The Second Annual Rhino Musical Apptitude Test (RMAT) [1998]

At 3:00 PM eastern time on April 27th 1997, thousands of America's biggest music geeks hunkered down to take the ultimate music trivia test online and at two Tower Records locations, one in Los Angeles and one in New York City. Created by the fine folks at Rhino Records and sponsored by Tower Records and Rolling Stone magazine among others, The RMAT was an open book test and there were reports of people showing up at Tower with crates of reference books.  But it was a strictly timed test and in reality there was no time to look anything up.  This was the inaugural Rhino Musical Aptitude Test or RMAT and though I considered myself a liner note reading, seasoned contestant of music trivia contests having won several Billboard sponsored ones as well as a Blockbuster Music (remember those? I was the store manager of one for nearly 72 hours) contest in 1996.  I missed taking the RMAT for a couple of reasons not the least of which is my hard fast rule I don't take tests or work on my birthday.  (Missing registration and a crippling test anxiety were other excuses reasons.)  As April 1998 rolled around, I was curious if another test would be given and if they would schedule it again on my birthday, which was both cool and unintentionally rude.  Finally, the Second Annual RMAT was announced and it would be held on May 17, 1998, which was probably someone else's birthday so that was one less person I had to try to beat.
Full page ad in Spin magazine April 1998, announcing upcoming Second Annual RMAT though no date is given.  Notice that Vibe and Spin were now the music magazines sponsoring the event and not Rolling Stone.
According to David Dorn in the official Rhino press release for the Second Annual RMAT:
"It's a great branding promotion for us,'' says Dorn, who hopes for 20,000 participants this year. During the test, the company expects to sell enough CDs in stores and on the Web to pay for the whole shebang. ``It's a silly, goofy thing,'' says Dorn, ``We want people to think that Rhino is a really cool company.''
By 1998, my good buddy John Book and I had been friends (who had never met in person) for nearly ten years.  He wrote a letter about collecting Prince records to Goldmine magazine and back in those days they printed your address right below your letter. (Not to date myself but comic book collectors from the Seventies and early Eighties know what I am talking about.) I wrote him a letter that day and almost thirty years later we're still there for one another though we've never been closer than 500 or 600 miles.  He had missed the first RMAT but he was not gonna miss the Second one:
When I had heard about the RMAT, I knew I had to enter. With my nerdy musical sense, I figured I was either sure to win or at least be somewhere in the Top 50. Either way, all I had hoped was to be up there in rank so that I could win.  I had followed Rhino Records since the early 80's, the first Rhino record I ever bought was "The World's Worst Records" with the barf bag. I was hooked, I loved what they did, I wanted to work for the label and even wrote suggestions for releases/reissues but as the old saying goes, labels don't want help from an "outside A&R". 
The commemorative tee John won for his Top 50 score in the 2nd RMAT
(pic courtesy of John Book)
It was great when I discovered they were doing the contest online. Fortunately, any and all kinds of books were allowed for references, which is funny to think about since 17 years later, you can just use Google.  In the spring of 1998, Google existed but it was close to nothing, and nothing what it is today. It was on a Sunday, was at home and had a few books I needed close by. I remember the first batch of questions being fairly easy and then things got technical. I don't remember any specific question but I know there were some I was unable to answer. Fortunately, I only missed a few answers but I felt I did fairly well, I did do fairly well, my score was pretty decent but do I remember? No.  However, when all of the numbers came in and they revealed who did win, I wasn't as high as I had expected, or at least there were quite a few other musical nerds above me. All I got back was an RMAT T-shirt and a compilation CD and that was that. It was the first and only RMAT I played, which seems odd since I would've played in 1999 and 2000 but it may have been work related. Nonetheless, I had a great time, as it was the first time music fans were able to celebrate their geekdom together, at a time when we were all getting a chance to discover one another online as the digital community was growing at a rapid pace.
