Nestled in an unsuspecting San Clemente shopping center is the epicenter of South County’s burgeoning music scene: Power Plant Records. An all-in-one record store, recording studio and music academy, Biff Cooper’s shop has essentially evolved into what he calls “a community center for artists.”
Power Plant Records is much more than the average record store, which is what Cooper always intended. “The vision for the layout was [for it] to be kind of like Motown Records,” he explains. “They had studios at the back of the shop that were separated by windows. So potentially, there could be three different recording artists in there, and you could see them all working while you were just looking through the shop.” Indeed, on any given day at Power Plant, it’s likely you’ll see some learning, teaching, writing, recording or producing going on.
Cooper—a lifelong South County resident, musician, sound engineer and all-around music aficionado—admits that much of the inspiration for the shop’s “community vibe” came from an unlikely source: Johnny Winter. The Texas blues legend, who was scheduled to play a gig down the street at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, sent his manager into the shop to talk to Cooper. “He said that when Johnny was a kid, his mom would just drop him off at the local record store when she went to work,” Cooper recalls. “So he was just hanging out there, meeting different types of people and listening to all kinds of music. He said that if it weren’t for the record store, Johnny wouldn’t have become a musician and that the music industry is different because those types of hubs don’t exist for people to congregate at anymore. It’s kind of like holy ground.”
One can’t help but imagine how proud Winter would be if he stepped into Power Plant today. With more than 150 students, an eclectic roster of recording artists and seemingly endless opportunities for musicians to network, the shop has garnered a culture all its own. Since it seems to be the go-to recording spot for all genres, it’d be difficult to find a South County artist who hasn’t been there. Among the most notable groups to come through Power Plant are the Flytraps. “Their Sunset Strip R.I.P. album was recorded, mixed, and mastered here,” Cooper says. “One of those songs made it onto a Marvel TV show, so that was pretty cool.”
He also organized an “Artist Networking” clipboard inside the shop and on its social media pages, so musicians could exchange contact information and connect with one another to collaborate. This act of community engagement led to the predominantly rock-oriented Power Plant attracting hip-hop artists. “That’s how we got hooked up with these hip-hop guys; they love vinyl and cassettes,” Cooper says. “So we started veering a little bit more into that arena.” Cooper has been not only recording some of these artists, but also working on music videos with them.
Cooper is so much more than a record-store owner. He’s a visionary who isn’t afraid of growth and change. Having found that music lessons are the most lucrative aspect of Power Plant, he hopes to share that strategy. “We want to help record stores stay open,” Cooper says. “So our dream is . . . to open up more locations for lessons in the back of other record stores.”