Netmix: 10 Years Later

If you were to search the Network Solutions WHOIS records database, you would learn the domain name this blog falls under, Netmix.com, was registered 10-years ago today. Scroll half-way down the page and the text simply says, “Record created on 13-Dec-1995.”

10-years forward, an eternity measured in Internet time; Netmix is, for all intensive purposes, still alive and kicking. Sitting back in my chair, I ponder the time passed and am simply amazed that 10-years has gone by and throughout, I’ve tried my best to support dance music and DJ culture from a place, not of greed, but of love and commitment to the craft and industry I knew I wanted to work in since I was 12-years-old. Christmas that year, I got my first turntables from my parents and the rest is history.

Who knew that I would be at the helm of something I wasn’t even sure would last one week, never mind a decade? Sure, it’s not as magnificent as it once was. In June of 2000, Netmix recorded an estimated 1 Million visitors per year from over 300 countries around the world. All coming to hear the best mix shows put together by the likes of Paul Oakenfold (one of our first sets and one of the first sets for Oakenfold ever on the web) and our inaugural set by Armand Van Helden.

I sit back and think about all trials and tribulations; waxing nostalgic at what was once only a dream becoming my reality magnified times ten. An incredible journey carried with it amazing stories of love, commitment, fear, greed, morality, ethics and friendships made or friendships lost. All over a simple web site that changed the way people experienced DJ culture forever.

When was the exact moment I thought of building out Netmix? It all came about on an early fall day in 1995. Local Boston club DJ, Richie Rich and I were walking from Carol Mitro’s Vinyl Connection on Huntington Avenue to Boston Beat on Newbury Street. Each Thursday and Friday, DJs would pop into Vinyl Connection first to pick up the latest white-label imports and then head over to Boston Beat to round out their weekly record shopping excursions.

As Richie and I made out way across the plaza, passing below the great walls of the Copley Square branch of the Boston Public Library, we conversed about our ideas, our lives, what we wanted to do in the future.

How far we could take our careers? It was a question neither of us really knew the answer to, but we knew what we wanted to to continue on the path of dance music greatness. Just as we crossed over Boylston Street, I brought up that I’d been thinking about something I wanted to explore. And it was at that very moment, I came up with the idea for Netmix.com.

Born out of my frustrations at my current position in Boston’s dance music scene, I’d felt I’d come so far, but I just couldn’t seem to get to the next level. It was as if something was purposefully holding me back. Club owners I’d worked for or the labels I’d helped to launch all loved my passion and energy; an asset to them when they needed me, but when I wanted to do more, I was told that it was others who where the focus. I knew I had the talent and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being given the chance to prove myself. At this point, I knew that it was time I went out and made my own mark on the world.

Having cut my teeth at X-Mix Productions, where I headed up AV8 Records and assisted Armand Van Helden, Lenny Bertoldo and DJ Sneak launch their careers, things started to slow down for me in local Boston scene. I’d been writing a column in a magazine, University People, which abruptly shut down. And, as the clubs began to cater to more euro-trash, my managers chose East Boston-native, DJ Manolo, whose Spanish-speaking background fit more with their marketing plans to the Euro-trash student community.

With the magazine going belly up and my clubs appearances relegated to spinning disco classics for the American crowd at Roxy on Saturday’s, I began to question myself and wonder what next? Where was I going to take my career? Was this it for me? My passion was the underground; House music. I love all kinds of dance music, but a futurist by nature, I was always pushing the envelope. DJing at the 80’s club, Culture Club in New York City in the late 90’s, I’d spin dub versions of 80’s dance tracks remixed…HA! Doesn’t matter where I was, I’d try to fit in something that would take the crowd a little deeper, a little edgier.

Always outspoken, I’d made a lot of friends in Boston, but there were some who continued to compete, using their positions to try and hold me back from achieving the success I felt I’d earned and deserved. There was Kid David (Corey) from Kiss 108, who cried foul when I asked the radio panel at the New Music Seminar why Kid David was programming Push It by Salt ‘n’ Pepper in the mix instead of picking new tracks by Adamski, Vanessa Daou or Frankie Knuckles. He wasn’t there, but word got back to him in Boston when someone from Kiss told him I tried to diss him (even though I was just asking a simple questions), and he subsequently tried to have me thrown out of my record pool and banned from the Kiss mix shows. I guess that really showed he could take some criticism. I didn’t realize at the time that I should censor my opinions in a public forum where a question about the philosophy of mix-show programming was valid. It just goes to show how cutthroat the dance music and radio industry really is.

So, I came to the conclusion that Boston, although a beautiful city with a vibrant dance culture, was no longer for me. Status quo reigned. Pushing the envelope was too scary, to avant garde for the powers that be. In Boston, underground culture has always been put in check by racist door policies at major nighclubs, which ban sneakers, jeans and baseball hats for reasons beyond just looking good. For a bastion of higher learning, the close-minded mentality was crushing my creativity. I needed a new challenge, a new atmosphere and that was New York City. Having gone to school in New York in the late 80’s, I was fascinated by the club culture at nightspots The Tunnel, Limelight and Marrs. One night, I’d gone to Limelight on a Wednesday for Keoki’s Disco 2000 party. We ran into the infamous club kid turned drug crazed murderer, Michael Alig, who was wearing—of all things—a test tube on his penis with leather, spiked straps holding the skinny thing up. I thought to myself, if it’s this insane here, then maybe it’s the place I really need to be? The place where I can let my creative juices run wild.

