a lot of sense to carry more of that kind of thing, although I will say the MOFI releases are moving *much* more slowly these days, but that's a whole other story.

Funny thing is, we're not even particularly audiophile types. I can appreciate nice gear, but you don't have to spend a fortune on a cartridge or turntable or preamp or a fancy pants pressing to enjoy this stuff. We've got a pretty modest setup at home - a little Marantz 1060B I got for cheap about a decade ago, a 90s Technics player from when Hannah was in high school, and my dad's old Sansui floor speakers - and only a slightly better listening arrangement in the shop.

10,000 Hz Records is known for its unique atmosphere and thoughtful curation. Can you explain how the design and layout of your store enhances the shopping experience? What strategies do you employ to cater to both casual browsers and serious collectors?

I think a big part of what has made our shop appealing to people is the place itself. It's an old and kind of peculiar building and it doesn't look like much from the outside. There aren't a lot of windows, so you can't really see what's going inside from the sidewalk, but more often than not, when people walk in the door for the first time, they're like "Oh!” It's bigger than a lot of shops, and we've been pretty intentional about how we've arranged and filled the space and what we've put on the walls and all that. Lots of little nooks and crannies and a little lounge to hang out in. I worked in restaurants for a long time and I learned to appreciate how much the atmosphere of a place can affect people's impression of it.

There's roughly 10,000 new and used titles on the floor at any given moment, all organized by genre, and often by sub-genre, the idea being that things that are kinda/sorta like each other live next to each other. Like you won't find Def Leppard next to Deerhunter because Deerhunter is in with the indie stuff and Def Leppard is with the 80s rock stuff. Seems like a no-brainer, but it's a pretty overwhelming amount of things to organize and keep organized all the time, and it takes a lot of effort to keep it from becoming a giant mess. I've had plenty of good experiences in shops and flea malls where you spend 3 hours digging through random piles and bins to find one thing you need, but it's nice to make it a little easier for people.

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As far as curation goes, with new vinyl, we mostly bring in records we like, records we know are important to people, records we think will be important to someone somewhere, or records we just know people are gonna buy. But with used stuff, it's trickier. We're sort of at the mercy of what people bring us or what we can find. Pretty early on, before we had the shop, I started buying up collections where I could and began building up a solid used stock we could pull from to refresh the used bins every week. At this point, there's a 2nd record shop's worth of used LPs sitting in the back room in the queue waiting to go on the floor...people have started shops with a fraction of what's back there. I mean, we did. But with used LPs, we've tried to avoid the trap of filling our bins with a lot of $1, $2, and $3 records that people see at every thrift store they walk into in the U.S. Someone out there definitely wants Dan Fogelberg LPs, and I know it for a fact because every collection of 70s rock and folk we see has roughly 10 of them and at least some of those people are still with us on this planet. If you're looking for those, just ask and I'll see what I can dig up in the back room. But because we clean, play-test, and grade everything that goes on the floor of the shop, and because it's a pretty labor intensive process and a slower one than I'd like it to be, I try not to spend my time doing all that for records where the fair price is a couple of bucks. It's not a judgment on the music, just the truth about what some titles are worth in 2024. I also don't love the idea of sticking out boxes of cheap and dirty records, although we do that sometimes when we need to get rid of things. It's more fun to use my time trying to improve the condition on that OG Operation Doomsday or this stack of 80s Motorhead LPs for someone who *really* wants them. There will always be more Simon & Garfunkel LPs. There will always be more Billy Joel LPs. If you don't see them on the floor, we’ve almost certainly got a stack of them in the back.

Community engagement seems integral to your business. How has the community around 10,000 Hz Records evolved since you opened? What kinds of events have you hosted to attract different types of customers?

When we first opened, we had a beer license and we used to put on 3-band bills in our lounge every few weeks. There was a lot more free space in here back then, and it was a good way to get people in the door who might not have known we exist and do some extra business on a Friday night. Covid more or less ended that, and by the time we re-opened, because of how much our business had grown and changed all the way around, it just didn't make sense - for a variety of reasons - to have scores of people packing in and drinking beer around all this stuff. I do miss having shows in the shop and seeing local bands play in here, but there are only a few of us keeping this thing running and it seemed best to focus on doing a handful of things pretty well rather than wearing ourselves out trying to be a bar/venue on top of it all.

