Mike Ziemer: The Man Behind South By So What?! (Interview)



One of this spring’s biggest music festivals is right around the corner. South By So What?! has taken place for the past ten years and is extending its usual one day festival to three days next month (March 14-16) in Grand Prairie, Texas. This year’s headliners include Asking Alexandria, Taking Back Sunday, Bring Me The Horizon, Mindless Self Indulgence, and The Devil Wears Prada. Mike Ziemer, the man behind the production, as well as Evolve Media Management and Third String Productions, shares with SUBSTREAM the secrets to his success in the industry, and advice for both bands and aspiring promoters/managers/etc.


Substream Magazine: You’ve said that you’ve always looked up to Kevin Lyman. How has he inspired your ventures to be a festival producer, etc.? What advice has he given you that has inspired your success?

Mike Ziemer: From what I can see, Kevin Lyman is a genius. He totally capitalizes on a demographic of people and the genres of music, that most people ignore. He made them unavoidable and in a way took punk-rock mainstream and redefined what “DIY” and “Punk-Rock” are. His success alone is inspiration and motivation to reach and surpass what he does. As a promoter in this scene, I think you almost have to look up to the guy.


SM: For college kids who aspire to work in the industry, how did you balance building your career while you were taking classes? Can you offer any advice to people who struggle balancing the two? 

MZ: I am a terrible person to take advice from when it comes to the music industry and college education. I quit school after a year and a half because I needed to make a decision, one or the other, balancing them with as busy as I was getting was not possible. I promised I would go back if this didn’t work out, that was in December of 2005. My advice is to take internships, volunteer, work your way up, and learn the trade from real life experience.


SM: This is the first time that SBSW has gone for three days in the spring. How did this come about? 

MZ: To be honest, we just had way too many amazing bands submitted and we couldn’t make it work in one day, or even two. It’s our 10-year anniversary as a production company so we just said “let’s go all out,” and the result is what you’re seeing advertised. We’ve already sold thousands of tickets so I would say that we made the right choice.



SM: When you were in high school and college, what were your first steps into the industry? Did you intern or do street teaming? 

MZ: I wrote for a blog called UtterPunk start at the age of 17. I went to every concert I could, I interviewed Pete Wentz, Buddy from Senses Fail, Jesse Lacey, and so many more to learn about them and how they did it and what shows meant to them. Eventually I started wanting to “manage” bands and the first thing they asked was for me to help put on some all-ages shows, so I did and the rest is history. I began Third String as a senior at Plano Sr High School in Plano, TX in 2004 and it’s been going ever since.


SM: How do you go about picking the unsigned/small bands who play your festivals? What does it take for them to stay on your radar? 

MZ: It’s a mix of agent/manager friends bugging the crap out of me telling me about their new up-and-coming bands, our online submission contest, and just creepin’ around the internet looking for new music. I became obsessed with Neck Deep and wanted them on our festival and now they’re one of the best buzzing bands on the festival, as far as smaller bands go. I just like bands that stand out or have their fans be supportive and loyal. There’s just “something” that a future successful band has and you either see it or you don’t.


SM: If you could have any three bands play South By So What?! who would you pick?

MZ: Blink 182, Midtown (reunion), and Envy on the Coast (reunion)… go ahead and hit them up and let them know we’ve got offers ready for 2015 🙂


SM: Can you briefly walk us through a day in your work life? How much time do you dedicate to EMM and Third String?

MZ: I recently shot a video with my Evolve Management assistant, Hunter Garrett, called “A Promoters Life” in which he followed me around and we talk about a day in the life. I suggest checking it out at youtube.com/apromoterslife. To answer your questions though, I wake up and I work, somewhere in-between I try to eat a few meals, go to the gym, and see my girlfriend, but for the most part… work work work… and some sleep. I am trying to nail down a routine where I wake up, eat something, respond to all my e-mails for all companies, head to the gym (while still replying to e-mails), come back and eat some food, and then work until I go to sleep. It’s kind of a crazy lifestyle because no matter what I am doing, I am always on my phone replying to e-mails or texts or tweets or whatever is needed and constantly promoting. As I am typing this interview, I’m at a cafe with my assistant Nikki. It would be impossible to do my job without the help of my team, especially Orlando Mendoza who has been working with me since 2010, and our new marketing guy Dan DeFonce. I communicate with my bands on a regular basis, work with my team, and juggle all of this while somehow still having a girlfriend and seeing friends. I also have 2 dogs that demand attention haha. It’s wild.


SM: EMM is a bit newer. What made you want to begin managing artists?

MZ: I’ve actually been managing bands since I started but didn’t really take management 100% serious until I started Evolve in 2012. Although there were others working with us at the beginning, Evolve is another business that wouldn’t be what it is without Orlando Mendoza. He brought on InDirections and we got them signed to InVogue Records and I got Fever Dreamer signed to Sumerian Records and we’ve been developing a couple other bands. While in the process I have branched off to Evolve Media as well which manages photographers, directors, and producers. I find a lot of the time these hardworking people are recording bands, shooting promos, and doing music videos and don’t know their true value, that’s where I like to help. I guess that’s really the answer to what made me want to manage in general, finding talented people and helping them mold their creativity and passion into a career and a job. I’ve helped in the past with the management of bands like Memphis May Fire, Ivoryline, In Fear & Faith, Red Car Wire, and others and those dealings taught me a lot to get to where I am now.


SM: You’ve described yourself as an entrepreneur. In 20 years, do you hope to still be doing everything or do you think you will stick strictly to one thing? 

MZ: In 20 years I will be 48 years old and if I am lucky enough to still be working with a killer team of people, putting on festivals, managing artists and media people, and still coming up with fresh and innovative ideas, I will love my life. I have no plans of ever just narrowing down to one aspect of the music industry, I love it all too much to let any of it go.


SM: You’re from Huntington Beach. What made you decide to make the move to Texas, especially when the music industry is known to be based out here? How do you think it has benefitted you to be in a different area? Do you find it more difficult to network, maintain connections, etc.? 

MZ: I moved to Texas with my family when I was about to turn 16 years old. The choice wasn’t really up to me, but it definitely shaped who I am. When I lived in California I was friends with people in local Orange County bands like (what would become) Hellogoodbye, but my main focus was sports and school. My dream was to play professional baseball (or basketball) and if that didn’t work I wanted to go into politics. I actually looked up to Matt Sanders or Matt Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold when I went to Huntington for basketball. I was in Model United Nations when I lived there and went to Huntington Beach High, so I was really getting interested in policy and politics and all of that good stuff. I was looked at kind of as a “punk” because of the naivety of suburban America in thinking because I wore Hurley, a studded belt, and had spiky hair I was “punk-rock” so my friends became the band kids and their bands became my life and music became everything. Without those dudes, especially my best friends Jaz, Matt, Luke, and Jimmy, I wouldn’t be where I am. I got to be the “mascot” for a band a few of them were in and that’s what kickstarted it. There was a market here for music and I found a way to make it my niche. Everyone I have met in the industry has been since then, so all relationships are solid, but not as good as they could be. I plan to move back to California in June (still maintaining everything in Dallas through my team here), to strengthen what I can do in the industry.


South By So What?! | Evolve Music Management | Third String Productions


Interview by Caroline Jensen


Photo credit: Ray Duker