Music

Meet the Music-Loving Couple Behind Local Vinyl Shop Backspacer Records

Looking for a vinyl record? They’ll hook you up.
IMAGE BACKSPACER RECORDS
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In the live recording of a Pearl Jam concert in Los Angeles in 2013, you can hear frontman Eddie Vedder call somebody in the audience and bring him onstage. That somebody is Filipino superfan Robert Tuazon, who flew out to the U.S. with his wife Tasha just to watch the iconic rock band in the flesh. Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines just a few weeks earlier, and Vedder had read a post Tuazon wrote in an online forum about coming to see the band. The rock star ended up pledging to donate a substantial amount to typhoon relief efforts through Tuazon. 

It was a surreal experience, and one that Robert and Tasha continue to think about to this day. The appreciation for Vedder and company extends to two of their offspring: one a human, whom they ended up naming Edward, and another their enterprise—vinyl record shop Backspacer Records, which they named after Pearl Jam’s ninth studio album.

The beginnings of Backspacer Records 

“Robert started collecting vinyl around 2009, after Pearl Jam released Backspacer,” Tasha tells Esquire Philippines. “From then on every time he traveled he’d buy records just for himself.”

The collection started growing, and from one crate, it soon filled one shelf, and, eventually, took up several shelves in the couple’s modest condo unit.

Robert was a fixture of online forums and soon developed a reputation as someone who could procure copies of certain records for other people. 

Para hindi ako magalit,” Tasha says with a chuckle, “whenever he’d see good deals, or discounted records, he’d buy two or three copies, and sell it to other people through the forums.”

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In 2017, the couple was invited to participate in the local celebrations for World Record Store Day, a global event that promotes the love and appreciation for physical copies of music. It was around that time that they decided to take the record-selling business more seriously. They registered the name Backspacer, applied for all the necessary permits and licenses, and, thanks to Tasha’s background in ecommerce, set up an official online sales channel. That was the beginning of Backspacer Records.

Photo by Backspacer Records.

The couple rode the wave of an increased interest and demand for vinyl. In 2005, vinyl sales worldwide was at $35 million, according to Statista. By 2015, that figure had ballooned to $416 million. In terms of absolute numbers, about one million vinyl records were sold in the U.S. alone in 2007. That number shot up to 27.5 million in 2020. It was also the first time in 34 years that vinyl overtook CD sales in the U.S.

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And the trend is showing no signs of slowing down. The number of vinyl records sold rose 108 percent in the first six months of 2021 to 19.2 million from 9.2 million during the same period last year.

Adele, Peryodiko, and more 

Although Robert and Tasha started planning a physical store as early as 2018 or 2019, it didn’t happen until earlier this year, no thanks to the pandemic. Last July, Backspacer Records opened its first location in Pasig City. Unlike other, slightly larger local record stores, the shop sells a curated selection of releases, and, according to the couple, the demand is split almost evenly between foreign and OPM records.

“I’d say we have (a catalogue of) about 3,000 records in the store right now,” Tasha says. “Robert curates the (inventory).”

For foreign releases, Robert says the shop has a lot of “old,” or nostalgia-driven albums, as well as current ones from some of the world’s biggest artists, like Queen, Norah Jones, and Taylor Swift. But, notably, the bestselling foreign release currently is Adele’s latest, 30. The couple has a special arrangement with global music label Sony, which distributes the record in the Philippines exclusively through Backspacer Records.

Adele's 30 is Backspacer Records' current top-selling foreign release

 

Photo by website / adele.com.
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Interestingly, demand for local releases in vinyl has also gone up over the last few years. Tasha says some of their current top-selling local releases are records by Ric Segreto, VST and Co., Side A, and the soundtrack to the iconic ‘80s film Bagets.

The popularity of OPM gave the couple an idea: why not try convincing local artists to release their records on vinyl? While streaming is, by far, the preferred method of music distribution these days, it was the constant inquiries from their customers about local vinyl releases—and the fact that practically none of the major labels are producing any—that convinced Robert and Tasha that it was worth a try.

