Our Team


Mike (Managing General Partner)

Legal Role:

Founder, Managing General Partner,
& Managing Member.

Functional Roles:

Mac® User Experience Designer,
Mac® Multimedia Designer,
& Streaming DJ Mix Maker.

Email: managing.partner@phantomrecords.com
Softphone: +1 (240) 396-1733

Live Receptionist: +1 (240) 203-8805
(Live Person: 9am – 5pm. M-F.)

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Mike Widener joined Phantom Records in 2000. Back then, Mike just arrive from New Zealand where he had run an online retailer named Gamescape Interactive NZ Ltd. His retail store there, became popular and broke-even as a startup on a mere $2,500 investment, gaining 1.2 million unique hits in its first year. At the time, in 1997, his site was the only one streaming video of video games so his buyer could view them before playing them.

This innovative approach to sales, wasn’t common back then. In fact, unknown to him at the time, Amazon.com was researching Amazon Prime and when they saw his site, they included it in their Patent Document for Amazon Prime as is customary when an innovator finds a similar technology and wants to list it as a potential co-occurring innovation in case there is ever a challenge. If you want to see this document, click here, to download it at the U.S. Patent Office. It’s a public record and it’s stored there, not on this server. You’ll have to search for Mike’s website at the time: gamescape.co.nz.

In 1999, the dot com revolution was in full swing in the United States. As Mike grew his small but profitable online retailer, there was growing competition to do what he was going in New Zealand. He lowered prices, re-set standards for allowing returned games that weren’t compatible. Brought attention to the fact that U.S.-made games there were eligible for returns because the cost of calling Tech Support from New Zealand was as much (or more) than buying a game itself.

His innovative approach, and commitment to the needs and interest of his end users (gamers and warehouse alike), earned him the front page of the country’s largest newspaper and television coverage.

Given that he had completed his research to accomplish his goal of taking an idea from Master’s Thesis to real life profitable start-up, Mike decided it was time to move to a larger market. He returned home.

Still in school, as he has intended for some years at this point, Mike always works while studying. Even while in New Zealand he enrolled at Canterbury University and studied Economics before returning home to continue studying here.

When he returned and sought investment at a higher scale, he reached out to his partner for help, using his accounting records, his proof of achievement and his coverage as solid evidence that he broke even with his startup (when other Startups at that time were operating while carrying up to six million dollars in capital investment), Mike convinced his Investors he could grow his idea here so long as he had the time to study the laws and do the necessary research.

His investor was more interested in the research side of Mike’s idea than sales at that time, and only short years later, after the Napster incident, which made Mike and his Investor’s idea exponentially more complicated, became even more interesting. Mike and his Investor take on large campaigns to make large differences. Sales as the ultimate goal, those sales must be based in something socially conscious or industry conscious. It has to be one or the other.

Mike was determined to find a way that to allow him to use what he learned in school (many schools) so that he could apply it on this new job (if you can call it a job when you found your own company).

For Mike, learning is a reward of its own but in the the work world, learning is only valuable if it adds more value than it costs. Mike wanted to be sure that he understood which learning helped the bottom line and which learning was simply for personal enrichment. Over the years to come, between 2000 and 2004, Mike noticed there weren’t very many degrees that combined his type of business and creative application of technology skills. He knew he needed this to fuel his research and combine that to produce products that were positioned to compete in the cut-throat U.S. entertainment market; especially after Napster.

Most of the degrees he considered either focused on technical skills without leadership, or business skills without tech literacy. Mike needed both. He couldn’t find it where he lived in California so he learned of the Washington Consortium of Schools on the East Coast and moved there so he could no longer lose credits bouncing from school to school in Northern California because there was no align matriculation plan there.

Because Mike had already added value in a start-up during his time at Gamescape Interactive, which changed that market (to the betterment of gamers there by lowering costs and relaxing return policies), Mike knew it was his combination technical and creative disciplines that let him see how to execute his ideas for improving the customer experiences specifically, customer experiences online that are supported by or lead to real world policies which improve buyer experience. This included the critical step of giving the customer information and streaming video about a video game so the customer could make an informed being decision and mitigate buyer’s remorse. Which was the largest problem for an island market buying products from overseas and having no recourse if it didn’t work on their machine or if it broke down some time during play.

