Updated: August 27th, 2007
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So there.


Archives: January-June 2003

With the dawn of 2003, I entered an extremely vocal period in my involvement in the tracking scene. My Complete MOD Compo was entering its 2nd year, my regular Lineup article in Static Line was growing increasingly popular, and I was once-again becoming a big name in the tracking scene. So I decided to flex my writing muscles with a series of essays about what was wrong with the tracking scene, most infamously with The Novus Manifesto. To quote Douglas Adams, "This made a lot of people very angry, and has been widely regarded as a bad move." I also published an interview with the old webmaster of Trax In Space (which has just re-opened as of 2007), and wrote essays about music reviews, how to screw up a compo and the troubling trend of releasing tracked music as MP3s.

Blog & Essay Archive: Main Page
2007 -- 2006 -- 2005 -- 2004 -- Jul-Dec 2003 -- Jan-Jun 2003

When did "good" become an insult? - June 16th, 2003

(Written for Scene Zine Issue #3.)

Once upon a time (okay, the year 2000) I decided it was time for me to once again become more involved in the tracking scene. I had experience as a reviewer and a standing invitation to review for one of the major archive sites, so I accepted the offer, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work.

Early on, I played a song from my assigned list and decided it was fairly good, certainly above average, but was missing that certain spark that would truly make it worth keeping. On this site's reviewing scale, 7 meant "Good, but missing what it needs to be enjoyed," which seemed to fit. I wrote my review, tapped in a 7, and moved on. No big deal, right?

The next day, my e-mail box contained a response from the recipient of my 7, and he was livid. He took my rating as the gravest and most personal insult imaginable, questioned my credentials as a reviewer, trumpeted his own 1337 tracking skillz, and was overall just plain unpleasant. He was certain that he stood at the pinnacle of the tracking scene, and a mere 7 was unacceptable.

I was tempted to amend my rating to a 2 to see if I could trigger a thermonuclear reaction in his brain, purely in the interests of science of course. Instead, I pulled up his artist page on the archive and saw song after song with 9s and 10s from other reviewers. My 7 was the only exception. I sampled a few songs; not bad, actually, but far from perfect. It was hard to imagine any legitimate reviewer who would truly believe these songs were utterly flawless.

I wrote it off as an isolated incident and soldiered on, but quickly discovered he was not the exception: he was very nearly the rule. Time after time, I passed out 6s and 7s to songs of similar quality, and watched the recipients throw hissy fits. And without fail, a quick check of their artist page showed a roster of mediocre songs with 9s and 10s from other reviewers.

These artists had long ago grown accustomed to that particular archive's untrained, inexperienced reviewers who rewarded mediocrity with perfect scores. It was not at all uncommon for a reviewer to point out several flaws in a song and yet give it a perfect-10 anyway.

The official rating scale for this archive listed 5 as meaning "average." Yet the reviewers seemed to follow their own scale, giving 10s to anything they LIKED, which left them no room to differentiate a song they LOVED except to give it the same 10. Songs that were okay got an 8, and songs they didn't like at all got a 7. It was no wonder so many people took my 7s as insults; coming from any other reviewer, a 7 WOULD be an insult. They had no way of knowing that a 7 from ME was meant to be a mild compliment.

As a result, this archive took a sizable crop of moderately-skilled trackers with high potential but room for improvement, and morphed them into a bunch of egomaniacs with Necros-complexes, stewing in their own mediocrity. And it wasn't entirely the artists' fault; if reviewer after reviewer said that you were at the top of your game, wouldn't you start to believe it too?

Sadly, this situation has become epidemic in the tracking scene. Most archives that offer reviews use a 0-10 or 0-100 rating scale where either 5 or 50 means "average." And yet when you total up the actual average score given by the reviewing staffs of these archives, the average ends up way above 5. I recently found one archive's average was close to 8!

I once angrily mentioned this problem on the message boards of another archive. Several reviewers retorted that their higher average wasn't their fault, because many artists who got lower ratings were using an option that allowed them to hide ratings on their songs from public view.

Of course, that ignored the question of the poor quality of the still-visible reviews. But what kind of madness is this anyway? When a movie gets a 1-star rating from a newspaper reviewer, does the star of that movie get to run around with a pair of scissors, cutting out the offending review from all copies of the newspaper before allowing it to be sold?

If your archive offers reviews, you need to decide whether or not you're going to trust your reviewers to do their job. If you don't trust them, you shouldn't have reviewers to begin with. And if you do trust them, you shouldn't give some spoiled brat with an inflated musical ego the power to single-handedly veto a valid review. If the aggrieved artist can't face the reality of how bad their music is, that's their problem, not yours. And in true cases of reviewer abuse, simply deleting one bad review is hardly a solution anyway. If he's writing abusive reviews, you need to fire him. Now.

The cause of this problem actually stares you in the face on the index page of one archive, which brags about how many dozens of reviews were written that month. Every archive out there sets one of their goals as reviewing as many songs as possible, as quickly as possible. But the only way to keep up with the tsunami of incoming songs is to throw as many reviewers as you can into it. And with a large staff churning out tons of reviews, policing the quality of those reviews becomes impossible.

In short, quality is sacrificed on the altar of quantity.

Add to this the fact that we are a scene of musical amateurs. This is fact, not insult, and a painful truth is no less truthful. Face it: 99% of you who are reading my words right now will never be anything more than musical hobbyists. Only a handful of sceners have been hired even just as video game musicians for reputable companies, and only Bjorn "Dr. Awesome" Lynne has garnered even modest success as a professional recording artist. Among the rest of us, precious few have any formal musical education, and fewer still have decent skill at the written word.

