If there’s a name in the music industry that you want to know, it’s Mike Ziemer. Founder of Third String Productions, which is primarily known for So What?! music festival (formerly (South By So What?!), he’s one of the most passionate, hardworking people in the industry today. We had the opportunity to chat with Mike about founding his company, getting booked, and what’s in the pipeline. Check it out below.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. How are you?
Hey! I’m great, just got back to Los Angeles from a nice little holiday break with friends and family, how are you?
I’m wonderful, thank you! You’re the founder of Third String Productions, which is primarily known for So What?! Can you tell us a little about how you got started in the industry and how So What?! came to be?
I was just a big fan of music and attended a lot of shows and started interviewing bands, reviewing CDs, and things like that for an online webzine and then a local band asked me to manage them. The first thing they needed was shows so it started there and kinda grew naturally from there.
You started your career in the industry when you were still in high school, which is really impressive! What do you think some of the biggest changes in the music industry have been since you started over 10 years ago?
When I first started, it was all about CDs and music sales, there was some piracy, but digital streaming and all that was non-existent. Bands have had to learn to adapt and prove that they have a real fanbase without the use of album sales as a selling point. Also, since MySpace and other social media over the last 10+ years, the market has been so saturated. So many more bands forming, touring, and competing with each other.
Along those same lines, how do you think, if at all, building a business has changed since then, and what advice can you offer others interested in a career in concert promoting or as a talent buyer?
When I first started out, there weren’t a lot of all ages shows happening in the Dallas area. That was the biggest need for local bands. Getting their fanbase to Dallas was near impossible, there was only one venue doing it truly “all ages” with locals and so we had to kind of build that scene more in the suburbs and then bring it back to Dallas. I think now there are a ton of established independent promoters that grew up in the scene doing the same thing, so it may be harder to enter, not impossible, just harder. There are so many major, independent, and small promoters these days. But the beauty is that there is room for everyone and if you treat people right, you’ll go far.
What is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about the intricacies of putting on a festival?
A lot of people (mostly kids / young bands / fans) assume it’s easy. Or they do the number of tickets they think we sell multiplied by the ticket price and assume we are making all profit. It’s hard for people not in this world or not super business savvy to understand how much money, time, effort, and work goes into a festival. It’s not cheap and it’s not all just fun and goofing around.
What is one thing you want festival attendees to know?
I want them to know that they are our main priority, their happiness and their satisfaction with the event is #1. If you see something wrong, if you feel uncomfortable, if something isn’t right, tweet me or the festival or message us, we will make it right. The festival belongs to the fans. We aren’t a major corporation, we are a small group of music fans doing what we love and we want everyone to have a great time.
In addition to Third String Productions, you’re an artist manager at Evolve Music Management, and also ran a marketing company called Z Interactive. Having worked on so many sides of the industry, what advice can you offer both bands interested in elevating their careers, and aspiring industry professionals?
Whether I’m putting a band on a concert, discussing managing them, contemplating singing them to my label or whatever it is, I need to know the band is gonna work hard. A lot of young bands put together their first demo and think they need a manager, agent, and label to take the next step. It doesn’t work that way. The best thing as a band you can do is to make a name for yourself while you are independent and do it yourself. The harder a band works, the harder myself or someone else is willing to work for them when the time is right.
For industry professionals, it’s important to have an open mind, to study multiple areas of the industry, and to not give up when it’s not easy. You will hit rough patches, you may even end up where you didn’t expect to. You might wanna be a promoter and end up as a manager or agent. You just have to be open minded and want to be a part of the industry, wherever that may be for you.
At Launch Music Conference, you mentioned that you start booking bands for So What?! nearly a year in advance. With so many variables in the industry, how do you book major acts, without knowing where they might be, popularity wise, six months or a year from when you book them?
It’s super hard, but being in the scene for so long, it’s somewhat easy to see if a band is on the rise. It’s hardly ever a disadvantage to book so far ahead. Sometimes we believe in a band and they blow up before the fest even happens so if anything, it’s an advantage.
What has been the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received in this industry thus far?
Someone once told me if I loved music I shouldn’t work in music. I took this to heart and decided I would never be jaded or stop loving music. I’m doing okay so far!
Aside from music that you connect with, what are the most important qualities for a band to have, for you to actively want to work with them?
As I mentioned above, they just have to be willing to work really hard. There are no cheat codes or shortcuts. Write good songs and work your ass off!
What can artists and industry professionals do to make your job easier?
Just don’t have egos. We are all in this because we love music and if you’re in it for another reason, you don’t belong here.
One of the most common questions I found that people were interested knowing was, what makes you read an email? Do you look for any specific subject lines or anything in the email itself?
I get anxiety when I see a number pop up of unread emails so somehow, I read them all haha. It’s insane but it keeps me sane somehow.
How do you choose bands for So What?! Do you know if this process varies from festival to festival or if the format is similar?
We pick bands that have either a history of being successful, a buzz that can lead to them being a major band, or baby bands that we personally love. Also, being routed through or around the festival helps a lot.
Personally, I love book, film, blog, etc recommendations that challenge my viewpoint and perspective. Do you have any favorites?
I love watching EDM documentaries like “This Was Tomorrow” or the EDC LV one (both on Netflix). It keeps me super grounded and humble to see how massive those events are and also gets me stoked for the future.
What was one of the biggest misconceptions you had about this industry, and your particular field when you first got started?
I didn’t think I could make money doing what I do. I thought I was gonna just help a few bands and move on, have a different career, but clearly it’s possible.
Where can our readers find you on the web?
www.mikeziemer.com or mikeziemer on Twitter / Instagram
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for taking the time to interview me, I hope to see everyone at So What?! this year. If they have any other questions they can tweet me @mikeziemer
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