While some in Mike’s circle of advisors wanted him to continue what he had in New Zealand, Mike understood that the gaming field in the United States was saturated. Instead of creating another game-related, online retailer, Mike founded Phantom Records™ General Partnership to move into another area that was in its infancy when he left the United States, and was still that way when he returned: DJ Mixed music that paid everyone – including the DJ every time it’s played. That’s something he knew about because Mr. Widener is also a DJ.

While Phantom Records™ was a small, agile start-up, that negotiated “details” to temporarily move on to larger projects while he helped Phantom Records create, plan, and follow a long-term strategy for bringing legal music mixtapes to market, Mike completed over one hundred and fifty credit hours of higher education across several Universities before choosing The American University in Washington, D.C. to be his alma mater.

American was the only University with the opportunity for the inter-disciplinary nature of Mike’s skillset and allowed him to create the only Bachelor of Science in Multimedia Design and Development in the University’s history. He was recruited into that program by the Director, and invited to take his Senior Thesis class, as a sophomore, not a senior. (He did again as a senior just for the challenge.)

In coordination with his Academic Advisor, now a Director, Mike worked with Marla Boren to build his degree from the ground up. There were hits, there were misses, but in the end he graduated with Latin honors with all of the reinforced technical, general education, creative, graphic design, historical, and even physical context to understand not just entertainment, but the world around him in greater appreciation. When you add that to someone whose traveled to 13 countries before taking those courses, a person like that will naturally identify with references to the evolution of places visited.

It took over a year to get it approved but his degree is historic. It also proved that Mike has vision. His Academic Advisor told him because she didn’t think he understood the magnitude of what he was doing and where it fit in with the large scheme of where art and technology were converging. After all, he was a major in the School of Arts and Sciences. Does anyone ever wonder why those two schools are always together when their disciplines use two opposite sides fo the brian?

It was a compliment his Academic Advisor had no reservations pointing out to Mike and the Advisor’s co-workers while Mike listened to prove to him she meant what she said. According to Mike, “Marla senses unwarranted lacks of confidence a mile away. When that happens, she guides students towards their classes or teachers matching their strengths or learning style to give to give them the best chance to prove their doubt was exaggerated. It worked on me.”

Mike’s degree mix was on the cutting edge and has since influenced other degrees at American that combine Graphic Design and Computer Science. It was Mike’s repeated top performance on the technical requirements for courses at American that shed light on the fact that his choice of technical coursework early in his life and career, supported courses later on because he had already learned or mastered the technologies used in those courses so that that part was not a distraction for him.

Mike Widener holds Multimedia Design and Development in high regard because the word itself “Multimedia” encompasses so much of what we know of as digital experience that he believes it’s the only true way to describe what we are today. We are multimedia-rich consumers. (In the United States, at least, he would say.)

The closest degree to his is a Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Design and Development. Mike knows those students as well and respects their focus on heavier art courses but also knows that, as an AU grad, he can audit the coursework that added up to that degree and effectively have a double-major in Bachelor of Science and Art in Multimedia Design and Development. We don’t doubt that that’s what he’ll do or is doing as he progresses through creative and technology challenges because he tends to “learn” his way past obstacles instead of pay for solutions. After learning, he then gets solutions that are easier and less expensive to leverage because he has a better understanding of what those solutions are trying to solve.

Together, the Multimedia graduates are a very technology-savvy cohort that has spread out to contribute in Graphic Design, Multimedia Production, and independent film-making to name a few. Mike’s contributions are web-based and music-based and his entertainment business, Phantom Records™ won two awards as of December 2020 for excellence in Hospitality. Phantom Records™ is recognized worldwide for its applications to Hospitality enhancement because Mike’s DJ Mixes are more akin to a “music story” than a nightclub mix. (Although as a DJ in high school the night club mix was exactly what kept the party going.)

Mike has used his education, professional experience, and ingenuity to add value in both technical and business way. He has designed and developed this site using Photoshop, Dreamweaver, HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP. He converted several versions from one technology platform to another depending on what was dominant during one year or another. He’s added security as popularity grew to prevent any attempts to locate stream sources and allay concerns of Napster like “ripping” of his mixes from this site.

