Story Behind the Best DJ Equipment and Records Store in the US: Rock and Soul
In today’s blog, we take the opportunity to better understand your favorite DJ Equipment and Records store - Rock and Soul. In this interview, Rock and Soul’s owner Sharone shares her experiences and views on the changing music industry and how Rock and Soul went on to become one of the best DJ Equipment and Records store in the US.
If you believe in Rocking the party your way, we believe that Rock and Soul is the place to help you get started. Dive into this interview, and you shall see how.
Hello Sharone, thank you for giving us some time from your schedule. So to begin with, let me ask, What would you like the readers to know about you and Rock and Soul?
Hi, I am Sharone, the daughter of the founders of Rock and Soul. Rock and Soul was started in 1975 by Joseph Bechor, who came to the US to have a better life for his family. Initially, he experimented with a couple of businesses to see if any would succeed, and after amassing enough to support his family, he moved the rest of the family over here.
The story of Rock and Soul began with Joseph handling the electronic department while Shirley, his wife, ran the record department. I would say the major reason for them to succeed was by adapting to the times and always keeping the prices low and fair. Back in those days, if Tower Records sold a CD for $18.99, Rock and Soul would sell the same for as low as $12.99. This also happened in the case of Technics turntables, where people who did not know us would go to Sam Ash and then find out that the turntables were $100 cheaper at Rock and Soul.
Since you have commented about the early days, would you share further details about how Rock and Soul performed in its infancy stage?
Eventually, as record stores started closing across the US, the DJ community felt neglected and couldn't find records. You see, the DJs needed records to play on the turntables. But no one seemed to pay attention to this fact when CDs were first introduced. The fact that there would always be a need for records. Other stores weren't thinking about the DJs. It was still a relatively new concept.
So Rock and Soul kept selling records, and lots of singles were sold at that time. Also, each DJ needed two copies if they wanted to properly blend. So it became THE spot to go to for records. And thus, the electronics being sold at Rock and Soul changed from cameras and watches to speakers, turntables, mixing boards, needles, and many more. This is how Rock and Soul transformed into a full-fledged DJ store.
So, what would you say was the main idea upon which Rock and Soul was built?
My parents were immigrants. They were just looking for the ‘American dream’ and a means to support their family. Coincidentally, the magic of the hip-hop community was taking place right before their eyes. Grandmaster Flash came in looking for the next record to scratch. Kool Herc was playing in the Bronx looking for music. DJ Red Alert, was getting on the radio and looking for music. History was happening right in front of my parents and back then, they didn't realize the value they were bringing to the community by just carrying these goods that not many stores had, and that too at super fair and affordable prices.
Furthermore, RZA was looking for a place to sell this new record for the Wu-Tang Clan. But no one knew who they were yet. So they played their new record at the store. As time went on, Funkmaster Flex came looking for records for his next gig at the Tunnel. And then DJ Premier, Quest Love, and Q-Tip followed in to find inspiration for their next songs. Later, Mark Ronson visited the store, looking for beats to create the next big thing. Our biggest compliment is that these guys credit the store for their success. They have all even come by in the last couple of years.
It is really interesting to see that not only has Rock and Soul survived, but has instead thrived in a world of online music streaming and other digital technologies. What would you like to say about that?
There were times when we thought that the store would have to be closed, or that vinyl would die. Events like the introduction of CDs, the introduction of Napster, or the internet, or even the introduction of Serato were a big threat for Rock and Soul’s survival. But it was important to us each time, to move quickly, and move with the times. We believed in not becoming complacent. We kept thinking, kept innovating, and kept serving the community. But the bottom line, I think, is that people like having something tangible to pick up, something to take them back to another time. And let's face it, there's nothing better than picking up a great record!
We agree with you on that. There's nothing better than picking up a great record. But not many record store owners share the same thought as you do. As a result, many record stores have been closing across the US. What would you like to say about that?