They started with somebody they knew—Vin Dancel of Peryodiko, who was initially hesitant about saying yes to a vinyl press of their self-titled debut album.

“(Dancel) didn’t think people would buy it,” Robert says.

The couple eventually convinced the frontman, and Backspacer Records ended up financing the production of an initial 200 copies of the album. To the surprise of no one (except, perhaps, of Dancel), it was sold out at pre-orders, before it even hit the shelves.

With a successful initial release, Robert and Tasha began to take on more projects. They approached local artists and, eventually, the labels, and tried to convince them to let Backspacer take care of producing the vinyl records. 

Photo by Backspacer Records.
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“How we do it is we have a contract with the artists,” Tasha says. “It just says that we will help them to facilitate and distribute the vinyl. We finance the pressing and production. But we’re very conservative; 200 to 300 lang. Maybe maximum of 1,000 copies.” 

Through an arrangement with Sony, Backspacer Records released the vinyl of The Itchyworms’ latest album Waiting for the End to Start. The initial 250 copies were sold out in four days. They’ve also worked on a record with former Yano frontman Dong Abay, Barbie Almalbis, Ebe Dancel, Truefaith, and The Purplechickens.

Soon to be released are the self-titled album of Kitchie Nadal, Dong Abay’s Filipino, a record from Ciudad, a compilation of various artists produced by Raymund Marasigan, and Narda’s Discotillion, which the band re-recorded and renamed Discotrillion and was re-mastered by Ely Buendia. 

All this has convinced the husband-and-wife team about the potential of physical releases and to go all out in trying to bring them back in the country. Tasha says they’re currently drafting a letter of intent with the Philippine Association of the Record Industry (PARI) for a possible collaboration.

“We want the (artists) to be encouraged na ma-press yung albums nila,” Tasha says. “Kami pa lang nagte-take on ng challenge, kasi siyempre, risky din siya.”

The record store experience 

In the meantime, the couple is busy running their fledgling record store. The majority of customers still transact online, but Backspacer Records is slowly welcoming walk-in customers and making the experience of coming in to browse through records—something that had once become extinct—possible once again.

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Tasha says she divides their customers into three general categories.

“The first are the audiophiles, or those really looking for sound quality,” she says. “Sila yung napapansin yung bawat pitik or yung patak ng ulan, kung maganda ba yung pressing. Mahirap ma-impress, pero sila yung may authority sa vinyl world.” 

Photo by Backspacer Records.

The second, which is the biggest group, are the collectors, who are naturally driven by nostalgia.

Sila yung dating may mga cassette or CD, who grew up with artists like Alanis Morrissette and Guns ‘N Roses. Plus, these are professionals, like, lawyers or visual artists, so may kayang bumili.”

“We once had a surgeon come in here na death metal ang pinapakinggan niya,” Robert adds. “Pang-relax daw.

And the third is what Tasha calls the “discoverers.”

“These are the youngsters, the digital natives, or those who grew up and inabot nila na wala nang physical music. Usually sila na yung mga anak nung nasa second group. It’s nice to see sometimes yung mga bonding moments nila, parent and kid, kanya-kanyang bili.” 

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“I think they miss the experience of going to the store, browsing, and finding that one record,” Robert says about the continued growth of physical records sales. “But of course, streaming is convenient. It’s nice to have the best of both worlds. But sa Vinyl, you get the full sensory experience, hindi lang sa tenga, pag bukas mo ng record, you feel closer to the artist, because you know pinag-hirapan nila yun.”

Tsaka pag nag-play ka ng vinyl, wala kang kaagaw sa Wi-Fi,” Tasha adds. 

Despite the increase in overhead costs (space rental, their first employee hire), the couple is hopeful that vinyl sales will continue its upward trajectory. Tasha says the coming year will be a busy one for the company, with as many as 20 upcoming projects.

Kahit sampu lang ang matuloy, dami na nun.”

Check out Backspacer Records’s website here. Backspacer Records is Sony Music Philippines' official distribution partner of Adele’s latest album 30. The record is also available through Backspacer Records’ retail partners: Plaka Planet in Makati City, Stereofiles in Quezon City, and Baihaus in Cebu City.

 

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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