Q’s With Mike Ziemer of Third String Entertainment, Flip A Switch Music Group & Third String Records
Casey Lee – Mike Ziemer
If nothing else, Mike Ziemer has been keeping busy. His promotion company, Third String Entertainment, normally puts on 300 events a year in Texas, and he is also a founder of Third String Records and the management company Flip A Switch Music Group. During the COVID-19 pandemic Ziemer has opened a recording studio in the backyard of his Dallas home and become an amateur stock trader, successfully acquiring lots of temporarily undervalued stock like Live Nation and Square and selling much higher.
He started a Facebook group called “Stock Talk” to share what he was learning about playing the market with his entertainment industry colleagues, and today the group has more than 2,000 members.
Ziemer took some time to speak with Pollstar about his peculiar 2020, what he sees on the horizon and what he is concerned about.
How much business does Third String Entertainment do in a regular year?
On a regular basis we were putting on 300 events a year in different markets in Texas, and we were partnered with somebody in the Midwest who was doing 50-60 events a year. Every day we had an event or two going on. I’ve been doing this since 2004, I was still in high school when I started putting on concerts doing all ages in the suburbs, because I was so young, before that was a normal thing. I was on the cover of BusinessWeek for promoting concerts and brands on social media.
Concert promotion has definitely been my primary business, but after all these years, this was going to be the first year we were on track to see ticket sales revenue exceeding $1 million, and that was a milestone I was so excited for. We had so many good events this year, and going from that anticipation to literally zero, it’s wild that this is even a thing.
So during the pandemic you have pivoted by opening a recording studio in your backyard?
So with some of the money I made from the stock market we built a recording studio in Dallas run by my management company, Flip A Switch Music Group.
There was a standalone building in my backyard that had been used by the previous owner as an office for their contracting business. So I had somebody come in, remodel it, put in a soundproof booth and a board. It’s at my house but it’s a full-blown studio and it is booked every single day.
It’s been a really cool thing to be surrounded by music when there is no live music. I’m still seeing the creative process and am around music, we’ve struck a balance where I’m not just staring at a screen and looking at stocks all day, people are also coming over and recording at night. And there have actually been some well-known Texas artists coming through to use the studio, which has been cool.
So do you have in-house engineers, or do you let people bring their own?
The two main clients I have are engineers who are already working with many artists and just need a space. So they work out their own deals with the artists and just pay me a flat fee to use space. The main person recording in there, Dustin Cavazos, does the production for Tay Money, he was working with South Park Mexican’s son, there are a lot of people who come to Dallas just to work with him. But the engineers basically run the studio.
And word has gotten around quick, 10k Cash lives in Dallas, Lil Twist, Tay Money, these artists have millions of plays and they are hitting me up almost daily, asking “Is the studio open?” I expected it to be newer artists that couldn’t afford bigger studios, so we’ve had to make sure younger artists have been getting some time, but we’re also catering to these larger artists that will do shout outs and put on for the studio and let more people know it exists. It’s cool seeing somebody do their first or second song as a hip-hop artist, but then having 10k, who was the inventor of “The Whoa Dance” and was signed to Def Jam. That’s been a big part of keeping my sanity.
So with all of your different businesses you might be able to help an artist in multiple areas of their career, where in the past perhaps artists would have several different members of their team representing, perhaps, a promoter, manager and record label?
On the management level, that’s already how I operated prior to the pandemic. I would help them get shows, get them on festivals, help them build a brand that can sustain itself beyond just streaming, making sure you have good merch. I guess the studio was the missing piece because now they can record directly with us, we can help them produce and distribute the music, they don’t need to go anywhere else.
Once touring comes back and we are doing shows I think we are going to have a huge advantage as an independent company, a small team, with marketing skills and the relationships we have. We are helping promote livestreams right now just to keep relationships with managers and bands going because a year of not communicating would be very detrimental. With the Underoath livestream, for example, we sold the most tickets of any promoter that was involved. And even if we only sell 5 tickets, it is getting us interacting with their teams, I might be able to share some ideas in terms of marketing, it is all strengthening that relationship for when we come back.