Yet among this rag-tag bunch of musical amateurs, archive webmasters cast a huge net, draw in as many of these amateurs as possible, dub them as "reviewers," and unleash them with little training and no oversight on an unsuspecting scene.

The phrase "the blind leading the blind" comes to mind.

Even worse, the existing system tends to chase away those very people who would actually make ideal reviewers. If you were a skilled, experienced reviewer, and you realized that the reviews of a total rookie who gives 10s to mediocre tunes carried just as much weight as your reviews, why would you even bother to keep reviewing?

What we have now is almost Orwellian. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Good is perfect. Bad is average. Perfect and near-perfect scores from archive reviewers have become meaningless. And more and more trackers are deluded by these inflated reviews into believing they're better than they truly are, and stop growing as musicians because they truly believe they no longer need to.

Given the harm caused by this shoddy reviewing climate, I truly believe it's time for the archives to completely trash their reviewing systems. Completely. Erase every score. Fire every reviewer. Totally clean house. Having NO reviewing structure in the scene seems better to me than having a system that slowly turns us all into deluded, spoiled brats.

Let the archives focus on what they do best: providing space and publicity for trackers who can't get them on their own. Let others fill the vacuum left by the annhilation of the archives' reviewing systems. People will step forward with fresh approaches and new ideas for how to evaluate tracker music. And by competing with each other, the best systems will be perfected and will rise to the top.

The tracking scene is full of innovative minds, and somebody out there can certainly come up with something better than what we have now. All we have to do is give them the chance to.

How to kill your compo in 10 weeks. - April 16th, 2003

(Written for Scene Zine Issue #1.)

Ever wondered why monthly compos get no respect?

Go ahead. Take first place in March's round of the UbErNiFtY cOmPo, post it on your website, brag about it on #trax, and trumpet the news on message boards across the scene. Odds are you'll get met with one big yawn, with maybe a slight bump in your downloads.


Because UbErNiFtY cOmPo will be closed and forgotten by next month. I guarantee it.

In case you didn't know, I happen to run a compo myself, The Complete MOD Compo. In October 2002, after several other monthly compos shut down, CMC became the longest-running active compo in the scene today.

At the time, CMC was only 10 months old.

Sad, ain't it? At such a young age, CMC was suddenly the oldest active compo, because so many other compos shut down after absurdly short times. That's not a recent phenomenon either. That's a pattern that stretches all the way back to my first exposure to the web-based tracking scene in 1996. And when monthly compos come and go so quickly, it's no wonder that nobody takes them seriously.

Think about it: who's the biggest name you've ever seen competing in a monthly compo?

I can tell you right now. It was Awesome, back in 1998, entering my first, failed attempt at CMC. (Which lasted only 7 months because, quite frankly, I had no clue what I was doing.) And he was a HUGE exception. Necros? Skaven? Wave? Purple Motion? Elwood? Leviathan? Chris Jarvis? Karsten Koch? They all had better things to do than waste their time with some pointless monthly compo that would shut down in another two months anyway. The only compo they ever bothered with was Hornet's Music Compo, because it was dependable, fair, consistent, and well-planned, qualities that are sorely lacking in 99% of the compos out there.

The problem is that for so many compos out there, this is the entirety of the planning that goes into it:

"Hmm... I need to draw more visitors to my website so more people will download my music. I need something that will get more people to visit... hey, I know! I'll run a compo! I'll e-mail a couple of people and get 'em to be judges, slap together a website, pick a deadline, and that's it! It can't be THAT hard, can it?"

Yes. Yes it can be that hard.

Compos are time-consuming, especially judged compos. Just do the math. Let's say you open a judged compo and get 10 entries. The average song-length is, oh, I don't know, 5 minutes sounds reasonable. So right away, you're talking 50 minutes to hear all the entries. But that's if you just play each song once. To be fair, you really need to listen to each entry several times, say 3 or 4 times. That 50 minutes just turned into 200 minutes. And then you have to write some comments about each entry and try to make those comments sound intelligent. Say, 15 minutes per song, times 10 songs, and that's 150 more minutes for a total of 350.

That's 6 hours for just 10 entries. And you know you're gonna get more than 10 entries.

Assuming that you plan ahead and leave yourself enough time, that's doable. But too many compo-organizers don't think about that. So they open up their compo, give people a month to enter their tunes, and announce that the results will be up a week after the entry deadline. And then Real Life attacks, and they don't have 6 hours to spare to judge the songs. They miss the results date, and then often make another critical mistake: they don't even bother to let their visitors know what's going on. (There are compo websites out there that STILL say the results will be up in a few days, and the last time they were updated was 2001.)

So people stop by for a day or two, don't see any results, get bored, and quit visiting the compo website. And finally, a month later, the organizer gets all the results up, announces he's now accepting entries for the next round, and gets 2 entries because nobody cares about his compo anymore. And he shuts it down.

Multiply that scenario by several dozen since 1996, and it's no wonder monthly compos have such a crappy reputation.

Folks, if you're gonna run a compo, a little planning goes a LONG way. Take CMC for example. (Admittedly, it ain't the best example, but I've been open for 15 months now, which is ancient for monthly compos. So I must be doing something right...) I wanted to run a compo, but I knew going into it that with the absurdly long hours I spend at work, I wouldn't have much free time. Right away, I knew time was a concern, so that nixed the idea of a judged compo. So, I went with a public-voting compo, which requires less of my time. I also looked for ways to streamline things on the backend so that I could do minor tasks such as counting votes while I had free-time at work, saving the harder work for when I was home.

