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The NIN Hotline
Interview by muddasheep, January 15th 2004, 02:01:14
Have you ever thought doing websites is just a stupid waste of time? Well, you're wrong. In fact I've found someone who can tell you about the possibilites a website provides when you work hard for it. The very successful founder of The NIN Hotline: Matt Dunphy. Go ahead and bookmark his page if you're interested in first hand news about Nine Inch Nails.
And now let the interview begin.


Hi Matt! How are you?

Hey there, I'm doing pretty well. Busy as usual, but I think that's better than having nothing to do.

Before I send you to the Chamber Of Questions™ it's time for an introduction of yourself.

Easy enough. My name's Matt Dunphy, I'm currently 24, I've been using computers since I was 4 years old, and goofing around online since I was 14. Living in Pennsylvania, games, music and the internet are great ways to forget that where I live kind of sucks. I actually recently got married in September to an Aussie named Melissa, who I actually met thanks to The NIN Hotline. Besides working as a web designer, I play drums for a punk band (see also: slowandy.com) and write electronic/acoustic music (see also: tearsforagnes.com). I'd say that's a good start.

Alright, there's no turning back now! First question: What's the time?

5:18pm EST. I'm still at work, only because I have practice at 7, so I kill
time here until I have to head there.

When did you discover Nine Inch Nails? Was it love at first scream?

Well, when I was about 14, I was going through my Dad's CD collection. I never much listened to radio, and the only music I was really into was Nintendo music and Screamtracker stuff. Trying to keep an open mind, I sat down to listen through all my Dad's music to see if anything caught my ear. The Head Like a Hole single really took me, not because of the numerous boring HLaH remixes, but Terrible Lie and Down It In really got stuck in my head.

Completely oblivious to the fact that Closer was getting heavy MTV rotation, I bought a copy of Pretty Hate Machine, and then found myself on the path so many fans have taken, of collecting every NIN CD I could get my hands on. For about two years, NIN was the only band I listened to.

How and when did you get the idea for making a website for current NIN news?

Well, I used to run a fan site called Nails in my Head. I always thought that running a news site was respectable, but way too much work for me to handle. I'd seen all the big sites come and go... news.nin.net, Above the Trees' news page (run by Rob Sheridan, who went on to be the nin.com webmaster)... and there was Seems Like Salvation Nothing News, by Evan Moore. SLS was pretty much the best news source out there in 1999, but it was lacking in a few things. Over the years I'd defended SLS News to naysayers with the idea that, "If you don't like how it's run, why don't you start a better page." When I didn't like how things were being done, I took it upon myself to do just that.

It started out because a chatroom I was in kept getting lots of news. I wanted to start a page where we could keep it all up to date; SLS updated every day or three, and this stuff was coming in by the hour. I got together with Paul LaBarbera and John Sampson (Pablo and Static, respectively) to begin an anonymous up-to-the-minute news source. Very quickly, we brought over a dozen people to help out on the page. At one point we had German and French versions of the site running in parallel, it was pretty cool. Due to a number of issues, things have obviously been honed and streamlined at over the years.

When did you add sections like SickAmongThePure and MeatHead?

Well, I asked Meathead to join the site in August of 1999. He posted some of the most clever things in the SLS forums and in the #nin99 chatroom, and having worked at a newspaper, I realized that when news was slow, it would help to have some kind of regular column to keep people interested. I wanted more people to see the kind of talent Meathead had, how clever his humor was, and so I asked if he would contribute a column maybe once every two weeks. For the next few years, every single week he'd pop out another great Perspective. He gets more hits than the news.

Sick Among the Pure started out as a feature of Keith Duemling's fantastic but now defunct site, Smashedupsanity.com. Keith and I had worked on a number of things together, from NothingRadio.net (which was later absorbed into RadioNothing, but that's a whole other story) to various subsites on Smashed Up Sanity. He had hosted my site, Nails in my Head, after I quit my AOL account. We originally teamed up to do a weekly (I think) newsletter, which went for several issues. Sick Among the Pure was hosted at Smashed Up Sanity, and I linked to that; the idea being that you don't have to have everything on one server, but it's nice to have one gateway to a source of constantly changing content (the chatroom), daily content (the nin hotline), weekly content (meathead, the newsletter), and monthly content (sick among the pure). The chatroom went away, the newsletter died out, sick among the pure struck out on their own.

I really like the concept of SATP. I haven't always been 100% keen on the execution and content, but I like to encourage people to be creative in many ways. I'm not a poetry guy, and if I ran the site, I'd rather see it be more of an informative and critical kind of magazine, but if I ran the site, I think that would be a little too homogenius, too, heh. Even when they've had bumpy spots, I have always done as much as I could to encourage people to contribute to and read the magazine. I think it's turned out very well over the years.