Although no one can stop every cyber-attack known and unknown, the truth is, which Mike has learned as of 2020, there such a thing as a person intelligent enough to damage like a hacker who chooses not to. There are such certified workers in our own Federal Government known (and certified) as Ethical Hackers. The same thing exists for that kind of person that simply doesn’t have the certification or is from another country. Mike isn’t concerned with them because they’re allies. They shy, or simply secretive. But they’re not doing any damaged because for whatever the reason they don’t want to. They’ve done things Mike can see and they weren’t at all bad. They were messages of solidarity and Mike let them stay right where he found them. It’s a language. One between technology adopters. Tech is their life. How it’s used is their character. There are good ones and bad ones and it’s better to know as many good ones as possible.

Mike has more than twenty years of experience in Web Design and Development supported by five years in Tech Support – including building computers from the ground up for customers according to their planned use; in Network Administration for a 50-user Novell NetWare 3.12 network (way back in 1995). The Network Administration job was a trial by fire. The network was configured as a Server-Workstation ecosystem with the workstations having no hard drives. This mean the Server had to store all of the data a user needed to do their work.

What made it a trial by fire is the fact that Mike’s boss wanted each user to be free to login from any computer and have their customized, personal desktop, complete with background and mouse configuration, appear on any computer on the network. That’s very complicated. Any Network Administrator or Engineer will tell you.

Windows booting up from the Server on a machine with no hard drive meant it had to integrate the boot-up script from a Floppy Disk in the Workstation, which contained less than ten small system files, that, together, told the Server to launch from a user’s particular folder on it that had a subfolder will an entire copy of Windows in there with all of the user’s settings. But it wasn’t that simple. Each workstation had a different mouse, or perhaps, a different monitor. So how do you account for that?

The answer there is to make sure that the Workstation always used the same Floppy Disk. Those two things were certainly married. Because the Floppy Disk setup the machine to load the machine’s drivers, while the other files on the disk loaded the user’s Windows settings. In combination, the Workstation was always personalized and the end user never noticed anything.

Mr. Widener’s ability to grasp networking and art led him to seek out a coveted Internship after his time at the University of San Fransico, where he was Freshman Class Presdent – as a write-in, with his favorite Director, George Lucas – creator of the Star Wars saga. Although it has come to an end for the characters Mike knew and loved growing up, being an Intern at somewhere called “Skywalker Ranch” and going there and back to an office over-looking “Ewok Lake,” is simply something he’ll never stop cherishing. Mr. Widener asked for one thing when his Director asked him what he wanted when his Internship was up.
Mr. Widener hadn’t truly gone around Skywalker Ranch asking questions and interfering with workers there. He played on the softball team and used one of the lunch buildings. But that was about it. So at the end of his Internship, the Director wanted to know if there was something she could do for him since he was such a fan but didn’t seem to have anything tangible, besides “bagging rights” to take away from the experience.

To her question, Mike took out the one thing he found that he wanted. It was a book. 20 Years of Lucasfilm. It was Mike’s anthology about the saga that enrolled his imagination for decades. His Director asked Mike if he wanted George Lucas to sign it. We know what Mr. Widener said. Check his webpage at this url and see a link to where George Lucas signed saying: “Thanks, Mike. May the Force be with You.” Mr. Widener uses humor in business situations because that’s the way of entertainment. And he’ll need “the Force” to navigate the complicated waters of a post-Napster, worldwide, peer-to-peer sharing epidemic. But he’s still going. His winning awards. His profile is growing.

Never one to stop or slow down, Mike is currently attending another school online (probably while taking audit courses at his alma mater) to add updated IT Support Skills, Typography, Color Theory, Visual Communication, and all of the parts of his Bachelor of Science that was left out because he didn’t have the funding to complete a dual mayor at the time he enrolled in “AU” to complete his degree.

Never one to stray too far from his DJ roots, Mike uses all of uses skills, digital, artistic, streaming, and Sales, to become the first remote DJ under this current pandemic to produce DJ Mies intended to work specifically for the listener even as customized as being made form the Playlist.

