By Susan Sliwicki
Although we've never met Jacques van Gool’s mom, we suspect that she’s pretty cool. When the future rock and roll auction house owner opened his birthday gift in 1973, he found the turntable he’d been hoping for — but no records to play on it. So, his mom walked with him to a nearby record shop.
“I’m standing there with my mother, and I’m looking in the window, and the first album that caught my eye was Black Sabbath,” van Gool recalls. “So we went in and bought Black Sabbath’s second album.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for his parents to tell him to turn his record player down.
“Pretty much the same day,” he admits. “I remember my mother coming home one day with a fairly big box, and she said, ‘Here, please use this.’”
Inside was a set of huge, funky headphones.
“With the headphones, I could literally crank it up to the point that by the time I was done playing the record, my ears would literally ring,” he recalled.
Admittedly, that move may not have been the best thing for van Gool’s hearing. But it built his appreciation for the music and the artists who produced it, particularly heavy metal.
So in all, it makes sense that he eventually chose to open an auction house that specializes in selling music and related memorabilia. Van Gool and his wife, Kelli, operate Backstage Auctions, which marks its 10th anniversary this year. Kelli van Gool shared her perspectives on the music collecting industry with Goldmine.
GOLDMINE: What’s the history of Backstage Auctions? What prompted you to start the business, what led to your choice to pursue the niche of consigning large items directly from artists and industry professionals, vs. simply offering collectibles at large?
BACKSTAGE AUCTIONS: It’s was really Jacques’ passion for music and his personal hobby of collecting music memorabilia that was the driving force behind the idea. Having nearly three decades of collecting, trading and brokering memorabilia, he recognized that significant changes were occurring in the collectors market when eBay started to become a widely popular platform for selling memorabilia in the late ’90s and early 2000. Suddenly people from all over the world had access to buying and selling memorabilia through the Internet, which was awesome. However, with the good also came the bad, and the market was flooded with fakes and forgeries, and at the time, there really wasn’t a good (system of) checks and balances in place to weed out the non-authentic pieces.
We started conceptually thinking about it in early 2000 and after doing quite a bit of research, talking to friends who were big time collectors and a whole host of musician friends, we finally took the idea from concept to reality in 2003. Our business model was simple; we would work exclusively with musicians and industry professionals directly, which in turn gave collectors access to authentic pieces of music memorabilia without questioning the provenance or authenticity of any piece we would offer up for auction or for sale. For collectors, it offers a unique opportunity to purchase items that have a direct link back to the artist, and for our clients, it provides them with a professional and highly reputable selling platform to empty out their storage facilities filled with music history.
Our goal when we started was stimulate and revitalize the collectors market, restore buyers’ confidence and put some much-needed integrity back into the collectibles market. Fast-forward 10 years later, and I believe that we accomplished those goals and continue to keep the thrill and excitement in collecting rock and roll memorabilia alive. After all, nothing beats owning an authentic piece of music history.
GM: Before you launched Backstage Auctions, what were your careers?
BA: Well, we both had nearly 20 years of corporate business experience before launching Backstage Auctions, and interestingly, we both started our careers in human resources. I progressed through my career in more of a strategic human resources role, with a focus in development and communications, and Jacques’ skills were focused more on the merger and acquisition side of things. Our previous careers did prove to be very beneficial when you peel down our experience and apply it to core business functions.
GM: What do you find is the hardest or most challenging part of your business? And what is your favorite part?
BA: Like with any business, developing business and securing collections is always a challenge. Our clients have very demanding schedules, especially the ones who are actively touring and recording. It’s getting the stars to align at the precise moment when we get a “yes,” and getting a “yes” can sometimes takes months on end, even years.
Probably for both me and Jacques, our favorite part is when the collections actually get delivered to our studio. It’s quite a thrill to open of a box that contains original recordings, handwritten lyrics that are decades old, or even stage-worn attire and concert-used gear. It’s history, and it’s not only our client’s history, but it’s a part of our personal history, because we grew up listening to these artists.
We also get a tremendous satisfaction when our clients actively participate in promoting their auctions. Ted Nugent played a very active role in his auction, as did Herbie Herbert, Page Hamilton, Kip Winger, Scott Ian and Charlie Benante. Social media is a very powerful tool, especially when an artist has a tremendous following. It’s a lot of fun following the interaction between the artists and their fans when the auction is live. The fans and collectors eat it up, which always have a direct impact on the auction results.
GM: What’s the significance of the Backstage Auctions red star logo?
BA: Well the cliché answer would be that it represents being a star ... you know, a “rock star,” and that certainly applies. We have changed our logo a bit over the years, but the constant that has never changed is the recognizable red star. Setting the business answer aside, it also has a personal meaning for Jacques and me, dating back to when we first met. So there is a little bit of us in our logo, which I personally think is cool.