How many staff members do you currently have? Are they all doing their jobs properly?

I think they'd only be jobs if they got paid ;) Right now, we're kind of back to basics. It's me, WhitechapelMolly, Meathead, and Paul who update the main site. Funnily enough, while the page started out on the internet, with people all over the place, I think everyone who staffs the site lives within an hour or two driving distance from me. Must be something in the air around here, I guess. It's not hard work, the worst part is the mountains of spam we get from our Hotline email accounts, I think. The site is now database driven - you fill out a form, press submit, and everything's automatically udpated.

There are a lot of sub pages as well, such as The NIN Historian and Know the Score. I saw The NIN Historian's site on Tripod, linked to it one day, and it crashed within minutes of being linked. Feeling bad, and a little ambitious, I asked if he'd be cool with being hosted on the Hotline. Thankfully, he was totally into it, and he's done a lot of very hard work to get that site in such a unique state as it's in now.

Know the Score is actually run by my wife, who in her spare time has written out sheet music for NIN songs. She's been playing piano since she was 4, and has toured the world playing viola. On top of that, she's an operatically trained singer. We both hesitated about putting her stuff on the Hotline - she didn't want to burden me with it, and I didn't want to put any stress on her about it. I'm very glad that we put aside any silly notions about nepotism or whatever, because she's done a lot of work since getting the site up. We haven't received many decent performances of the music just yet, but I helped Mel to record a string quartet version of A Warm Place, which I'm dying to get online. She's not happy with her playing, but it's hard to find free time to do a new recording.

How did you manage to get more visits for your page at the beginning?

Well, by accident really. It turned out that Rob Sheridan and/or Trent Reznor was visiting our chatroom, and they decided to link to it from nin.com - this was one of the most crazy things I'd ever seen in IRC, but it helped to get the word out about the page. nin.com has pretty much always linked to theninhotline.net (when it's actually online) - that's a big help. But our staff did plenty of pimping and getting the word out. When NIN toured the US, we made NIN Hotline fliers and passed them out at shows. I think we actually fliered more shows than the official NIN street team! (...which we could have helped immensely, but again, that's another story) Also, collaborating with pages such as TheFragile.com, SmashedupSanity.com, Seems Like Salvation News, and so forth, helped draw links to the page. We tied The NIN Hotline to NothingRadio.net, which got in both Spin and Shift magazines.

I think the real key was to keep it simple. The site doesn't take a long time to load on dial up, we have almost never used any kind of advertising, and we don't skew our news to benefit ourselves or companies. We do exactly what we say we do, and nothing more, and so word of mouth plays a big part in getting hits.

Have you ever asked Trent Reznor for an interview?

Well, we've asked his publicist. We've learned that's a stupid idea, and go
right to the source when possible now. But as far as interviewing Trent goes, after a few years of being pretty well involved in things, it seems a little strange. I don't know what to ask sometimes, and I know that 90% of what people do want to ask, I don't want to be the one delivering those questions. Even now, I'm working on questions for Chris Vrenna for the first interview concerning his new album, 2am Wake-up Call. I don't know what to ask just yet. Everything I come up with just sounds dumb. It'd be cool if I could just sit down and have a conversation or a phone call, but it's harder to land that kind of interview, unfortunately.

What do you think would Trent say about your website?

I think he probably appreciates it. We try to keep it a "Nine Inch Nails" site, not so much a "Trent Reznor" site, you know? When The Fragile came out, I was very kindly mailed a copy early, signed by Trent, who also wrote "Thanks Matt," and you can bet that made my day... as much as I pretend I'm not a fanboy.

It really boils down to the idea that I like NIN, and I do this page for fun. I don't do it for any freebies - most of the swag we do get offered we simply turn around and give away with some kind of contest. I don't do it to get backstage, or to meet or impress Trent. It's just supporting a band I like. We have a local punk scene in central PA, and along with that is the idea of "support local talent." Well, NIN's not local, but it's talent, and I support that. And to know that's appreciated, that's cool, but I don't do the site for aknowledgement.

How many visits do you get each day? Are you confident with the traffic statistics?

I'm confident and scared by the statistics. Even though nothing's been going on for years, the site traffic rises more every month. Here's a sampling of our December 2003 stats:

Daily Averages
- Hits:123,641
- Pages: 32353
- Visits: 8156

Monthly Totals
- Hits: 3,832,884
- Pages: 1,002,972
- Bandwidth: 50,604,049kb

Keep in mind, we did 50gb of bandwidth, and we don't host any file archives locally. That's a lot of reading.

How do you get your informations for the latest news?

