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Q&A With Mike Ziemer of South by So What?!

Posted by: Jason Tate (10/25/13)
South By So What is right around the corner. I talked briefly with the brains behind the whole thing, Mike Ziemer, to get his take on festivals, the history of this one, and the future ... you can read the short Q&A in the replies.
My first show ever was in March of 2004. I did the show because the agent for an Audio Karate and Tokyo Rose tour needed a show for them in Dallas around SXSW and everything was full. I put them on a community center show I was throwing with local bands. Over the years March became our annual "anniversary" show and eventually turned into what we called South By So What?!. The name originally came from someone I worked with at a company called Buzz Oven who thought it was a good name since all the bands kids wanted to see didn't really play SXSW but played our show. Crazy enough I think way more bands in the Warped scene are now playing SXSW because they route through our festival and my good friend Zar's festival Never Say Never.
 
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04:04 PM on 10/25/13
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Jason Tate
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Could you explain a little about why you wanted to start this project?

My first show ever was in March of 2004. I did the show because the agent for an Audio Karate and Tokyo Rose tour needed a show for them in Dallas around SXSW and everything was full. I put them on a community center show I was throwing with local bands. Over the years March became our annual "anniversary" show and eventually turned into what we called South By So What?!. The name originally came from someone I worked with at a company called Buzz Oven who thought it was a good name since all the bands kids wanted to see didn't really play SXSW but played our show. Crazy enough I think way more bands in the Warped scene are now playing SXSW because they route through our festival and my good friend Zar's festival Never Say Never.

What was the overall vision for the festival?

The original vision for our festival WAS NOT to make fun of SXSW but more to be playful about how under 21 year olds really can't go to SXSW and when they can, like the Alt Press showcase or Artery Showcase, those things are at capacity so fast they might drive to Austin for a free show they never get to see. Our vision was to create a multi-genre festival that showcased the best in the Warped scene along with other genres. People are quick to dismiss us as just some "scene fest" but if they look closely we mix in all the bands we love like The Early November, Motion City Soundtrack, G-Eazy, Hellogoodbye, and so many more bands that wouldn't normally be expected at a primarily metal and "scene" show.

When doing something like this - how do you pick what bands to ask to play?

We used to have to really reach to get the bands we wanted to get and then it started just coming together. We send out an e-mail to all the agents we work with and we get back anywhere from 300 - 500 submissions. Narrowing it down is so hard and often times we kick ourselves for passing on a band that ends up blowing up. For example, this past March we almost booked Imagine Dragons but they decided to do a big headliner since the album was blowing up and Twenty-One Pilots but we didn't think they'd catch on so fast. It's crazy seeing what "could have been" a part of these festivals some times. In March of 2005 I believe it was, we almost landed the Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes, Midtown, Academy Is... package as part of the fest but just missed out. All the puzzle pieces have to come together just right.

It seems that festivals are either hit or miss, and even seemingly big festivals have a hard time turning a profit - what separates South by So What?

The festival business is a rough one. You have to plan your festival so far in advance and then all of a sudden massive tours that didn't play your festival get announced or other radio shows pop up. It seems we are always competing with something. March seems to be the only time that our festivals truly dominate and turn a profit. Our fall and winter shows used to be much larger than spring, but for some reach it switched. We've spent the last 3 years trying to find out what is the best fit for a Fall festival and it's never easy. We've won and we've definitely lost. I'd say we are just like all the other festivals in that sense.
04:30 PM on 10/25/13
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Blink18poop
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Mike Ziemer is a douche.
05:45 PM on 10/25/13
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Mike Ziemer is a douche.

Pretty much.
07:25 PM on 10/25/13
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Yeah, being from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I can safely say that Mike Ziemer is an absolute cancer to the local music scene. He's monopolized everything around here, and just about every show in the area is put on by Third String Productions but he either 1) doesn't allow local bands on the bill or 2) if he allows the local bands, they have to sell a ridiculous amount of presale tickets in order to be allowed to play the show. Oh, and then there's the always classy trait of threatening to blacklist a venue if they don't work with him. An all around jerk.
09:19 PM on 10/25/13
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Yeah, being from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I can safely say that Mike Ziemer is an absolute cancer to the local music scene. He's monopolized everything around here, and just about every show in the area is put on by Third String Productions but he either 1) doesn't allow local bands on the bill or 2) if he allows the local bands, they have to sell a ridiculous amount of presale tickets in order to be allowed to play the show. Oh, and then there's the always classy trait of threatening to blacklist a venue if they don't work with him. An all around jerk.
This. The guy is the Punk Goes... of promoters - A couple good calls back in the day, but just one cash grabbing train wreck after another recently.

Not to mention his superiority complex. Dude thinks he is a god. The comment about bands playing SXSW because of SBSW and NSN seems ridiculous.



When doing something like this - how do you pick what bands to ask to play?
By telling them they have to sell 50 tickets or more. Then we email Sumerian, Rise, and Fearless and next thing you know, we have a festival!
10:37 PM on 10/25/13
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This. The guy is the Punk Goes... of promoters - A couple good calls back in the day, but just one cash grabbing train wreck after another recently.

Not to mention his superiority complex. Dude thinks he is a god. The comment about bands playing SXSW because of SBSW and NSN seems ridiculous.