Mary Lee (General Partner)

Legal Role:

Angel Investor/Financial Director.

Functional Role:

Retired/Advisor/Numbers Examiner.

Email: finance.manager@phantomrecords.com
Softphone: +1 (240) 396-1735

Live Receptionist: +1 (240) 203-8805
(Live Person: 9am – 5pm. M-F.)

Read More…

Mary Lee joined Mike for Phantom Records™’s budgeting activities before retiring and leveraging her previous banking and non-profit Presidential leadership experience to lead the company through the very early filing stages. Mike had already done much work, entertainment, conceptual, and product creation wise. The only question on their minds were a) how to do this legally, and b) what form to file as and when to change to different tax entities and why.

As the company grew, and faced very specific technical and copyright challenges, the task of solving these fell to Mary Lee’s legal Team. One of Mary Lee’s greatest business abilities is knowing when to, and to whom to, delegate full authority to act on business objectives using creativity, ingenuity, intuition, and experience to solve a problem even when the proof of value will take months to measure. She convinces professionals in the banking and legal space to look at the essential purpose of an undertaking and see its broader implications. Then decide if getting involved early, and claiming that, makes a difference to them.

An early pivotal challenge in building the company was identifying its lead technology professional. While, at the time, Mike was certainly highly technical with computers and networks, he was just getting started with Web-based commerce and had clearly shown a natural proclivity to success, but in another market, a smaller one, not here.

Mary Lee knew Mike’s learning ability well since a very young age and didn’t doubt he’d pick up what he needed along the way. She also knew that he had experience solving business problems using technology because of what he achieved during his time at Gamescape. Additionally, he had also done during his DJ days when he held a party so large he paid off a loan slated for maturity two years out in two weeks.

Mike Widener, created the first online video game retailer with streaming videos of game-play in 1996 using dial-up modems connecting at slow speeds, the fastest of which was 2400 baud. The very sound of it doesn’t ring a bell in many readers minds any longer. Nevertheless, during the time of dial-up modems, customers could see the games before they purchased them, and no one was doing that. How else is his small, online retailer in Amazon.com’s Patent document?

A little known fact is that Mike also configured the ability for his customers to PLAY the games online before purchasing. But the Internet bandwidth at the time was too low for this so Mike settled for a two-week “test drive” service to allow his customers to “Try Before They Buy” and “Compatibility Test” a game before committing. Remember, if the game didn’t work, there was no way to afford a call to U.S. Tech Support. The Internet had no such thing as web-chat or Skype or anything akin to this. The test drives arrived at his customer’s doorstep within 24 hours; often the same day. It was this attention to the needs of the end user in gaming that landed Gamescape on the front page of the largest newspaper (by readership) in New Zealand. It also got his website featured on the only Technology-exclusive show at that time and he had to switch Internet Service Providers because so many users pulled up his site that his host couldn’t feed the pages fast enough.

Using his expertise in Network Administration, Tech Support, Web Design, & Business Marketing, Mike created such a buzz in the video game market that all of the major video game retailers in the United States, and the game review websites, added streaming videos to their pages. They also copied Mike’s reviews section. They stopped short of his Used Game section the allowed New Zealand players to put up reviews alongside their Ad to sell their used games skeptical buyers didn’t have to be first-adopters. All of this came from hand-made, note-taking Mike conducted with old-fashioned paper. Streaming video games is so common today that now you simply buy a membership to the manufacturer of the console and they handle the rest. Today’s game world is becoming more dependant on an end user’s Internet speed. Something Mike says isn’t truly as reliable as an independent install of sink because owning a game disc and putting on a system gives the player the freedom to speed up the computer, then the game any time they want. All they have to do is upgrade the parts and the game will run faster. It’s not so easy to upgrade your upload speed. If you notice, downloads speeds are always quoted when it comes to Internet Ads. But check the “Upload” speed using the website SpeedTest.com. Your upload speed control the game’s timing in tell that actually made it to whatever safe marker you were running to when that robot was hot on your tail.

What is also a little known fact, is that Mary Lee, while working on the banking side of things, encouraged Mike to find a position in the gaming world as a Website Designer or a Game Designer. She felt this would give him insight and he could learn what drove marketing language in the United States from the inside instead of relying on his estimations based on another country’s perspective.

