New Jersey has a rich scene with a lot of raw talent in music. From Cape May to Hoboken, there are tons of mini scenes that collide with the culture that surrounds them. But what meets that music talent is a trail, a following of equally gifted and passion writers and bloggers. For this post I will be directing my focus on the profile of Jim Testa, founder and ultimately “The Boss” at Jersey Beat, a music fanzine that bases out of Weehawken, NJ.
Jim Testa lived in Weehawken for the large majority of his life, first living with previous generations before downsizing years later to a smaller living space, also in Weehawken. In 1975, he graduated from Rutgers University, where he studied mass communication. While in school he was the managing editor for a student-run daily newspaper, The Daily Targum, which proved to be an “invaluable experience” later on when he decided to start publishing his own fanzine.
Testa recalls the birth of Jersey Beat to be from 1982. Previously, a friend from college, Howard Wuelfing moved to Washington D.C. and began working in the scene, playing in bands and writing. Testa recalls, “He started doing a fanzine. First it was called Descenes, then Discords. He had people from all over the country write “scene reports” about their local scenes.”
He also observed the work of other individuals from LA or Minneapolis, where writers would do columns on little local scenes based at key venues. Testa started “hanging out at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, which had its own music scene, so [he] started a New Jersey column.” The origin of the name is due to a pun on the nickname Merseybeat (a term coined by the Beatles presence at the Mersey River in Liverpool).
When the publication started, the issues were coming out every other week. Then they were once a month, and expanded to every other month. Testa clearly stated that the zine never really made money but broke even. It had some nice growth at times, and some cutbacks in printing at other times.
Speaking on a fertile period, he stated, “As more money came in during the alternative “boom” of the Nineties (thank you, Nirvana and Green Day, a lot of that
money trickled down to the scene,) the zine got bigger and bigger. And we
had computers by then, so everything was typeset and we could do nice
photos and art.”
By the early 2000’s, the zine was producing 128-page issues. but with the onset of Napster, the music industry started to fall apart, and so did the advertising. Inevitably, the trick-down made it “impossible financially to keep publishing.” The final print issue came out in 2007.
But Testa was quick to the draw when it came to the onset of the internet.
“I bought the domain name “JerseyBeat.com” in 1997, which is VERY early in the web’s history. In the beginning, I used the website to advertise and sell the print zine,” he said. After he stopped doing the print issues, he launched the full website version which is where it stands today.
I think JerseyBeat.com is a little more than a blog so I call it an
online music magazine.
The staff at Jersey Beat has always included individuals in addition to Testa. Whether it be people who write reviews or do interviews, others have always been involved. He currently has about five people working on a regular basis, “a few people who write occasionally, and a new columnist – James Damion – who used to do his own blog but now covers hardcore and punk for me.”
Jersey Beat Podcast
At the same time that the zine took a new online form, Testa also produced Jersey Beat Podcast. the podcast is an audio form of the fanzine and it features music that is being reviewed in Jersey Beat. People are also interviewed on the podcast, and the archives are available on the podcast site. He’s got some names so be sure to check them out!
He describes his early music experience as follows. “In college, I taught myself to play acoustic guitar, but I am strictly a folksinger. In the Eighties, when I was really involved in the Maxwell’s scene, I was in a band with some friends called The Love Pushers. We broke up in 1986 and I focused on being a music journalist (or rock critic, or fanziner, or whatever you want to call it).”
Testa added, “In 2000, I kind of got dragged onstage at a music festival and liked it so much, I started my career as a singer/songwriter. Since then, I’ve released three albums and an EP (which you can find for free at my bandcamp.”
Passion for the Beat
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there is a big difference between what you do and who you are. I’m a writer. I’m not happy unless I’m writing about music.
It’s what I do. It’s what I’m good at. It’s what people know me for. I love helping get the word about about a great band or a good record. I love sharing my love of music with people.
Testa’s plans include a redesign of the website in the near future. “I’m coming
into a little money so I’m hoping to be able to hire a web designer and
bring JerseyBeat.com into the 21st Century, add a little Web 2.0 content
and make it more interactive.”
He’s having “way too much fun without any intention of stopping.”