Michael Strickland, Chair and Founder, Bandit Lites
As the live industry reels from the economic havoc wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael Strickland has stepped into the role of being an unofficial ambassador for the business, interfacing with U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Congressmen Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) to find out what can be done in the short term to save companies in dire straits. He lobbied for and helped connect companies to the first round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from the Small Business Administration, which was modified with a ‘Flexibility Act’ in June, and he is leading the charge in rallying for a second round of funding to last 20 more weeks.
The tone of many of Strickland’s email communications – which he sends out regularly – is urgent because, Strickland says, the situation is dire for many.
“All of the vendors across all the disciplines, bus companies, trucking, everybody in the industry spent millions of dollars in December, January, February gearing up for the 2020 touring season,” Strickland tells Pollstar. “No one has begun to recoup that investment. Then, of course, March 12-13 we all shut down, so not only are we faced with overheads and expenses of employees, we are faced with the notes or payback on all the gear that no one bought. Here we are 14 weeks into the shutdown and that has already come tumbling down on most people, who are unable to make payments on the equipment, let alone the rent, utilities and overheads. Right now over 85 percent of industry has been laid off.”
As it increasingly appears that many will not be able to return to work in 2020, Strickland at press time was intensely focused on securing a second round of PPP for live entertainment companies in a fourth relief bill that Congress is set to draw up between July 20 and Aug. 9, and he encouraged everyone in the industry to write to their senators and congresspeople to advocate for the delivery of funds by Aug. 14.
Serving as a de facto political leader for the live industry, Michael Strickland is a true concert industry veteran as founder and chairman of Bandit Lites, a previous recipient of multiple Pollstar Awards for Lighting Company of the Year.
While Bandit Lites is one of the fortunate companies that has not had to lay anyone off and was well positioned to weather the COVID-19 storm, Strickland is constantly in touch with businesses and individuals worried about their livelihoods, and his extensive work is done for their benefit and the general well-being of the business he loves. In the long-term Strickland says his goal is to get the live entertainment industry better represented within the National Association of Music Merchants, which already has a strong lobbying arm for music products.
“I backed into this work. I knew the politicians and I knew that’s where the answer lay and it took me about four weeks to figure out that nobody else at our level had a relationship with any of the political leaders. By default I ended up having multiple conversations and by week five or six I’m spending 14 to 16-hours a day helping people, answering emails, doing eblasts.”
“I’ve just begun the process of marrying the live industry into NAMM. That’s probably going to be the next year of my life, talking to people and getting live entertainment more married into the NAMM experience so the next time we have a situation like this, we can come at it quickly and rapidly, from a lot of points of view, with a single voice.”
Strickland’s love of music truly has been a lifelong affair, as he caught the bug as a kid after he saw The Monkees and Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons in Kingsport, Tenn., and gradually realized that, despite not having any musical talent, he wanted to be a part of the business – so he learned how to light rock shows at 12 years old and lit a Beach Boys show. When asked about his most impactful success, Strickland refers to the 52-year life of Bandit Lites and the company’s emphasis on “humanomics,” meaning decisions are taken with human impact on clients, employees, and attendees in mind, and that “we treat our folks like people rather than 10-99ing them,” as Bandit Lites has for 45 years provided full-time pay, health insurance, retirement, paid education, and catered lunches for its employees.
Strickland credits multiple mentors for positively influencing his career, one of which is the late Kenny Rogers. “When I was 23 years old and a production manager for the biggest artist in the world, I went to him to sell him half my company for like $100,000 dollars. He sat and listened to me talk for awhile and then he said, ‘Is everything you said true?’ I said ‘Yeah, it is.’ So he asks, ‘So you’ve got the greatest company in the world, a phenomenal trajectory ahead of you, this is all true? Then why in the world would you sell me half of that for $100,000 if its all that you say it is?’ So I walked away dejected and defeated, but I thought about it and if I do believe in myself, ‘Why would I do that?’ That was absolutely phenomenal advice I got from Kenny, and I’ll forever appreciate that.”
He also shouts out his personal friend Barry Switzer – former coach of the University of Oklahoma football team and the Dallas Cowboys – who taught him to focus on treating people fairly, not necessarily equally. Finally he also references legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who taught him that life, like a basketball game, is won and lost in segments, and rather than trying to rigidly predict outcomes from the beginning, one should always try to achieve their goals by winning small segments.