Yes, I only let 6 songs compete each month, which means I have to pre-screen all of the entries. But again, I planned ahead. Sometimes, you can just tell after 30 seconds that a particular song is just not going to turn out well, and it's safe to delete it and move on. Remember, in the end, I don't pick the winner; the visitors do. That gives me some room to rely on time-saving snap-judgements when evaluating songs.

I also realized that if too many people entered songs, I'd never have enough time to screen the entries. And similarly, if CMC didn't have enough voters, it would be meaningless. So, I killed two birds with one stone: I decided to require all contestants to vote on the current month's crop of songs. That keeps the freeloaders away, and guarantees a consistent supply of voters and an adequate supply of songs, and keeps me from getting overwhelmed with too many entries.

Basically, before I even bothered to design the CMC website, I thought of every potential problem that would make CMC collapse and figured out ways to avoid or minimize them. Most importantly, I made sure I'd have enough time to do it right. Because of that planning, I usually have both the results and the next crop of songs online within 24 hours of each deadline, and I've never been more than 2 days behind. And when I AM behind, I spend the 5 minutes it takes to post a quick explanation on the site, so that my visitors aren't left wondering what's up, and then haul keister to get the results up ASAP.

Like I said, a little planning goes a long way.

I like compos. They provide a great outlet for trackers to promote their music and get feedback, and they can play a valuable role in the tracking scene. I don't mind competition from other compos at all, and I'm certain that someone out there has a way of running a compo that would kick CMC's keister. But c'mon folks; the scene needs one more failed compo like I need a hole in my head. So please: plan ahead, and run it right.

Spouting off for fun and profit. - February 23rd, 2003

I used to be a political talk radio host, so I know a little bit about spouting off opinions for fun and profit. (Well, in my case, there wasn't much profit, but it sure was fun.) The #1 rule of talk radio is this:

If you're not pissing people off, you're not doing your job.

Well, it seems that the various writings on this humble website o' mine are pissing some people off, so I'm officially declaring success, retiring at the top of my game, and moving to Florida to live out my Golden Years.

Oh, wait. I already live in Florida. Crap.

Okay, if Michael Jordan can come back from retirement twice, I figure I can do it once, especially since I've only been retired for 20 seconds. So, look for more full-scale essay excitement in the Library in the near future.

Oh, yeah, I'm, like, working on music too, specifically a cover of a little-known tracker tune from the last millenium by Lionheart called "The Eleventh Hour." See, he wrote about 45 seconds of kick-keister music and then basically looped it four times and called it a song. I think I can do better, and I have his permission to try. You folks will know soon if I've succeeded, since I had a major burst of activity on it yesterday.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go visit the tracking message boards and quell the antidisestablishmentarian resistance. (Look it up, kids. Er, actually, you'll have to look up "disestablishmentarian," and then just imagine that word with anti- at the beginning. But I'm confident you're up to the task. And if you're not, I'll defenestrate you. (Look it up, kids.))

Robin Williams with Tourette's Syndrome? - February 19th, 2003

The Music Vault has been expanded, with the addition of the A grade songs (93-96) alongside the A+ songs (97-100). That's 29 new tracks, some of which you'll only find here and nowhere else. It's kinda like finding a coelecanth. You know, a coelecanth? That prehistoric fish-thing that everyone thought had been extinct for millions of years until some fisherman caught one of the coast of Madagascar? Yeah, a coelecanth. Well, these are tracked coelecanths. Go fish.

From the Tooting-My-Own-Horn Department... [beavis]You said "tooting your horn." Heheh-a-heheh-a-heheh.[/beavis]... My new tune "Words," while not dominating in a "Revealing"-like manner, is meeting with positive reviews and a generally warm reception. Bribery is a wonderful thing, is it not? Anywho, if you're among the billions who have not yet visited my Studio to download my first original song since 1999, I'm gonna make it painfully easy for you:

Click here. No, not here, silly, the other here.

Over on The MOD Archive, Gargoyle has blown the lid off of one of the strangest and most-convoluted track-theft cases I've ever seen. I could explain what happened, but Gargoyle already did that (dead link removed), and I'm a lazy son-of-a-mother. Sue me.

Oh, and to anyone who has just tried to feed this page through the Babelfish translator into your native language and got something akin to what Robin Williams with Tourette's Syndrome would say during an epileptic fit, I sincerely apologize. Oh, who am I kidding, I'm greatly amused by your misfortune. Cry! Cry me a river!

Viva la revolucion! - February 16th, 2003

Novus's Wide World of MODs is no more. While much of the old site's content will remain, I've been planning on changing the direction of this website for quite some time. And since nobody else is saying what the tracking scene needs to hear, I figure it'll just have to be me who says it. So, mill around. Click on stuff. Read everything. And if you think I've hit on something really intelligent, or if you think I'm a total moron, let me know either way: vince.young@gmail.com.

So, what's new right now? First of all, there's "Words," my first tracked release since 2002, and my first original tune since 1999. Get it from the Studio. A version with vocals might be coming later, along with another vocal track called "Bare," but you'll just have to wait until I can force my vocal cords to stop going flat every three notes. Then there's the long-awaited vocal mix of "Beacon," and the good news is that Rebecca Fahrendorf is still a better singer than I am. The bad news is that she lives three hours away from me, and my work schedule is a slang term for a female dog. Down with real life!

There's also my random rantings about the tracking scene, and you never know what's gonna torque me off next, but odds are you'll need to read about it. There's already a missive here about my firmly-held belief that MP3s are killing the tracking scene. Hey, one of these days, that loony guy on the street corner with the three-foot beard, tattered robe, and sign reading "The end is near!" is actually gonna be right, so maybe I am too.