I began looking for a job at a label. In late ’93, after attending the last New Music Seminar in New York, I’d interviewed with Victor Lee at Tommy Boy for a Promotions position, but was edged out of contention by Rich P., who went on to have a stellar career there and in the radio mix show world. I also interviewed with David Sanchez at Radikal Records for a club promotion and marketing position, but they were looking for someone in New York, and I still lived in Boston. It turned out I needed to live in New York, so that’s what I planned on doing.

On that day fall day, walking with Richie, I thought to myself there’s got to be something I could do to make an impact; something to begin to really make a name for myself. And, I set out to do just that.

I chose Netmix, the name for obvious relations relating to other music companies I’d worked for in the past (X-Mix and Mega-Mixx). It wasn’t too difficult to come up with something I thought was catchy and simple, that could stand the test of time. There were no naming consultants or marketing firms involved…lol. It was just lil’ol me and a simple, catchy concept. Mega-Mixx…X-Mix…NETMIX! Voila! Not rocket science by any means.

I’d already made some key relationships in the record business and my DJ skills spoke for themselves. I figured if it was successful, I would parlay it into a job in the dance music industry. In a way, that happened. By end-2000, Netmix was worth over $3 Million to investors and we were acquired by a group who proceeded to run the business into the ground in just 6 months. Who was to blame? Partially, the economy. But, there were other factors as well. We had three offices in two cities and the company was supporting other business units that weren’t generating any revenues, but their executives were making six-figure salaries. Not the way to run a company. I had a CFO who wouldn’t listen to me and a CTO who preferred sending porn videos to his friends and building web sites for other people, then actually working on building something for Netmix that was database driven, meaningful and would help to keep the company alive during the downturn. While everyone bailed on the business in December of 2000, I was left to try desperately to find revenues where they almost all dried up, outside of the remix work I was getting for DJ Phenix, who we had under management.

I take a lot of the blame, as I’d never run a real business before. With little experience, I’d built a web site started in my bed room, into a multi-million dollar organization. I wasn’t aware of all the rules, I didn’t crack the whip when I should have, and maybe I was too hard on others when I shouldn’t have been. At the end of the day, my goal was to always take care of the people who put out their best for me and I put out my best for them. Although I was going through a perosnal metamporphosis, I put my life aside for many others who I saw the good in. That was my goal and I felt that I achieved that goal, despite everything else that’s happened.

Today, I’m just proud to have been part of a bourgeoning online dance music community, which was spurred along by sites like Netmix, Grooveradio, Streetsound, Groovetech, and Raves.com. It’s been an amazing ten years. One war, three presidents, 9/11, the dot com crash, terrorism, floods, hurricanes…we’ve made it through some incredibly difficult times and all I can do is hope and pray that we make it through the next ten years without the difficulties many of us have faced for the last 5.

I’m working on my degree at New York University, so I can build the skills needed to bring Netmix back to the levels we’d once attained. I keep the site pretty basic, but recently launched the online radio component with our radio partner, Live 365 and keep this blog, which is generating about 300 to 400 visitors a week, without any promotion other than the automated blog notification system. Recently, I began promoting the site through Friendster and MySpace, where there are house music fans aplenty.

I don’t want to turn this posting into an anti-Bush crusade, but since he’s been in office, we’ve all been living under so much pressure. Pressure to do more with less so corporations can rake in even greater profits. So oil companies can continue to cash in on the misfortune of the Middle Eastern crisis. So corporations can layoff employees with a whim and without a care for the lives of them and their families. Half the population don’t have health care, but the corporate big wigs continue to get fat bonuses and raises at the expense of employees who helped them build their organizations, and for what?

We’re living in a consumerist society so fraught with the Hollywood, wanna-be rich lifestyle, that many people have forgotten the simple fact of being nice to your fellow man (or person, to be politically correct). Today, I know how hard it’s been for me these last five years, but I’m making it through. I realize the mistakes I’ve made, and in that, I really try hard to give back as much as I can. From speaking to the Music Business student group at Rockland Community College to helping Sima, a talented young singer from Israel try and make it in the music business, all I can do is do my best to give back while moving forward.

What’s next for Netmix and I? My goal with Netmix in the future is to run an employee-friendly, environmentally and socially conscious organization; one that cares’s about its employees as well as its investors. That generates profits but gives back to the world, whether by philanthropy or volunteerism. I hope that I achieve this goal. It’s the best thing that I can give to myself, my friends, my family and the world.

I think I’ll make that my New Year’s resolution.

In the meantime, I’m working with Entertainment Media Works, whose web site, StarStyle.com is one of the hottest ideas to come around in a while. As the Product Manger, Music Video, I’m starting to build the relationships and technology necessary to help the company achieve it’s goals. I’ll be here a couple of years, maybe more. At the same time, running Netmix on the side as a hobby and passion, which will never die.

10-years and counting…who knew? Surely, not I. It’s something I’d never imagined. But, as my brother said so poigniantly over my office VOIP connection tonight, it’s a “dream that is still alive.” Yes, that’s how far we’ve come in ten years, from sending dance music over packets to the desktop to sending our voices via packets over the phone.

Peace and Happy Holiday’s,

Tony Z.

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