I never would have thought we would outlast the Tower Records, FYE, and Virgin Records of the world. But here we are. We aren't trying to take over the industry. We are just providing a need, and some much needed culture to the community here in NYC. I am always sad when I see a record store closing. I always say, if you want a record store to stay around, you need to shop at record stores. Shopping on Amazon, or Target doesn't help the vinyl world. Sure it may make it more mainstream, but there's nothing like digging through a good collection of vinyl in a record store.
Rock and Soul was established by your parents. What was your motivation to continue with the family business?
I grew up in the store. My mom was even pregnant with me while working at Rock & Soul. It's in my blood I guess. I didn't have the heart to see it go, so I took over the reins and brought the company up to date with the times. Getting the website running, digitizing and recording and streaming our events, social media, etc.
After taking over the reins from your parents, what was your experience while running the business?
I remember there was a time where we thought we might have to close the business because of the rising rents. But still, we chose to expand. We realized how important we were to the DJ community. Instead of selling one single to someone, we were selling double copies of 10 singles. And then the equipment we sold were higher price tickets.
Look, we aren't trying to take over the industry, or become a superstore. We enjoy being the perfect DJ and Record Store. I feel like we are the music enthusiast's best kept secret. Maybe not everyone knows us, but the ones that do know us, feel privileged to know us. I'm not trying to turn Rock and Soul into a Guitar Center or like a store that sells records, because it's cool. This isn't a tourist trap. It's an authentic, New York City music store. Like the one’s found back in the day; one that caters to the community.
I can sense your passion for the business in that answer. Maybe it is because of the few remaining passionate owners like you that the Vinyl Records sale is experiencing a resurgence. What would you like to say about that? Also, why do you think people still love to purchase vinyl?
We have been hearing about the resurgence of vinyl for a long time. But it is hard to keep records around. Usually margins are about 25% and when you order a bunch of records, you are bound to be left with 25% of the stock. People like to see a selection. But, that being said, I think people find comfort in picking up something tangible, and flipping through the jacket, artwork, and gatefold.
Browsing through a bunch of records, it takes you back to the time that record came out. It's a nostalgic thing, but also, nothing heals like music. Even just the idea of music has healing capabilities. Even if you don't need to own it, you really want to own it. Since they made the record special, and the artwork beautiful, and just because it reminds you of something or a time and that means something to you. Everyone thought that records were dying so many times, but here we are, so many years later, after the cassette, and the CD, and there's still just something special about vinyl.
I also think that the pandemic did bring back the idea of listening to music at home. Less people were on the go, and some people started collecting records for the first time, or started collecting again. There's something special about looking at a record.
So it is the experience that makes the difference. We believe that with increasing demand, there must be an increasing need to serve this demand. How does Rock and Soul serve this need?
I believe in much more than just selling records. We are so much more than a record store. We create a small music community in this big city. We hold events monthly. Whether it be an open turntables event with a DJ company, a vinyl meet-up, DJ battles, Blend Battles. We feature local and world renowned DJs weekly either DJing in the window, or on our Twitch radio station. We teach kids and adults how to DJ and produce music, and offer programs for all ages.
We rent out gear for local events nearby, whether it's a concert, a restaurant that has a band, or a DJ, or a wedding. Sometimes we rent out to Madison Square Garden, or Gotham Hall. Our turntables and gear have been rented out to Alicia Keys, MixMaster Mike, Justin Timberlake, Saturday Night Live and so many more.
Have a needle you need to replace, but have no idea which. Bring it in, and we will do it for you and get you playing again. We repair the equipment we sell, and are a repair service center. And yes, at the base of it, of course we also sell DJ equipment and records. That is the heart and the foundation of who we are. We cater to the music lover, and all forms of it, The audiophile, the collector, the producer and the DJ.
Thank you very much for letting us have these priceless insights into the ever-changing music industry. We also applaud you and your family for sticking to the ideals of serving the DJ community.
Indeed, Rock and Soul has been a silent preserver and promoter of vinyl records.