And finally, the old Just the Good Stuff section featuring great tunes from other trackers has been replaced by the Music Vault. Right now, it's only partially-assembled, but it will expand greatly over time, and there are already some kick-keister tunes up there that weren't there before. And there's plenty more on the way. PLENTY more. So, go download until your modem fries, and then crank those tracks until your speakers bleed.

Heh. How's THAT for a news page. I'll bet MY news page makes YOUR news page look like a Dr. Seuss book. Run along now, Sam I Am. And take your green eggs and ham with you.

MP3: The danger of blurring the line. - February 16th, 2003

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time... Several years ago, a small core of trackers, looking to push the boundaries of their music, invented a whole new paradigm. They used traditional tracking software to compose a song, but then broke down the song's elements into individual WAV files; used WAV editors to add in effects, filters and other tweaks; and then mixed all the WAVs down into a final MP3.

Now the effects of this new paradigm are clear: the tracking scene is in true danger of losing its cohesiveness as a subculture of the at-large music world. If more and more trackers begin to release their music exclusively in the MP3 format, we will become indistinguishable from a MIDI-to-MP3 artist, or the garage band down the street with a home on MP3.com. Tracking programs will simply become one more audio tool, just like CakeWalk and CoolEdit Pro. And you never hear anyone talk about the "CoolEdit Pro scene," do you?

Some would tell me that this is a false threat. "Music is music! What does it matter what format it's in?" To a certain extent, they're correct, because good music is good music in any format. But what's the point of good music if it's never heard?

Even as relatively small as the tracking scene is, it is quite difficult for a skilled tracker to get noticed. Now multiply that difficulty by a thousand, and that's at least what you'll face if the tracking scene continues to be assimilated by the wider MP3 music culture online.

See, as individual, unknown, independent musicians, we are all tiny minnows, very small fish, competing for a finite amount of time and attention from listeners. Would you rather be a minnow in a small pond (the tracking scene) or in the ocean (the entire online music community)? I'll take the pond, thank you, where you and I have a better chance of being found by our potential audiences.

So how do we keep our pond from being engulfed by the ocean? We do so by stressing our difference in order to keep our unique identity alive. And the most important significant difference is the tracked file formats of XM and IT.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not telling anyone to never, ever release their music in the MP3 format. Just please don't do so exclusively. Release the source XM or IT files along with the MP3. Let's face it: if your song is any good, that will still show through even if the XM/IT file doesn't have all the same post-production tweaking as the MP3. And conversely, if your song isn't good as an XM/IT, adding reverb to the MP3 is not going to win you a Grammy.

If this means releasing a 12-meg IT, do it anyway. There is hosting available for bigger files. Nowadays, people have faster connections and more patience than ever for downloading large files. As an example, in May's edition of The Complete MOD Compo, one of the five competing songs is an 8-meg XM. Yet people are still downloading it, and neither the total number of votes nor the ranking for that song seem to be suffering from the 8-meg size.

Most importantly, releasing the source XM/IT will show newer members of the scene that tracking is still viable, and that a song doesn't have to be post-produced as an MP3 to sound good. Heck, many of the post-production techniques used by MP3-trackers can be done just as well or almost as well in the tracker itself, making MP3 good for little more than file-compression in some cases.

Remember, without the XM/IT formats, there is no significant difference between our MP3s and those of non-trackers all around the world. By releasing your source XM/IT files alongside the MP3, you'll keep the difference alive, preserving our small pond and making it that much easier for tomorrow's trackers to find their audience.

The Novus Manifesto - February 16th, 2003

For too long, we of the tracking scene have plunged ahead with the misguided belief that the old ways of doing things were not only the best ways, but the only ways. In doing so, we have blinded ourselves to the changes taking place around us.

The scene is not a handful of European computer geeks anymore, and it's time we stopped acting like we still were. The tracking scene needs a whole new attitude if it expects to actually get anywhere in the 21st century, and too many of us are still playing by the 20th century rules.

This is no longer the same tracking scene that Dr. Awesome participated in through BBSs and demo-parties in the early 90s. The Internet has brought in countless new followers, many from the vast "frontier" of the USA, who have fundamentally altered the scene forever. It is 2003, and yet we try to stay in 1993. We lean on the efforts of a few dedicated individuals, letting them do all the work so we can use their sweat for our own selfish benefit. And we do so believing that this will continue to work because it's always worked before.

Only it hasn't.

Wake up! Look around! Since 1998, the tracking scene has been in an obvious decline. The Hornet Archive. TraxWeekly. The Weekly Module Review. Rising Stars of the Scene. Music Contest. Altered Perception. Trax-In-Space. MODPlug Central (which has temporarily re-opened). The tracking landscape is littered with the skeletons of failed projects headed up by overwhelmed individuals who simply ran out of the vital resources of time and money, individuals who tried to carry the too-large tracking world on their non-Atlas shoulders.

When thousands of trackers sit back, relax, and rely on one or two people to carry them, only one word applies: outrageous. Sure, you may squirm in your seat and rationalize that you'd love to help, but you don't have any spare time or extra money. Hell, I've done so myself. But that is just so much Bovine Scatology. (Look it up, kids.) I work two full-time jobs, 75 hours a week, and often work both jobs back-to-back on four hours of sleep. Yet I still host a monthly tracking competition, The Complete MOD Compo. As for money, how much did you just plunk down on a new computer, or mixing equipment, or a friggin' Snickers bar? And you can't spend $30.00 to register Impulse Tracker, or put a dollar in an envelope, slap a thirty-seven cent stamp on it and mail it to the webmaster of your favorite archive? Just think of the impact of a thousand sceners, each sending in a dollar, and imagine what The MOD Archive could do for you with a thousand dollars.