My RMAT story is slightly different than John's.  After registering and for two weeks prior, I gently reminded the wife and three kids that Daddy needed some alone time, all of an hour, on May 17th which was indeed a Sunday.  I was assured it would be no problem as they would attend morning Mass, then family brunch and then do some shopping.  My Sunday morning and afternoon routine, then as now,  is waking up to an empty house and then cleaning with loud music playing.  True to my beautiful wife's word, she and the kids stayed away from our house that Sunday (longer than I needed them to) and I nervously sat in front of the computer a good ten minutes before the test was scheduled to begin.  I had two pencils and pen and some blank notebook paper on the desk to the left of the keyboard. We had a dedicated second phone line for the modem so unexpected phone calls would not be an issue.  My entire music reference book library sat an arm's length away on a wheeled bookshelf I wheeled in from the living room as the computer sat on a desk on one wall of dining room.  My right leg bounced rapidly to an unheard beat and I began to sweat. Test anxiety.  I was logged onto the test site (Rhino? Yahoo!?) waiting for it to begin and then the words appeared on the screen signalling it was time and I hesitated.  I had a clock sitting to the right of the monitor and I watched as the seconds turned to minutes, paralyzed by fear of failure. About four minutes in, I took a few deep breaths, closed my eyes and slowly opened them then stood up from the desk chair, turned myself slowly around twice before sitting back down.  And then I began answering the questions. 
Scoring was such that missed answers cost you a point and correct answers earned you three points so I was careful to only answer ones I was fairly certain about as I did not want to lose any points.  In the back of my mind I was thinking how the lowest scoring person on the previous year's exam still won an entire Joel Whitburn Record Research library (probably including the books pictured above and to the right) and that kept me going as I ignored the clock next to the monitor.  My Record Research Library was in desperate need of an updating.  I concur with John that the early questions were fairly easy but they sure did seem to get progressively harder as test went along.  I never once even thought about reaching for a book although a few times I wished I had my vinyl and CD collection close enough that I could quickly check liner notes.  Almost positive that time ran out before I finished the test as a result of my delayed start.  I actually felt somewhat relieved but also a little proud because I knew I didn't answer many questions wrong so it would come down to who answered more questions correctly than I did.  I am pretty sure you had to rank in the Top 50 to win anything. The overall winner would get a 200-CD changer and put on the Rhino mailing list, entitling that person to a copy of everything the label released for the rest of his, her or Rhino's life.  And the high-scorer at each Tower would get the same prize as last year: a jukebox stocked with 100 Rhino CDs.  Anyway, a message popped up or an email was received that said scores would be posted within 2-4 weeks. The results were posted in the promised time frame and while John Book cannot remember his exact score (or the compact disc he won though he knows it was not a RMAT Special Edition - those would come later), I do know he was in the Top 40 of the 200 scores they posted.  The previous year's winner and reigning Geekus Musicus Maximus, Dave Pasternak, had been flown out to California to defend his title and finished in second place at the famed Tower Records store on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and sixth overall in the country.  I remember printing up the five pages posted online that represented the Top 200 scorers and frantically searching for my last name.
That is me at #59.  Highest score in the state of Arizona!
Though rankings were not posted, ties were somehow broken and there were three mysterious columns on the right side of the page, each with a "Yes" or "No" for each contestant.  As you can see above, I was a "No", "No", "Yes" man.  Anyway, in the intervening 17 years, I managed to get rid of all but the second of those five pages, the page with my name and score on it.  Counting down from top of page (#41), I found out I was #59.  I did not win anything but I graciously retired from future Rhino Musical Aptitude Tests that day not as a sore loser but as someone who overcame major test anxiety and actually had fun.  
And I briefly resumed my winning ways with Fred Bronson's Chart Beat column in Billboard, earning various CDs from Rhino's Billboard Hits series, until I received a formal letter stating that I had won the maximum times allowed by the posted rules.  That Fall, empowered and confident in my abilities to overcome my anxiety, I enrolled in a few classes at the local community college.  I only finished one of the classes - Short Story Writing - but is was three more credits on my transcript and there is still a small, teeny tiny hope I will earn enough credits to get a degree as it is one of the few things I have started in my life but have yet to finish. 
Though this is the end of my involvement with the RMAT, it was given again in 1999, 2000 and 2001 before going on hiatus for a few years.  I'll cover those years in upcoming posts.  In four to six weeks!

No comments:

Post a Comment