What do you see in the future for the live business in Dallas, where you are an established player?
I think there will be a change in terms of the extreme competition we saw in the last few years in Texas between us, AEG, Live Nation and other independents. We do very niche stuff, metal, pop punk, and indie rock. I think the aggressive offerings that once might have been able to push us out won’t be there and it will be an opportune time for us to rework the relationships between agents, bands and promoters at the independent level so everyone is making money when the business comes back.
I have this super positive outlook on when touring comes back because I think it was oversaturated and too competitive before. I think Live Nation and AEG are going to have to take a step back and ask if these tours with The Wonder Years or Issues, or whoever it may be, are going to make the money they need to be making back. They will have to ask “Should we be aggressively offering on these smaller tours.”
I think their business model is going to be different and we’re going back to four or five years ago where we got every tour in Texas in our genres, we did the marketing right and we got good local bands. At a certain point Live Nation and AEG came in very competitively, offering a bunch of money, buying 30 dates and doing a bunch of marketing. I don’t think they will be able to do that in 2021, so I’m excited.
Honestly, it sucks being an indie promoter, building these bands up, developing a relationship with them and being excited for when they come to town and promoting the show, then all of a sudden, they are a Live Nation or AEG artist and we have to hit up their team to ask “how can we be involved? Can we do some marketing on this next tour at the local level or are we out completely?” I’m so optimistic about that dynamic changing and that makes me very optimistic about shows coming back.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see on the horizon?
Regardless of how optimistic I am for myself and my companies, I am very concerned about where venues are going to be six months from now if nothing happens. I already know a lot of venues we worked with have shut down or on their last legs trying to stay open. It’s very sad.
Obviously you are very aware of how many are on the verge of closing down. If half the independent venues close down, when all these bands are ready to tour, who is going to go where? Looking at Fall 2021, as we are trying to book shows we are finding some dates are unavailable at the only venues we have access to or we are the 5th or 6th hold. It is already becoming an issue, and if these venues don’t come back or something doesn’t replace them, availability will be a real problem, there may not be enough venues to handle all of the touring.
What do regulations in Dallas look like these days?
In terms of regulations, in Dallas it’s very confusing what’s mandated. You can go to a nightclub or a strip club or bar, and restrictions might allow anywhere from 25% to 75%, some counties have had 100%. But you’re seeing some places where people are posting videos of the club at full capacity, with no social distancing, it has more people than 90% of our shows. To see 900 people crammed in clubs, when five doors down a venue has been closed since March, I don’t understand, that makes no sense to me.
So tell me about your foray into the stock market with the “Stock Talk” group.
So it started out as a group for live industry professionals. I was talking to friends in the industry about what we were going to do, initially it looked like we were going to have three months off. I was doing well with stocks, so I thought maybe we can dive more into that. So I added Randy Nichols, Underoath’s manager, and some other industry friends. They started referring regular 9-5 people who reached out to me and now there are 2,000 people in this group, it’s pretty crazy.
What have been some the keys to your success in terms of trading?
Part of it was getting lucky. When the market crashed I decided to drain my savings account, I invested in Square, Live Nation and these companies that were super beat down. I ended up selling them when they bounced back in May and June and basically started day-trading with smaller stocks. I was doing all the research to know when people have big announcements the next day, historically when they do announcements their stock rises in the lead-up, but crashes during the actual announcement so I’m going to get out right before they make the actual announcement. I started filling my time with stock market research and learning about these different companies. I like to nerd out about these things, but I take pride in the fact that I bought Square stock at like $15. I knew we use this product at our shows, we see it everywhere, we knew this was going to be everywhere.
When I saw they were going to have their own portals where the entire system was self-contained, you didn’t need to have seperate iPads or whatever, I decided to double-down on my investment and over the next few months it went up a lot. It helped me pass the time with research and made it seem like time wasn’t going by so slow, because when the industry first shut down in March it felt like every day was a month long. It was another day, another cancellation of so many shows, starting out with spring, then summer, then fall, to a point when nobody knew when shows would come back. I just needed to figure out something to do to stay busy and pay bills.