See, that's what the new tracking scene needs to be about: thousands of small contributions from every member of the scene, lifting some of the burden off of the individuals at the forefront of today's tracking scene. And writing music simply is not a real contribution nowadays; we already have enough musicians to incorporate a city with and more songs than you can shake a skyscraper at. That's not to say that you're not welcome to write more music; it's just that to truly contribute to today's tracking scene, we need more than just your music. The tracking scene needs your time and your money, no matter how little, because it will all add up.

If you're not prepared to give, then take a look around. United Trackers. The MOD Archive. Maz's Sound Tools. Orange Juice. Scene.org. Nectarine. Homemusic.cc. The Scene Satellite Network. SceneSpot. Cute Trance Girls. Which site will collapse next?

The time has come... for a tracking revolution.

Note: After I originally published The Novus Manifesto, reaction to The Novus Revolution poured in from all corners of the tracking scene, particularly from various message boards. For an example of what others had to say, visit the thread on CTG Music. There were also threads up at HomeMusic.cc, United Trackers, MODPlug Central and The MOD Archive, but those threads have all been lost for various reasons.

Lessons learned: interview with TiS's Saurin "Mysterium" Shah. - February 11th, 2003

(Written for Static Line Issue #43.)

When the merits and problems of a website are still being debated well over a year after its formal closure, you know it left an impact. Indeed, when it comes to Trax In Space, this may be the one aspect of the site that both its supporters and detractors can agree on.

Founded in 1992 by the CyberLegion Artist's Network, Trax In Space soon became the solo project of Saurin "Mysterium" Shah, a teenaged Texan tracker with big plans. From humble beginnings -- 250 megs of songs personally reviewed by Mysterium -- TiS eventually added other reviewers in 1997 and soon swelled into the largest tracker music archive in the history of the tracking scene before its collapse in 2001. With its commercial aspects and Mysterium's goal of profitability, TiS forced us all to question how many concessions to capitalism our non-commercial music scene could make -- if any -- without "selling out."

In February of 2003, Mysterium agreed to sit down and chat with me for his first major public exposure since the collapse of TiS. Our conversation covered the rise and fall of TiS, the lessons he learned, and his advice for the scene's future. He also gave me an unparalleled inside look at TiS, providing details that most former business owners would never dream of revealing.

NOVUS: In 1997, did you have any idea just how big TiS was going to become?

MYSTERIUM: No, but I did have grand plans -- even then. It all really starts with my take on music, and me personally as a musician. The reason I began the TiS project at all was because, back then, very few of the established artist groups would take me. I thought I was not bad, but in reality I was a terrible musician. But I wanted a place for people like me to go and to be accepted and most important of all, to be in a place where they could become better as musicians.

NOVUS: At its peak, how many songs and members did TiS have?

MYSTERIUM: Approximately 45,000 musicians and over 200,000 songs.

NOVUS: That's... um... way past 250 megs. :)

MYSTERIUM: Way past. At our peak we had six dual-processor, server class DELL machines running this. In fact, the database machine had up to 4 processors and had the XEON CPUs. Our storage capacity, after considering the multiple-RAIDS that we had, was past 300 GB.

NOVUS: How quickly did TiS grow? When you added more reviewers in 1997, did the numbers start to explode, or was it a slower growth over time?

MYSTERIUM: TiS's growth started off slow, but I would say around 1998 it just exploded. You see in 1998, I had achieved a threshold needed of visibility in the scene. Still not huge, but enough where each new artist put me on an exponential growth curve.

NOVUS: Kind of like critical mass, then?

MYSTERIUM: Yes, exactly. There is no doubt that we were the largest scene site ever. In fact, we were listed in the top 10 music sites in the world by several of the real industry watchers.

NOVUS: Quite an achievement. :)

MYSTERIUM: I did not do it alone, but thanks.

NOVUS: I want to come back and talk about some of the day-to-day operations of TiS in a little bit, but for now I'm going to jump ahead to the end of the story.

MYSTERIUM: Ok, go ahead and jump ahead, I'll follow. :)

NOVUS: A lot of people already know that TiS collapsed, although very few people, if anyone, know the hows or whys. So, in your words, and take this in what ever direction you want to... just what the heck HAPPENED anyway?

MYSTERIUM: Alright, it was another critical mass situation. But you have to understand the build up, so I'll give you the punch line, but you'll have to ask me about the steps leading up to it.

NOVUS: Okay, I'll follow. :)

MYSTERIUM: Essentially, with six-servers and the serious amount of traffic we received (we were about half the traffic sometimes for the ISP we used), it was expensive. It actually mimics the dot-com busts. Too much cash going out, not enough coming in to support the operations.

NOVUS: I've gotten the feeling not a lot of people ever realized HOW expensive bandwidth can be.

MYSTERIUM: Or how much six servers can be. We also had our own dedicated T-1 and spilled over into the T-3 node of our ISP. Plus none of us had outside jobs. It took 5 people working 10 hours a day to run TiS.

NOVUS: So, TiS basically was your full-time job, for you and several others.

MYSTERIUM: Yes. It was our dream jobs in fact. We had a love affair with TiS, the music, and everything about it and its patrons.

NOVUS: And yet you had to meet reality, which meant you had to make TiS profitable. That meant taking it in a commercial direction, which is probably where the bulk of the criticism of TiS was aimed.

