You can’t live in the DC Metro area and not know about Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe so I’m glad to be able to share it with more of you. Between the live shows, and records to browse while you have coffee there’s something for everyone. I was introduced to Alisha by her partner Joe Lapan, which I’m thankful for because she’s worked so hard on this venture.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
It came from a lot of talk about missing the act of truly listening to music… and I always like to follow my passions if I am able; thankfully I have a partner that is the same way. … And so Songbyrd Music House and Cafe begun.
What is a day in the life like?
Well I run a record cafe, a bar and a venue. It has two kitchens and a lot of staff and often two to three music events a night; so, I mostly wake up, think of what needs to be followed through with and I try to get to all of it.
I do all the food and beverage menus, so I spend a lot of time experimenting with food and drinks while trying to listen to the music that is going to come in through our doors. If I am trying out new recipes at home I get to blast my records, often from bands that have played our spot or records we’ve done listening parties for, that is fun for me.
But really, I work seven days a week and outside of occasionally being overwhelmed it’s rewarding. I say all of this now with light heartedness because I have a great team after three years (the two first years were rough), there was a lot I didn’t know but, with the help of a great team and friends in the industry buying records, booking shows and running the spaces has become for the most part manageable.
What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
Oh gosh that is a truly hard question, I’m going to answer it kind of generally. We do listening parties, which is at the base of our idea. Sometimes the record companies give us vinyl or links to albums before they are released to the public and with those we throw pre-release parties. Those are awesome! To see a whole bunch of people collectively gathering to hear music first is cool, it reminds me of when I was a kid (I was born before the internet, when we listened to music in groups).
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
When we first opened the ‘Record Cafe’ I was still building out the bar and music venue while training and managing the cafe staff, I never slept and was way over my head. The only saving grace was that a staff member named Jonathan wanted to help curate the vinyl, he became the only solid reliable thing as part of my day to day. Navigating the record industry, booking and hospitality industry all at once was a rough job, but Joe (my partner) and the team that followed all pitched in to help. We also had some friends at Warner Records (WEA) that helped us understand how to get moving on getting new vinyl, that was a hard nut to crack.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Hmm advice, it’s hard because I am not sure we went about it the way other people do or should. It seems like a lot of people who go into selling vinyl start with used vinyl, with that you should start amassing a good collection, work on finding connections into bulk purchases. Once you have gotten a good collection you can start with selling at record fairs and such. It’s a tight knit community so once you work within it you will know a lot of people and have good insight.
We went into it blind, Joe and only knew we wanted to sell and work with new vinyl, we felt like it was going to come back. If you want to deal with new vinyl you should contact all the record companies that you can find and see who is willing to sell to you, it is hard in the beginning because you don’t have any record, no one knows who you are.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Yes, I am a vinyl collector. My dad had vinyl growing up, even when my mom wanted to only have CD’s in the house. At one point in high school I had almost 1000 records, even though it wasn’t very cool at the time, I don’t think I appreciated what I had at the time as much as I should have though. In collage I lost my lust for vinyl but in my 20’s I moved to Portland OR, and for a short time I worked at this vintage furniture and vinyl store, we didn’t have a radio, just a record player and a huge collection of vinyl that I could play, it really brought back my love for vinyl.
When Joe and I talked about creating a space dedicated to listening to music vinyl seemed a natural place to start. Vinyl is this big kind of clumsy object that in a way forces you to listen to an album or compilation in its entirety, and with the audio quality being profoundly better than compressed files it makes you hear all the nuances of a song or album. How could we not have vinyl?
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
The industry is growing there are more and more pressing plants opening and expanding which is great. It can be hard for indie bands and labels to navigate and get in the queue to have the albums pressed though, and I hope with more pressing machines coming on line this will get easier, as it was mostly indie bands and labels that kept pressing plants alive during its slump.
What are you listening to right now?
I will always love the 70’s glam rock era music but as far as new music I am really into all the R&B/HipHop that is coming out right now. We rented out the Howard Theater this summer and did a show with Jorja Smith, she is amazing.
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