Food for thought: The Mandolin Café at NAMM

An interview with Scott Tichenor, owner and webmaster

By Annette Siegel

Scott TichenorNAMM is an exciting, tasking, inventive, and noisy experience. It’s also a great opportunity to meet people in person you’ve only emailed or talked on the phone with. Such was the opportunity to meet up with Scott Tichenor, the owner and webmaster of the Mandolin Café - home to all things Mandolin. He was kind enough to give me some of his time.

He’s taller than I imagined, very sweet, understated, and a knowledgeable person to talk with. He was there for the Café and the business contacts he meets, and also reports from a Mandolin point of view. Here are a few questions I sent his way while sitting down with him in the busy, crazy, world that is NAMM (Anaheim).

AS: Why did you come to the show this year?

ST: I came to mine information, make contacts and I’m always surprised every time. I come here with low expectations and it’s usually exceeded. For example; the first day, I meet with Mel Bay about some things, cause I’ve never met him in person. I turn around and there’s the person from Wiley Publishing (Dummies books) so I talked to them, made a contact with a marketing person; it was totally off my radar, I had no idea they were here. I should have …but that’s just an example of the things that happen. He was hanging out with a major mandolin company and I found out some information I didn’t know…it was kind of like Oh… now I put two and two together. That kind of thing.

The other reason I come here is I need to get away from the computer and see the people that I’m dealing with and it pays dividends, things happen in person that will never happen over the web.

AS: What gave you the idea/inspiration to start the Mandolin Café?

ST: In 1994 I went to the Boston Macintosh conference and I bought the only book that was available in the industry on how to build a website…there was one book that I knew of. I read it cover to cover and started building a website. Someone from a music store had asked me to build a website. So I built something for myself first Mandolin Café. They looked at that and said Ok, build us a site. I was really hooked on it as soon as I saw it and the only other mandolin website was Dan Beimborn’s (Mandolin Archive) and now we’re working together. He actually disappeared from my life for about 10 years. Once I was ready to chuck it all, because I’ve been running off of a bunch of dedicated servers and I was getting a lot of traffic…this was in the old days when you shared servers. And he came in and got me a dedicated server and bailed me out big time. It’s a big site and needs more than one person working it. I have a couple of people that help me.

AS: The name Mandolin Café?

ST: The early website’s looked like restaurant menus, you had text at the top and you would click on it…they were all text based. I’m kind of a foodie anyways…so Mandolin Café…there ya go.

AS: How has the Café changed over the years?

ST: We’re user input now and an awfully lot of the content is by users; which is what website’s need to be. Users, that’s why sites like Yelp and some of those foodie sites work. Its forum traffic and the classifieds that are the two big functions for the Cafe. So that’s content being added by other people. In the early days you basically presented information and if they liked it they might come back the next day and if they didn’t see anything they probably wouldn’t.

I had a forum in 1998, a lot of people don’t even know that and it actually got clear wiped off, data, and all the content… everything. I didn’t even think to save it at the time; it was all an experiment. I wiped if off several times, up until 2002; then I started saving it.

Mandolin Cafe logoAS: You can still find so much if you do a search.

ST: Yes, there are posts from September 2002, usually by me or a couple of other people.

AS: Where you always a mandolin geek or afflicted later in life.

ST: I started playing guitar when I was about 6 and played guitar till I was like…24, when I moved to Kansas City to teach high school. I was trying to get into a band and they needed a mandolin player…so they gave me a mandolin. I tried out for a band, played it for a summer and got hooked.

AS: Your background?

ST: I taught high school for 2 years, I loved teaching, but I had to coach at the same time. I was an athlete in college on scholarship; long distance runner. But school districts need teachers that can coach. The opening they had was for basketball, which I knew almost nothing about, so we were probably the worst: team in the state 0-18 or something like that. So I had to coach the sports and didn’t really enjoy that, so I left teaching and went into jobs that were IT related. That led me into desktop publishing and eventfully into the web.

I was: in administrative management in a large corporation, contract manager, so I was managing large contracts and oversaw those services. But I also did a lot of individual supervision, so that kind of got into that HR thing.

It’s not one of my strengths, dealing with people on the site, problem people is not my strength which is why Ted (Eschliman). I didn’t have any discipline problem as a teacher. I taught at a real tough Kansas City based school. The kids that got used to me would actually take my class because they felt safe. It was a school where you could be in physical danger.

AS: Mandolins you have now?

ST: I have a lot of instruments move through my house that I own, but I only have one that I keep and play.

AS: Which is?

ST: It’s a 2001 Nugget Deluxe #233

AS: So where would you like to see The Mandolin Cafe go in the future?

ST: There’s a new version of the software that runs my forum, the company has a new generation; the blogging’s a little better. So what they’re doing is reaching out more into the social groups; more into blogging, information mining and sharing. At some point I need to move to that new platform and I want to take more of the static content and shoehorn into that database. Because I’m not going to live forever, I want be able to have that in some kind of format, so I can hand that off. Because right now there’s allot of old geek stuff….you know hand done. A lot of the site is. Most of the people think of the Mandolin Café as the forum; a lot of people think that. It’s a fair amount of data, thousands of pages. There’s that and I’m always looking for writers, people that are industry, journalist, that have newspaper or magazine experience and, people that are musicians that have those skills.

Scott then had to dash off to meet with another mandolin contact. You never know who or what will be around the corner at the NAMM show!

Annette is one half of Living Tree Music & The Seagulls with her husband Nowell.  She also holds a “Day” job working for the Bob Hope Estate/Family for the last 18 years. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.