Mike agreed and to do this he interviewed with GameSpot for a Web Designer IV position in 1999 after meeting a person from their HR department at a hiring event. That person became impressed with Mike’s accomplishments in New Zealand and asked him to apply. However, despite his accomplishments, the Team at GameSpot felt Mike’s site was not ‘enterprise grade’ like theirs and did not consider him further for the position. It is curious, however, that following that interview during which Mike provided the URL to his site, GameSpot changed their site’s layout and were quick to adopt Mike’s tabbed layout and information architecture which featured aggregated reviews, a “summary page,” streaming videos of game-play, and artwork from the game’s manufacturer, reviews – but without the option to buy the game from the reviewer, and aggregated reviews.

GameSpot also added a “television style” “show” that streamed online for a while before discontinuing that. Mike wants everyone to know, as does Mary Lee, that Mike is a member of that site and pays his monthly fee to read those reviews and see which ones he’ll buy personally. But professionally, he’s choosing tracks.

Mike was disappointed that the Team at GameSpot did not recognize his accomplishment as worthy of consideration for employment. It appears instead, that Mike’s accomplishment was worthy of duplicating, which is a form of flattery, so there is consolation in that. Ultimately, GameSpot added copious amounts of game information, streaming videos, cheat codes, staff and user reviews, an awesome UI for the user reviews section, an updated account management system with gamification and badging, and evolved the site into a world-class experience. Of course, it was sour grapes for Mike but that didn’t stop him from pressing on in his promising career as a Web Business professional and innovative music-based streamer.

Mike’s market vision with respect to areas he knows has, and continues to be, ahead. Mary Lee recognizes this and repeatedly puts Mike in charge of business objectives, at a high vantage point, then gives him the backing and freedom to tackle them in any way he sees fit, in the weeds or 50,000 feet in the air.

Mike led the Team in the push to overcome the challenges presented by peer-to-peer-based copyright infringement, tying in e-commerce credit card processing, integrating an online shopping cart experience that protected the music, and figuring out how to protect the customer from buying tracks they already bought through iTunes. Mike was and is interested in protecting both sides of the online music buying experience. It’s one of the reasons there’s so much research involved in what he does, and why there’s so much need for a Partner like Mary Lee to believe in his ultimate purpose.

Following the company’s growth, the company moved to the East Coast to be closer to NYC and increase face-to-face meetings with NYC-based industry contacts. COVID has changed that context but more on that shortly.

As the demand for increasingly, technical projects steadily rose, and while working to strengthen the company’s influence in the music industry, Mary Lee approved a strategy Mike Widener proposed to broaden Phantom Records™’s product offerings by include an option to “loan out” Team Members on contracts that had similar technological requirements and scopes which included websites with multimedia, streaming audio, streaming video, or otherwise similar “media types.” This new strategy allowed the company to bridge the gap between the recession and shrinking music industry profits due to piracy while keeping its associates and tangential relationships involved in profitable activities that taught them ever-more current skills instead of driving them back to school.

It also allowed Mary Lee’s Team to stay up-to-date with changing web technologies, best practices, and evolving web development methodologies so she could add those trends to her proposals to her banking relationships in plain English, after Mike translated, and help non-technophiles see the relevance.

Mike’s several sites are online now, and while we are in a pandemic, that actually helps them both. Their service is, if a customer chooses, 100% contact-free. Although neither Mike nor Mary Lee like to talk about the nuts and bowls of how, mainly on Mike’s advice that it’s boring to non-IT people, it’s sufficient to know that Mike, as DJ eXperience® (that’s trademarked), and the two of them, as Phantom Records™, are award-winning as of December 2020. Their work is getting recognized and rewarded by those who see what their doing and are choosing them from several alternatives that for whatever the reason aren’t filling the gap Phantom Records™ and DJ eXperience® are filling today.

Look for possible name changes to reflect which areas of their business thrives the most and reports on their home page and possible links to see what their up to going forward. As always, you could just call.

(Shssss… just text. Really, you can text the main number. It works that way on purpose.)

DJ Mixes since '86