MYSTERIUM: Yes, but the criticism never bothered me (okay, maybe sometimes). But yes, the reality. We expanded too fast. I was a novice when it came to the real-world of business.

NOVUS: If you don't mind my asking, how much did it cost to keep TiS up and running per month?

MYSTERIUM: Well, we had other divisions, but TiS itself... I would say approximately $25,000 per month. I mean, we had to buy insurance, health-benefits (what if one of us became sick), our pay (though believe me it was not too much), etc. I had a responsibility to all the other TiS people to make sure that I took care of them.

NOVUS: Did TiS ever break even or make a profit, even for just a short time?

MYSTERIUM: It never did. But being realistic, it takes an average business 5 years to just break even. We really got going in 2000, so we still had time.

NOVUS: A lot of small-business owners never realize how long it can take to get profitable. TiS had several different "profit centers:" paid memberships, CD sales, t-shirts and hats, advertising... which one of those worked out the best revenue-wise?

MYSTERIUM: The best had to be the Advertising and the Paid Memberships. The Paid Memberships were my best bet, but I understood our users and knew that it had to survive for 3 more years before it would take off. I also had the scene working against me in a way. Many people were pie-eyed utopians. They wanted a commerical-free scene with the benefits of a commercial industry. And since many sceners were still in college or younger and never had a real job and had to support a family or themselves, the real world had not met them yet. About 90% of my paid memberships were from people 28 yrs and older. And I will let you in on another secret, no one knows.

NOVUS: Go ahead.

MYSTERIUM: TuCows wanted to buy my site in 1999. They offered me my own Ferrarri with all the insurance paid plus a ridiculous salary.

NOVUS: Goodness! So, what happened there?

MYSTERIUM: For the scene and to make sure that it did not become "commericial," I said no. I could have been a wealthy young man, but the music and artists meant more to me.

NOVUS: Wow... that would've been nice to throw at the critics who said TiS was already too commercial. I wish I'd known that at the time. :)

MYSTERIUM: Well, I did not tell people, because I wanted people to genuinely appreciate the site for what it was and not because of me. Though the site was me, and I was the site; I could not differentiate for many years. Let's just say that the salary and bonus had *many* zeroes.

NOVUS: Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, would you have taken that deal if it had meant TiS would last longer?

MYSTERIUM: No, that part I would not have changed. I knew AOL was courting TuCows, and TiS was meant to fight the likes of Time-Warner.

NOVUS: Those are two scenarios that make trackers everywhere shudder: either AOL-Time Warner or Microsoft getting involved in the scene. ;)

MYSTERIUM: It was never about the money, but I should have paid closer attention to that aspect. Now, did you also know that ModPlug and Digital Music Magazine were a part of TiS?

NOVUS: I knew about DMM, but MODPlug, that's news to me, and that actually gets into one of my later questions. :)

MYSTERIUM: Well lets just say that on the back-end, I was trying to unite the scene -- and there was a reason behind it. But Kim (ModPlug) was free to run ModPlug that way he sought fit; I did not want TiS to influence it at all.

NOVUS: I did an availability check on the domain name traxinspace.com yesterday, and noticed you're still the owner, with Kim "Mister-X" Kraft of MODPlug Central listed as the Tech Admin. Is this leftover from when TiS was still active?

MYSTERIUM: Yes, when I closed TiS (which you can ask me about later), Kim still wanted to run ModPlug, so I gave him the traffic. Kim is a great guy and a real asset to the scene.

NOVUS: So that's why www.traxinspace.com was pointing to his StudioKraft side project for a while?

MYSTERIUM: Yes. Kim still wanted to do this full-time, so studiokraft was his way of paying the bills. I now work for Counsumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS; http://www.moneymanagement.org), a non-profit that helps people out of debt. Ironic, isn't it?

NOVUS: Heh, I work indirectly for a credit counseling service myself. :)

MYSTERIUM: I tell you what, this is a tongue-in-cheek analogy, but we seriously felt like the "USA" and the rest of the scene was the United Nations.

NOVUS: Being a red-blooded American and suspicious of the UN, I think I get that. ;)

MYSTERIUM: LOL... I guess only the american readers would get that, hehehe. Basically, we had criticism from everywhere because we were so successful (in terms of visibility, traffic, and artists).

NOVUS: What was it that made you look around and finally decide to pull the plug on TiS?

MYSTERIUM: A few reasons. One, I needed a job; living off of nothing and being in major debt was not a life goal I wanted to continue. Secondly, I needed a break from everything. There was a whole other part to TiS that its about time I told. Thirdly, I wanted a change and a chance to sit back and rethink my goals, and I think I finally know what I want to do. You are going to have a huge article. LOL

NOVUS: That's fine, Static Line set a length-record last month, and I intend to break that single-handedly. ;)


NOVUS: Besides there's always the magic of the Delete key. ;)

MYSTERIUM: That's true.

NOVUS: So, on the second point, what's the whole other part to TiS that you need to tell?

MYSTERIUM: Well if I had $25,000 outgoing a month just for TiS, and we also had DMM and ModPlug, how did we pay for it?

NOVUS: Ah, I knew I'd left a question dangling somewhere. I would assume loans?

MYSTERIUM: In 1999, I got my parents, their friends, and the owner of the ISP to give me $1 million to get started. Too much for a kid just out of college.

NOVUS: That sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the desk.

MYSTERIUM: But I had some senior help from two men who were supposed to be very experienced businessmen.

NOVUS: "Supposed" to be?

MYSTERIUM: Well, one of them I think is alright, but the other... hmmm.

