DC’s Vinyl Heaven – Som Records

During the promotion of my first The Classics exhibition (RAP) I came across a local shop, that specializes in vinyl records, by the name of Som Records.

The owner, Neal Becton, was cool about promoting that event, and the others to follow, as well as being very cool about me doing some preliminary research, for my editorial projects, from the vinyl in his store.

Considering Neal’s Som Records is a diamond in the rough in this digital age I definitely wanted to put those that don’t know in the-know while providing some background info about him and Som for those that thought they did….

Where are you from and (or) where’d you grow up?

I’ve lived all over but I moved to Atlanta in the 5th Grade and stayed there through high school. The ATL is home although I’ve lived longer in DC now (22 years).

Who are some of the artists/groups that you were into growing up?

The first stuff I loved was mostly classic rock – Yes, The Who, The Beatles, Led Zep, Traffic, etc. My parents also had a lot of old country and blues records around so I liked those genres too. Once I got to college I discovered jazz and then everything else after that.

Are you musically inclined?  If so, what instruments do you play?  Were you ever in any bands/groups?

Not really. I played the cello for two years and tried to play the guitar but was never very good at either. I’ve always loved and paid attention to music even as a little kid.

Who or what got you interested in vinyl?

My parents had a pretty solid collection but I have to credit my Uncle Billy in Ridgewood, New Jersey for really getting me fired up about records. Billy had at least 1,000 LP’s and a really nice stereo and turned me on to countless bands I’d never heard before (UFO, Mott the Hoople, Horslips, AC/DC, etc.)

Roughly how many albums have you amassed in your personal collection?

The last time I moved 4 years ago we counted about 12,000. It’s probably a little bit higher now.

Within your collection what are some of your favorite or prized albums?

There are lots but the ones that mean the most to me are usually ones that have a story attached. I’ve been on three buying trips to Brazil and some of those records I’d put on the most prized list.

When speaking to DJs and vinyl collectors, they often talk about the superior sound quality of vinyl over MP3s, etc….  What are your thoughts?

Vinyl rules sound wise. Next time you see one DJ handing off to another DJ and one is playing vinyl and the other CD’s or MP’s just listen and you’ll hear it plain as day. Vinyl just has more umph!

Before Som, can you talk about your beginnings in the “music industry”?

I started as a DJ so my only “industry” experience before this was as a frequent shopper.

What motivated you to start-up Som and how long has it been open?

I’ve been here about four years. I left a ten year job in the Washington Post newsroom to open my shop. For years I joked that I had so many records that I should have my own shop! Once I had said that enough times I believed it!

How hard or easy was it to open the shop?

It was pretty tough getting the financing and finding the right space but not impossible..I had the initial stock so I was OK there. Dealing with the DC bureaucracy isn’t the easiest some times though.

How did you come to the name Som?

“Som” is the Portuguese word for sound. I collect Brazilian records passionately and the word Som I used to see all the time and  I liked the sound of it (so to speak).

Where does your stock come from?

All over the place. My own collection, estate sales, thrift stores, flea markets, relatives’ houses and just people bringing collections into the shop (the longer you stay open the more this happens).

On the DJ tip, where are some of your favorite places (stores, locales, etc…) to shop for vinyl?

Can’t reveal any of my local spots. Outside of DC I like Plan 9 in Richmond, Own Guru in Baltimore, the Princeton Record Exchange, and Good Records in NYC.

In addition to the vinyl, I noticed that you also have a collection of unique memorabilia and signage in the shop.  Where did you acquire those items?

I’ve been collecting music posters and tickets for years. I always said I was going to have my own record store some day and I’d need decorations!

In a digital age, what are some of the challenges that you encounter selling vinyl?

Getting people to pay for music they’ve been downloading for free can be tough some times but at least with a record you can see something tangible in your hands. CD’s have always felt disposable to me.

What are some of the things that you most enjoy about running Som?

Hanging out in a record store all day. Listening to music all the time. Talking about music all day. Being my own boss. Writing off my record collecting obsession.Way more pluses than minuses.

Who are you listening to these days – new and old?

I listen to every thing all the time. Every day I bring in 10-12 records from my personal collection to play in the shop. Today it was (randomly) Lulu, Mudhoney, Wings, Elodie Lauten, the Lagos Disco Inferno compilation, Mott the Hoople, the new Soul Jazz Orchestra LP and La Clave. Tomorrow it might be a bunch of Brazilian or reggae LPs.

Over the years, there seems to be this interest in classic everything – from clothing, to furniture, to architecture, and this includes the resurgence of vinyl.  Why do you think that is?

Not sure about the other things but vinyl is timeless. It’s still the best sounding and the best looking format for music that’s out there. When you put an original Miles Davis LP on your turntable you can imagine yourself being in a small apartment in Greenwich Village in 1958 doing the same exact thing.

I read that you’ve had some notable artists/groups shop at Som.  Can you give us a quick run down on who some of those individuals were?

We get a lot of producers looking for records in here – Peanut Butter Wolf, Dam-Funk, Kid Koala, Spinna as well as most of the good local hip-hop producers. We’re right next to the Black Cat so we get a lot of bands coming in here after soundcheck.

Weirdest celebrity moment was when Juliette Lewis spent a few hours digging in here on a slow Monday afternoon. I didn’t realize who she was until she cam up to pay. She was very nice and she also bought  a bunch of records.

What does the future entail for Som?  Any plans of opening new locations – a club, a record label?

My only definite plans for now are to keep stocking the best new and used records in DC. I work very hard at finding records and will continue to do so. I don’t want to run a label or own a club. I may put out some compilations under the Som name or sponsor some DJ/band nights but that’s as close to the club/record business as I’m going to get!

For more visit www.somrecords.com.


About gmoney77

My name is Gerald Watson and I do lifestyle marketing for various companies/agencies. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the people I work with, the work I do as well as the shit I see on the regular.

Posted on April 14, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I visited Som back in 2007 when I was living in Virginia. I wasn’t very knowledgeable about records at the time, so I didn’t buy much. Now that I’m more vinyl savvy, I’d love to go back.

  2. Yeah I was wandering and went into this place, loved the accessories…

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