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We’ve been doing more listening parties lately, and once in a blue moon, we'll present a show out in the Railyard - a covered, sort-of-outdoors old loading dock a few yards down the block from our storefront. The tracks that run through the middle of downtown are visible from the "stage" and a train will almost certainly interrupt the quietest song of a band's set. Wednesday and MJ Lenderman played out there a couple of years back on their way to SXSW, about 5 minutes before both acts became nationally-known superstars (in indie rock circles, at least). We've got big ideas for another show or two later this year...we'll see how those come together. The Railyard is where we've held our Record Store Day events since 2020.

It's become kind of *cool* to trash RSD in recent years, and I get some of the frustrations with it in some ways, but I've gotta say, it's been really good for us. Those events introduce our shop to a ton of new people every year, both in real life and through our website. We're 7 miles from Auburn University, so a lot of our typical customers are involved with the university in some capacity, either as students or faculty or staff of some sort. But, again, because we're kind of a hub for people who are into this stuff across a pretty big swath of east Alabama and west Georgia, we see all types of people and we get people asking for all kinds of music. We're 5 minutes off I-85, so increasingly we're seeing more and more folks who find us one way or another and pop in off the highway as they're driving through the area not knowing much about the place, and some of those random passersby have become our pals and some of our best customers.

Restoration is a significant aspect of your business. Could you elaborate on the techniques and equipment you use to restore used vinyl? How do these efforts influence customer satisfaction and repeat business?

Yeah, it's become one of the things I enjoy the most about this work - taking something that has flaws and improving them, if not eliminating them entirely. I used to use the Okki Nokki for record cleaning - a VPI-style wand/vacuum with a motorized platter, which I thought was the end-all-be-all of record cleaning when I first got it. But a few years back, someone recommended the Kirmuss Audio ultrasonic system and, man, the Okki Nokki hasn't seen much use since we got that thing. It's not exactly cheap, and it's more time-consuming than the vacuum machines, but the results we get with it can be fairly miraculous sometimes. Won't fix a deep scratch - nothing will, in my experience - though it can sometimes make them slightly less annoying. And it will absolutely sort out just about any problems related to dirt. We run all of our used stuff through it, often several times if it seems like a record will benefit from the extra effort, and it's a great tool for a shop like ours in a small market where we can't be too picky (just a little picky) about what we buy. We can take records that look pretty rough and, more often than not, get them in playable shape again. Plus, people really seem to appreciate buying a record that's been cleaned, in a fresh inner sleeve, in a new polysleeve, with old adhesives and grime removed from the jacket (usually with lighter fluid and a wringed-out Clorox wipe), play-tested and graded as accurately and honestly as we can with the flaws disclosed. That's how I'd want to see it done, so that's how we do it.

For individuals looking to sell their vinyl collections, what criteria does 10,000 Hz Records use to evaluate and accept records? What advice would you offer to someone considering selling their vinyl to a store like yours?

For sure, we buy records just about every day. What we buy, and what we can pay, really just depends on what it is and what kind of condition it's in. There's no set criteria, exactly, but if there was, it'd look something like this: if it's a title our customers are likely to buy, if it's not destroyed, and if we don't have 1,000 copies of it sitting in the back room, we'll offer a fair price for it...usually somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the Discogs median, adjusting up or down for condition and, um, hard-to-come-by-ness. It's not rocket science, and it shouldn't be some kind of secret that shops like ours aren't gonna pay out top-dollar Discogs/eBay prices for records. You can absolutely make more money than any business will pay you for your stuff by listing and selling your records off one by one on those platforms. It'll take time and effort, and knowing something about records and grading, but just about anyone can learn to do it. Or hell, you could build a website of your own and start a brick & mortar shop and sell them there and cut out a lot of those seller's fees. But that's work, isn't it? There are worse jobs out there, we're pretty sure.

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