NOVUS: I've met guys like that... radio is infested with 'em. ;)

MYSTERIUM: While I handled the sites, the others were supposed to raise more money and manage it. In a few months, all of the money was gone, some of it still not fully accounted for. We don't know where it went. I had a blind-eye to the financial side, because 1) I was too engrossed with the site, and 2) I trusted them blindly. I was young, just out of college, why wouldn't everyone do their job properly when i did mine well? Naive. We knew that the sites could not survive off of just $1 million; we needed more so that we could reach the critical point of profitability. Now that being said, not all the business we made were wise. We could have been much more spend-thrifty than we were.

NOVUS: So, it's 1999, your investment capital is gone, and the site needs thousands a month to operate. Where did the rest of the money come from?

MYSTERIUM: Well in November 1999, I raised the money. In August 2000, the money was spent. For the next few months, we all worked off our own good graces while the ISP gave us the bandwidth for free.

NOVUS: Okay, so it almost lasted a year. What then?

MYSTERIUM: I then found out that bills were under my name -- lots of bills. I was already in debt. It was time for a job. And time to rethink everything. Not only did the sceners not support TiS as much as I had hoped (though I could have done things better I think), but I had made a mistake in picking the people to watch the money. A mistake which cost me dearly, because my dad lost a huge part of his savings (he gave it to me to show me he believed in me) and his friends took out their anger on me and my parents. I almost went into depression, but thank goodness I did not.

NOVUS: I've been there, and believe me, that's not an easy hole to climb out of.

MYSTERIUM: I took at as a war scar and decided to take it easy and replan life. So we have the site getting bigger and bigger and getting real industry coverage: front page of Computer Music Journal, in Keyboard Magazine, Houston Press, and more... and even on ABC News. They interviewed me. On top of this, TiS costs too much and is not getting money, and the money behind the scenes is being spent like water. I did not give up until November 2000, when everything reached a breaking point for me personally. It was too much to have to defend myself to a group of utopic sceners (of course just some, not all) and deal with the real financial problems facing me and my closest friends -- those who worked on TiS and ModPlug. They were like my family and I felt as if I had failed them.

NOVUS: So, November 2000 was when you stopped active work on the site?

MYSTERIUM: Yes. Then I put it on auto for a few months.

NOVUS: And when was the plug pulled entirely then?

MYSTERIUM: You could say September or so of 2001. I don't remember exactly when. Just one day the site went down and I let it stay down.

NOVUS: I've been told you at least had some free bandwidth towards the end, due to your domain-name registrar screwing up and improperly selling off the name traxinspace.com.

MYSTERIUM: No, that's not exactly right; the ISP had put in some money into TiS and they wanted and hoped that it would turn around. The domain name fiasco was crazy. Someone in Singapore or Hong Kong was waiting to buy it... until I pressed their Australian parent with a legal fight, and then they relinqueshed.

NOVUS: And that's when you got the domain back.


NOVUS: What would you say was the most unfair criticism that TiS faced while it was still up-and-running?

MYSTERIUM: Basically 1) Why were we so big. 2) Why were we trying to make money, didn't we know the scene was not about that. Those were the two biggest. The first one is a no-brainer, my answer -- why not?

NOVUS: Nobody ever complained about how big Hornet was. ;)

MYSTERIUM: That's true. The second one should become easier to answer now. But they did complain about TiS -- even compared it to Microsoft. There were "fake" sites mocking TiS like the Microshaft and other sites. I was actually quite flattered and bookmarked those pages.

NOVUS: You know you're important when people feel strongly enough about you to parody you. ;)

MYSTERIUM: Yes, exactly, it was a badge of honor to have parody sites. :) You see, to help musicians become better evolves naturally to allowing people with talent and the will to succeed as a musician for their livelihood. Many people in the scene did not like that; they did not want others to succeed as musicians, which I still can't figure out why they would think like that. It's almost communist -- everyone should be subject to being failures in the public world of music as much as they are. For someone to succeed and do it for a living is just wrong. But behind closed doors, they would make music for games and commericials and so on.

NOVUS: There's the USA comparison again. ;)

MYSTERIUM: Yes, another USA comparison, but I can't help it. I embrace those ideals and it was very evident in TiS.

NOVUS: I butted heads with quite a few people in your defense over the money issue, but even I had no true idea how much the site was costing you to run.

MYSTERIUM: Thanks, I needed friends everywhere I could get them. :) It's not easy being a pioneer; I just hope I have broken the ice and made it easier for those who try next. TiS was a channel for those just beginning to become better through their peers and then to take their talent and showcase it to the world. The size and visibility meant that the world watched. The TiS Charts mattered -- they really did matter, and I know it has helped some artists.

NOVUS: So, to take the question in the other direction, what was the most accurate criticism of TiS?

MYSTERIUM: The most accurate was that it WAS too big (not WHY was it too big), because it grew too fast.

NOVUS: So, the growth rate, rather than the size itself.

MYSTERIUM: Yes, the growth rate was an accurate criticism. And that sceners would not accept TiS. That was true, but again I felt that as the sceners grew older and if they had a serious forum for their music, then as they matured as people and musicians, they would not leave TiS. The paid memberships clearly showed that I was right about that.

NOVUS: A common area of criticism was the quality of the reviews, and this was the topic where I was quite critical of TiS. What did you think of your reviewing staff overall?

MYSTERIUM: Thats true, too. Thanks for reminding me. :)

NOVUS: No prob. :)

MYSTERIUM: I thought that the reviewing staff overall was representative of the peers. The paid memberships were supposed to help those serious about music get the best reviewers. After all, it was peer reviews. The critics have only themselves to look at. We gave as much guidelines as we could. In the end, it's not us writing the reviews and bringing with us our personal experiences that make each reviewer different.