GM: What are a couple of memorable experiences you’ve had through they years with Backstage Auctions? (i.e interesting consignments, fun stories about nervous consignors, etc.?)
BA: Oh, gosh, there are so many amazing stories and experiences. We are really fortunate to have worked with so many artists, producers and managers that each one has a great story I could tell. Every client is different when it comes to how involved he or she would like to be during the auction. Some track their own items and watch their personal VIP auction dashboard on the last day, while others call for updates. But a favorite story of mine is one of our clients was so excited about all the bidding on the last day, that he eventually had to leave his house and go to the movies — which, by the way, he later confessed that he didn’t even remember which movie he saw, because he was too nervous and preoccupied with the auction.
We have had so many different type of rock an roll rarities pass through our studio it’s hard to name just a few that are memorable or interesting – because they all are in their own way. But I can say that when you open a box and pick up a collection of original Jimi Hendrix acetates, KISS original recordings, amazing Led Zeppelin memorabilia or a even a concert used guitar - it’s hard to not feel humbled, nervous and excited all at the same time.
In the early days, admittedly we were probably a lot more nervous than our clients when we would go live with our auctions. We had the opportunity to work with the legendary Eddie Kramer (yes, this was truly an OMG moment). His collection was the very first “online” auction and in retrospect we were probably not as mentally prepared as we could have been because we simply underestimated the market response. Don’t get me wrong we knew it was going to “huge”, what we didn’t anticipate was it being “ginormous”. The lesson learned from that auction was we always need to be prepared for the absolutely “best” case scenario moment – you know the one that usually begins with, “I can’t even imagine – but what if….”.
We have worked with so many amazing people over the years, and quite a few of our clients have become great friends post auction activities. But I must say that for me personally Eddie Kramer is still “one” of my favorite clients, but really everyone we have worked with has been awesome.
GM: How much has changed in the business (both collecting-wise and auction-wise) since you held your first auction? What are the trends you’ve seen?
BA: Ten years seems like a long time, and it is, but there are things that simply don’t change, like the passion for collecting. That said, we do see the primary collectors group for classic rock memorabilia starting to shrink a bit, but that makes sense to us, because of the age of that group. What has been growing in popularity and is definitely a force to be reckoned with is heavy metal memorabilia. This year we will be hosting our fourth heavy-metal focused auction, and every year it gets bigger and bigger. It’s the natural progression of collecting, markets and emerging interests that drive the mayhem behind metal memorabilia collecting. Let’s be honest here. When Scott Ian of Anthrax has one of his guitars prominently featured in the annual “Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles” guide book, you know heavy-metal memorabilia is a real player in the world of music memorabilia collecting. And we love it!
GM: What’s it like to work with your spouse? Do you think that being married makes it easier or harder to work together, and why?
BA: Well, for us, it’s easy. But we do have separate offices in our studio. Rarely do we have to actually work together side by side. Jacques mainly focuses on client service and manages the production side of things. My focus is more keeping all the balls in the air. Sure, we have our moments but there is definitely more of an upside than a downside.
GM: Have your collecting habits changed as a result of running an auction house? If so, how? (It’s got to be hard to work with all that cool stuff and not want to take at least a few goodies home with you!)
BA: It’s interesting that you ask that, because one would easily assume that we (actually, Jacques) would still be actively collecting, but he doesn’t so much anymore. From time to time, he will purchase something, but usually because it has a personal history attached to it. As so many collectors do, they reach their summit, and Jacques reached his and was OK with it.
GM: If you could go back and do one thing differently in regards to your business, what would you choose to change, and why?
BA: Oh, there are probably things that we could have done different, but we like to look at those as teachable moments. One thing that we learned early was this is a fluid business, and over-managing the process doesn’t necessarily deliver the results you were hoping for. In 2005, we were out in San Francisco, packing up a warehouse filled with decades of memorabilia belonging to Herbie Herbert, who was the man behind Journey’s success. He gave us a piece of advice that he learned early on from his mentor Bill Graham, which was, “When you have a yes, you stop selling.” For us, that translated into when you have a “yes,” keep it simple, go with the flow and try to not over- manage the artists — they have enough of that already.
GM: In 10 years’ time, you have built Backstage Auctions from the ground up. Would you ever consider selling now that you are established and reputable music memorabilia auction house?
BA: That’s a very good question. We have organically grown and built Backstage Auctions in such a way that if the right buyer (individual or company) came along and expressed interest, it would definitely be an easy business transaction — especially since Jacques and I are the sole owners. That said, it would probably be emotionally difficult to hand the keys over to someone else, but at the same time it could be equally exciting. But for now, we are rockin’ in the here and now and having fun … one auction at a time. GM