Photo by: Gavin Freeman
Sound Spectrum: Beyond the Store. Laguna Beach–the not-so-hidden gem of Orange County beach towns. With its mesmerizing shores and enchanting boutiques, it’s no wonder it attracts a plethora of tourists every year. Amongst its infamous shops is Sound Spectrum, a portal into a realm of all things music: vinyl records and CDs, along with music-inspired art and clothing. Upon arrival, it transports visitors back to when the store was established in 1967, but with merchandise of both old and contemporary artists for sale.
Sound Spectrum was born during the ‘Summer of Love’ and in 1969, moved to its current location. Years later, the founder, Jim Otto, bought the building which saved the store from Laguna’s soaring rents. The building housed other retail endeavors prior to becoming a music store and was originally a beach house built in the 30s.
Otto was involved with the radio station, KSBR fm for about 30 years, with a reggae show. Now he is enjoying retirement. Wave Baker, the manager of Sound Spectrum plans on playing old recordings of Otto’s radio show in the store. Baker, 71, began working there in 2000. He refers to himself as a former “surfer kid” who played vinyl records since the 70s who always admired the shop, although he never expected to work in a music store.
The shop has racks full of current and vintage vinyl pressings and even more stacked under the racks. It’s perfect for finding the newly released album of one’s favorite artist or coming across obscure music someone wouldn’t find otherwise. Apart from vinyls, there is also a wall dedicated to an array of CDs available for purchase.
Wave Baker sees Sound Spectrum as much more than just a place of business. A cherished piece of old Laguna, he calls it a museum. The store is already seen as a meeting place for so many young people and Baker wants to further bring people together by offering classes in the future.
“We’ll have some sort of history of rock classes,” he said. “One of our employees is a drummer. He may have drum classes… and one other person who’s very into holistic medicine and yoga and different healing practices.”
Just like the store, there’s more to Wave Baker than his management title.
“I was a massage therapist for 25 years and I developed a way to heal yourself using your voice and I call my work ‘waveology’,” he said. “So there’ll be waveology classes and basically everything that I learned out surfing applies on land–everything moves in waves–and it’s all about balance to ride a wave.”
He also wants the establishment to be a resource to musicians.
“What we’d like to do is provide an education for young artists that will help them write their first album and produce it,” he said. “They can record and use it as their first CD, maybe, and they could take it to record labels, or whatever, and use that.”
His mission for Sound Spectrum is to ensure its legacy.
“I see a father and his son or daughter, and he’s saying ‘I bought my first album here in the 80s or whatever,” said Baker. “And I want that little kid to be able to say the same thing 30 years from now to his kid, long after I’m gone.”
Aside from sifting through music in person, Sound Spectrum also offers a special order service. Customers can call or make an order in person. The shop works with different distributors to always try to get music-lovers their records. Orders are typically picked up in store and if records are in stock, the shop receives them overnight. Their orders are made on Mondays and Thursdays. If there’s a question of a record’s quality, workers will inspect it and play it in the store.
COVID-19’s aftermath has meant a delay in Sound Spectrum receiving their t-shirts and posters. Walking up the stairs in the back of the store brings customers to the space featuring a variety of posters and t-shirts of album covers and artists. The entire store is plastered with vintage art and posters.
The front of the store exhibits paintings, sketches, jewelry and other art forms created by local artists. There are also other knick-knacks provided near the register such as pins, patches and stickers.
There is an influx of stimulating items shoppers often get lost examining. Baker emphasizes that people often visit the shop because it’s also an experience, which translates into his friendly customer service philosophy.
“When I hire someone, as I tell them, ‘this is your house’,” he said. “‘Anybody who comes through that door is a friend, they’re in your house… what are you gonna do when somebody walks into your house? Are you gonna ignore them? No, you’re gonna say hi’.”
Baker believes what sets Sound Spectrum apart from other stores is its comforting atmosphere and the sense of family people get by visiting.
“I’d say the main thing is that we care about them,” he said. “They feel that, so we get a lot of good friends, a big family now, from many years back and we’re still getting new people joining because of the new generation.”
He sees his purpose as manager to also help people, especially the younger generations, and loves sharing the truth and his own experiences of the 60s and 70s to young inquirers. Baker dismisses the romanticisation of the time, but also acknowledges it as a Renaissance that he believes is happening now. He places himself as someone who was a part of the small group during the 60s preaching peace and love, and strives every day to practice what he preaches. Sound Spectrum offers everyone a chance to find something that excites them.
“It’s like food, music, like food,” said Baker. “Some people like strawberries, some people like peaches better. It doesn’t mean strawberries are bad. It just means taste right… and everything we have in here has somebody who likes it… it’s emphasizing non-judgement kind of, it’s whatever moves you.”
Tim Mooshagian, 20, is a regular visitor of the shop, which has become a sanctuary for him.
“You can see it right when you walk in, it’s such a welcoming type of environment” said Mooshagian. “Peace, love, togetherness and usually in our society… there’s so much division… It’s a place where I can go and kind of like, be myself.”
The store has gone beyond just being a place where he goes to buy music-related items. It’s where he expands his music taste and finds community. He has met friends at Sound Spectrum. Mooshagian recalls meeting a man resembling Jim Morrison (the frontman for the band, The Doors) and chatting about the hippie movement, art, music and Laguna.
“Still to this day we’re friends and… I guess you could say I met Jim Morrison at Sound Spectrum,” he said.
Mooshagian doesn’t just frequent Sound Spectrum for its friendly ambiance. He also loves talking to Wave and admires all that he does for the store.
“Wave has one of the warmest hearts and is one of the most kind human beings,” he said. “He has such a soft soul.” Mooshagian has been going to the shop for about two years and always makes it his go-to stop whenever he is in Laguna. “The impact Sound Spectrum not only had on me, but the community is insane… it’s a place that will never die and it’ll never expire,” he said.
Sound Spectrum has a new website in the works that is estimated to be finished by the end of the year. Click here to learn more about Sound Spectrum. In the meantime, customers can stay up to date by following their social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Want more in Laguna Beach? Check out the best places in Laguna Beach to grab a drink.
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