NOVUS: I always saw TiS's growth as the culprit behind that: with so many songs flowing in, the only way to possibly review them all was to throw a huge team of reviewers at it. But such a huge team makes quality-control nigh impossible.

MYSTERIUM: Yes, though we tried and tried and tried. It's almost impossible. I had ideas about placing some limits and such that would have helped. In fact, I know some of my ideas would have worked. But I ran out of time.

NOVUS: Any advice for anyone else who wants to run a scene mega-site someday?

MYSTERIUM: Yes. Watch the growth rate, be very careful. Plan out how you will spend money (whether it's your own or someone else's). Be realistic -- music may be artistic and ethereal, but there is a reality also. And don't give up or listen to the criticism; trudge ahead with what you truly believe in and make your visions happen.

NOVUS: When TiS went down, a lot of good music went down with it. Is there any hope at all of recovering any of those songs?

MYSTERIUM: I had hoped to recover them, but there were too many issues and we could not unfortunately. The servers were too big and no longer belonged to us since we could not pay the lease. And they were located very far from us. All that combined made it very difficult to recover the songs. I wish I could have though.

NOVUS: Have you ever seen the e-mail that your right-hand man Ronald "Roncli" Clifford sent to me before TiS collapsed?

MYSTERIUM: Nope, RonCli and I did not talk about TiS too much afterward. It was a mutual understanding that we needed a break -- both of us. You could send me his email or paraphrase it if you can. You have piqued my interest.

NOVUS: You can read it here: [dead link removed due to UT's message board crash] -- He gave me permission to take it public.


NOVUS: I was going to ask what you thought of it, and at the time, I thought there was a rift between the two of you based on what he said.

MYSTERIUM: He did not know the entire story.

NOVUS: I'd always wondered that.

MYSTERIUM: I did not tell him, because it was still going on at the time and he had already sacrificed enough. I wanted him to have an easier break from it all than I had to endure.

NOVUS: A lot of what he said makes a lot more sense now in the context of this interview. Do you and Ron still keep in touch?

MYSTERIUM: Oh yeah! He works at CCCS also. In fact, his cube is across from mine. :) I helped him get the job there, and he is very successful there.

NOVUS: Wow, that worked out then. :)

MYSTERIUM: I have no problems with anyone except the "senior staff."

NOVUS: The "senior staff" being the aforementioned "experienced businessmen"?

MYSTERIUM: Yes, that's correct.

NOVUS: So, do you still have any leftover TiS merchandise that never got sold?

MYSTERIUM: Yes. Some, I kept some for keepsakes and the rest I don't know where it is. I live in a one-bedroom apartment, so I could not take too much.

NOVUS: Darn, I was gonna ask for a t-shirt. ;)

MYSTERIUM: Yeah, I don't know where any of that stuff is now. If I had more room I would have taken it all.

NOVUS: Would you ever consider letting someone else, like Kim Kraft or Ronald Clifford, pick up the TiS banner and try to resurrect it?

MYSTERIUM: Maybe. Someone asked me recently and I said no, because one day I may want to do it again -- in a few years. I have seriously been wanting to get back into the music industry and make change. With my experience (TiS) and now work success coupled with a good education, I think I may want to become a music industry analyst. I could help the scene so much like that by bringing to light the strong sites and leaders. The battle is not over for me yet. I'm just on R&R.

NOVUS: Well, don't get too sidetracked away from that... to quote Dave Matthews, "Don't lose the dreams inside your head / They'll only be there 'til you're dead." Would you ever consider being an admin for one of the scene's existing sites?

MYSTERIUM: Maybe, or even an editor for a scene magazine (or contributing writer). I think that being an orator is just as important as running a site.

NOVUS: Well, I know Coplan's looking for writers for Static Line... ;)

MYSTERIUM: Well if I hear from Coplan, then there might be another writer for Static Line. :)

NOVUS: I'll pass that along. :)

MYSTERIUM: No problem. I would like to say that I hope that this sheds some light for the scene -- not for a personal benefit, but for those people who come next.

NOVUS: Well, if this marks your return to the scene, I imagine we'll hear quite a bit more from you in the future.

MYSTERIUM: LOL... Maybe so, maybe so. Two years off is just about right. I am putting my life on track -- going for an MBA at a top ten school and then armed with that, I plan on helping the sceners more. It's in my blood. It's like the NBA commercials -- I love this stuff.

NOVUS: There's a slogan... "I love this scene!"

MYSTERIUM: Exactly. :) I love this scene.

NOVUS: Imagine... TV commercials with Necros and Skaven, and the Second Reality demo running in the background. ;)

MYSTERIUM: Exactly, that would be something to see.

NOVUS: Well, I now have a mammoth task ahead of me, copying-and-pasting this all. I really should've thought this through and expanded the log-file settings in mIRC. ;)

MYSTERIUM: I have the log I think, let me see... Yes, I can e-mail it to you.

NOVUS: Excellent! So, on behalf of myself, Coplan, and Static Line's readers, thank you for taking the time for this. It's hard to pick this up from reading, but we've been chatting for almost 2 hours now.

MYSTERIUM: You're right, two hours. My wife is telling me too now that I am wasting her day. :)))

NOVUS: Sorry if your wife is mad. Just blame me. :)

MYSTERIUM: I already did blame you. :)

NOVUS: Heh. ;)

MYSTERIUM: Thanks for giving me a forum to tell my story. I want people to understand.

NOVUS: This should help with that. Take care!


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