Early on, we really had to scour. Over the years, as the site's become more well-known, we get our news from people who are friends with employees at Alternative Press, a former Apple employee who has done a lot of her past work with many of the band members; we check the more iffy news with the band members themselves. We don't want to cause too much of a fuss, so we never credit them unless they ask. You'll never see "Trent Reznor told us so!" ...but that happens a lot. Our biggest source of news is our email inbox.

By the way: Is the new NIN album really called "Bleedthrough" or is it just a rumor? What do you expect from it?

As far as I know, the new album is called Bleedthrough. I expect it'll be a new direction, but that it'll also stay true to older NIN sound design. I have heard a few rumors about what it sounds like, even a rumor that Zach de la Rocha contributed vocals to a track. I think it will be more widely accessible than The Fragile, but not more pop than The Downward Spiral. I think it's going to make me a NIN fan again.

I'm especially curious, because I've heard the Error material that Atticus Ross produced with his brother and Brett from Bad Religion, and it's badass. I don't think the new NIN will be nearly as harsh as Error, but if that little EP is any indication of Atticus' work on the new NIN - brutal is an appropriate descriptor to look out for when Bleedthrough finally comes out.

How was it possible to get those exclusive interviews featured on your page?

Well, it's pretty much the same way you got this interview -- find out how to contact said person, and ask if they're up for it. The internet's cool like that. I think we may have been the first people to publish an interview with Alan Moulder - I've seen plenty after ours, but none before ours. I got to do that one over the phone, and I admittedly geeked out here and there during the process. There was particularly one "okie dokie" I let slip that you'll not see amongst the transcript :p

Is the page affecting your real life in any way?

Heh. It's a wonderful resume piece when I do the job hunt, though I've been working contract web and network jobs independantly for a few years now. It landed me a smart -and- beautiful import bride who shares my interests in music, tech, language, and video games. I've talked to thousands of really great people and met dozens through that page. I followed NIN around for 9 tour dates and saw them at the Video Music Awards, a surreal experience in itself, because of the site. I've had an amazing insight into the industry, and really done many things that never could have happened if I didn't have this slightly expensive but very rewarding hobby.

Have you had any problems since the page went online?

Heh. The site has been hijacked pretty bad on two occasions. That's partly why there's a .com and .net address for the page. Early on, one of the staff cause something of an electronic riot and sent scores of angry NIN fans to flame the crap out of a Seattle reporter who wrote a negative review of The Fragile - that's a bit of a smudge on our shirt. We had some big tangle with the PR lady over really insane nonsense when we opened NothingRadio.net, where I had to do a conference call with her and their attorney. Thanks to a better knowledge of internet broadcasting laws and the help of a dictaphone, I worked my way out of that rather smoothly, but it still sits sourly in my stomach. You can read all about that here: http://www.theninhotline.net/a(...)

The good bits far outweigh the bad bits. But it's been a wonderful learning
experience.

What are your future plans for the NIN hotline?

I'd like to change the way it looks. It's been the same for a number of years now, and it's really kind of dated. But I don't know what else to add. Last time I did a general survey of how I could improve the site, the biggest response was "naked boobies." So maybe we'll do a calendar.

What do you think about the fans of Nine Inch Nails?

I think they can be very interesting. There's the good and the bad.
I think I should pass on this question. :)

Do you like interviews?

It depends on the questions. I've done interviews on the radio where the host really didn't say much of anything. I'm more of a reactive communicator, and if you don't ask good questions, you're not going to get good answers. But generally, yeah, I like interviews.

If you had a free wish, what would it be?

A better education system, not just in the US, but world-wide. I think a lot of problems would not exist if people were simply better educated. Of course, that brings up the question of what good education is, as it's easy to abuse the institution of education. But yeah, there you go.

Is the world a good place or a bad place?

It's as good as you make it. You can have more sway than you realize,
especially in the world as it stands today. You just have to work at it.

And finally: What's your favourite NIN song and why?

At the moment, I'd say... The Becoming. It's really a definitive NIN song,
having all the elements that are often used to stereotype NIN. That's always a tough question, but The Becoming really sums things up as best as they can be when describing the sound of NIN.

Thank you for your time, Matt. I wish you all the best for your page and your personal life.

Thanks! I hope this doesn't come off as one big wankfest, and that you find some of it worth your reading. Take it easy;
The NIN Hotline - Also available in different languages!

Sick Among The Pure - Containing an article about the history of NIN!

Know The Score - Perform NIN from sheet music!

The Meat Head Perspective - Get ready to laugh!

Links:
>The NIN Hotline
>Sick Among The Pure
>Slow Andy
>Tears For Agnes
How readers rate this Interview: 9/10 (3 votes)
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