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Wednesday
Oct062010

Interview with TheNJScene's owner Mike Smeen

Mike Smeen

Last week, long running NJ messageboard The NJ Scene abruptly ended its course. I had a chance to interview site owner (and Paulson keyboardist) Mike Smeen about the reason behind the board's sudden closing.

1) For those who don't know, give them a background of The NJ Scene.

Back in May of 1999, I had an idea to create a message board and made one on EZBoard.com. It was free, and really pretty terrible. Then I teamed up a great dude named Chris Pham and we sort of made the board the "official message board" of his website, SkaNJSka.com. That's really what got a lot of the initial members to the board. After awhile, I felt that tying the board down to just the ska scene was sort of limiting, especially since ska was sort of on the way out and I think a lot of people that weren't into ska wanted themselves represented. 

 

At the end of 2001, I thought the time was right for a new website that was a bit more all-encompassing. So I bought TheNJScene.com, made a website, and moved the board there. I hooked up with Chad Wolf at that point and we really made a run for it. We spent hours every day working on articles, sorting through show submissions, selling advertising space to local labels, sponsoring shows, and coordinating a street team to help with PR. This was basically the height of my own involvement. It was going well for awhile, but things like my personal life, going to college, and eventually touring full-time in my own band for a few years really made it hard to run the thing anymore. It was just too much work and it was just barely breaking even. Chad and I had also sunk a bunch of our own money into the thing over the years to pay for server bills, and that wasn't something we wanted to do anymore (nor could we afford it). So it was time to basically call it quits. 

 

Instead of shutting the board down, we decided to remove the front page and make it a forum only. Bandwidth started to get cheaper so we were able to keep it up with minimal contributions of our own personal funds and by running a few ads. Chad got tired of it a couple of years ago and left to finish school and start teaching. From then on, the site was mainly funded by donations and any moderation (banning, removing posts) was reduced to the bare minimum of weeding out spammers, bots, and legally questionable stuff.

Which brings us to question number two...

 

2) What was the reason for the board shutting down?

I've been tired of running it for a long time. Any of my real life friends know it had almost become a point of embarrassment for me as much as it had been a pain in the ass sometimes. Not that I was embarrassed of the people; I've met a lot of great people on the board over the years and I'm glad I was a part of it. It just got really weird when the lines between the real world and the internet world intersected. Especially when board drama found its way into my personal life, which it had more often than you'd think. It's also cost me a bunch of money over the years, and each time I've asked for donations the amounts have been smaller and smaller and I didn't want to have to beg for money every month.

 

A lot of people were pretty mad I think at the way it was shut down. I do apologize about that, but for me it was like ripping a bandaid off. Trying to give the thing a eulogy and schedule the exact shut down time or something would've not only dragged the process out, but it would've started a whole mess about why I can't just keep it up, or why I didn't just hand it over to one person, or whatever. I'll address that more in a bit. I've thought a lot of times about just pulling the plug and having that be it, and then last week I shut it down as a funny way to moderate two long-time members Anthony and Ryan (no hard feelings dudes!). After it was shut down I sort of had one of those epiphany moments and I just decided to change the message and keep it shut. Definitely not the way I should've done it as far as saying thank you to all the people that have stuck with it over the years. But once it was done, it was done and I didn't really want to look back.

 

3) Did you accomplish everything that you wanted to when you started the board?

 

 

Absolutely.  Doing *anything* for 11 years straight when you're only 27 years old is pretty awesome. I've made a TON of friends. Some of them are legitimately close friends, and others have been "musical acquaintances" for just about a decade. While we didn't meet through the board, without a couple of guys on the board I wouldn't have met my wife Meaghan. So yeah, I'd say as much as I might try to play it cool, the board has been pretty important to me. 

 

And I know for a fact, that as much as others might also try to play it cool, that a lot of friendships and relationships have been forged through the board. We've had at least a half-dozen board members get married or engaged to other board members. Pretty crazy.

 

I also think it's important to say that it's inevitable after this much time that I've pissed some people off. On message boards and on the internet, people in general tend to act a bit differently than they do in real life. It's also harder to detect sarcasm and it's way easier to piss people off. So to anyone that doesn't like me because of something I said on the internet, I say to you: let's go grab a beer somewhere. I'm sure neither of us are the way we portray ourselves on the internet and we could probably be friends. 

 

4) There are a couple of spinoff NJ scene boards that have started since the board was shut down. How do you feel about that?

Well, it's my opinion that the board has been going down hill for a long time. Another reason for shutting it down was so that I didn't keep it on life support or drive it into the dirt until it was too pathetic to bear. So to split the board into two or three even smaller boards feels like just delaying the inevitable to me, unless someone's going to put the work in and actually actively pursue new members (flyering at and sponsoring shows, trading links, putting up banner ads, etc). Otherwise, it looks like the whole thing is trending downwards. I was sort of hoping the majority of people would realize that it's been eating up too much time or that it's strayed too far from its roots or whatever. I'm sure a lot of small business owners and middle management guys were also hoping the same thing. Productivity would probably increase by a lot. 

 

But overall, Godspeed to those that want to carry on the torch. The problem is, everybody wants me to link to their new message board or hand it over to one person or whatever and that's really not the direction I wanted to go. If anything, I want to bring it back to its roots and make it relevant to the actual local music scene again. So I'm thinking I might hand only the name over to someone I know that's still doing that kind of thing.

 

5) What are your plans for the future?

I'm actually more than a few years into a career as an IT Project Manager, and I just married a wonderful young lady named Meaghan who I've been with for just about 8 years now. As far as music, I left Paulson in 2006 because I could no longer tour full-time, but now that they've been on hiatus we've practiced a few times and even played a show in North Carolina this past February. So look out for a possible NJ reunion show (don't quote me on that, but we've been talking about doing it for a long time now). I'll always continue to dabble in little side project bands or playing on my own. So if anyone wants to play some tunes, you know where to find me.

 

6) Will you ever work on another messageboard again?
 

Never say never. But... my answer is "never."Thanks for interviewing me. I'm flattered that anyone even cares!

Reader Comments (7)

lol
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermunch
The coarsening of our culture as a whole as made the anonymous message board a haven for extremism and rudeness; civil discourse has all but disappeared, and all the vitriol tends to drive the more moderate posters away. I stopped checking NJScene because there was never any discussions about music there, it was just meatheads throwing spitballs at one another. It's why I've resisted bringing jerseybeat.com to a more Web 2.0 platform and making it more interactive. If anybody has any ideas for how to make a music message board work in 2010, I'm all ears.
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim Testa
thegearpage.net works great but its more gear specific. members and moderators hold each other to standards and ethics, its not a chest match of slick wit remarks. There is some music scene posting there, as people tend to post about there own bands or bands they like. But its still lacking in terms of being a 'music scene/touring/booking' site.
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpants
life is good, eh?
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterd
meatheads throwing spitballs at each other?

Jim Testa

More like Jim Testicle

amirite?
October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTed Scheckler
How am I supposed to not work at work now. LOLz. RIP YOUR PANSIES!
October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris White
what's the url for the ride the fury board?
October 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchunks
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