When doing something like this - how do you pick what bands to ask to play?
By telling them they have to sell 50 tickets or more. Then we email Sumerian, Rise, and Fearless and next thing you know, we have a festival!
Oh jeeze, I didn't even put that together the first time I read through it (about the bands playing SXSW because of SBSW and NSN). I've had a couple of brief interactions with the Ziemer at the venue that I used to work for some years ago, when he was really beginning to establish himself (think arrogant Anakin, right before he becomes Vader). He was a complete jackass, and the ego was insane. It just really bums me out that I can't go to any sort of show in the area without lining his pockets.
10:47 PM on 10/25/13
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TheRealJohnOC
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This. The guy is the Punk Goes... of promoters - A couple good calls back in the day, but just one cash grabbing train wreck after another recently.

Not to mention his superiority complex. Dude thinks he is a god. The comment about bands playing SXSW because of SBSW and NSN seems ridiculous.



When doing something like this - how do you pick what bands to ask to play?
By telling them they have to sell 50 tickets or more. Then we email Sumerian, Rise, and Fearless and next thing you know, we have a festival!
Wow, only 50 tickets to be on a festival? That's not bad at all. In the NYC area, to get on a Starland or Irving Plaza show, you'd have to sell 50-75 minimum. That's with a headliner usually on the same wavelength as Powerman 5000.
10:58 PM on 10/25/13
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Oh jeeze, I didn't even put that together the first time I read through it (about the bands playing SXSW because of SBSW and NSN). I've had a couple of brief interactions with the Ziemer at the venue that I used to work for some years ago, when he was really beginning to establish himself (think arrogant Anakin, right before he becomes Vader). He was a complete jackass, and the ego was insane. It just really bums me out that I can't go to any sort of show in the area without lining his pockets.

I see all sort of crazy support for him and his festival when the day comes and 5000 people show up, but it seems like everybody I meet connected to the music scene here absolutely despises him. I guess it's a bit impressive that he managed to get himself far ahead by creating an army of MySpace lifers and getting them to support his every move by making it seem like his festivals are the beginning of the Dallas music scene. (Because obviously nothing happened before he started booking)


Wasn't there a time when "mike Ziemer is my homeboy" tank tops were a thing?

Man, as long as his attempt at reaching the Austin market doesn't work, I'll be alright. Even If it does, it's not like It takes effort to avoid the music he peddles.
10:59 PM on 10/25/13
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I work across the street from this thing and I'm pretty sure the drum beats didn't change over the course of the entire evening.
11:10 PM on 10/25/13
punkrawkwarlord
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I see all sort of crazy support for him and his festival when the day comes and 5000 people show up, but it seems like everybody I meet connected to the music scene here absolutely despises him. I guess it's a bit impressive that he managed to get himself far ahead by creating an army of MySpace lifers and getting them to support his every move by making it seem like his festivals are the beginning of the Dallas music scene. (Because obviously nothing happened before he started booking)


Wasn't there a time when "mike Ziemer is my homeboy" tank tops were a thing?

Man, as long as his attempt at reaching the Austin market doesn't work, I'll be alright. Even If it does, it's not like It takes effort to avoid the music he peddles.
I think the thing worth noting about Ziemer is that Deep Ellum was thriving here in Dallas. He came onto the scene, and all of a sudden his "no local bands" rule came into effect. After that it just seemed like I was constantly hearing about venues closing down. In reality, there's only about 3 venues actually worth going to in Dallas now, and 1 in Fort Worth. Depressing as fuck.
11:15 PM on 10/25/13
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Wow, only 50 tickets to be on a festival? That's not bad at all. In the NYC area, to get on a Starland or Irving Plaza show, you'd have to sell 50-75 minimum. That's with a headliner usually on the same wavelength as Powerman 5000.

Oh no, that's just for the chance to play the battle of the bands (which ironically ends up being a who sells more tickets kind of deal)
They pretty much just run errands (aka deliver tickets and sell them outside of hot topic)

I'm just trying to figure out how the hell someone who wears this fake holier than thou image on their sleeve can consciously try to peddle a Blood on the dance floor gig to people.
11:24 PM on 10/25/13
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I think the thing worth noting about Ziemer is that Deep Ellum was thriving here in Dallas. He came onto the scene, and all of a sudden his "no local bands" rule came into effect. After that it just seemed like I was constantly hearing about venues closing down. In reality, there's only about 3 venues actually worth going to in Dallas now, and 1 in Fort Worth. Depressing as fuck.

No local bands? That's not counting the ones he has under his belt, right?

Come to think of it the venues that the shows happened in did begin to drop quickly.

I think the Max was the first one I remember, and then the Plano center fallout. After that it was a revolving door of new venues: phils in Arlington, the other door clubs, etc.
Then of course there is the constantly changing venues for the festivals: the Palladium was a fiasco, Dr. pepper arena was god awful, I heard the pavilion for the last Unsilent Night wasn't all that special either, and of course there were those Plano outdoor shows. I'm not in on all the details of these changes, but I'm pretty sure most of them were not clean breakups or simple upgrades.
11:26 PM on 10/25/13
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I work across the street from this thing and I'm pretty sure the drum beats didn't change over the course of the entire evening.
Probably didn't. The sad part is that the handful of decent bands that get lost in the mix are barely audible due to the god awful chugging and bass drum mashing.
11:39 PM on 10/25/13
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I think the thing worth noting about Ziemer is that Deep Ellum was thriving here in Dallas. He came onto the scene, and all of a sudden his "no local bands" rule came into effect. After that it just seemed like I was constantly hearing about venues closing down. In reality, there's only about 3 venues actually worth going to in Dallas now, and 1 in Fort Worth. Depressing as fuck.
I loved The Door before it became The Prophet Bar and moved to Gypsy Tea Room. I went to Unsilent Night last year just to see Glassjaw, Every Time I Die, Power Trip, and our friends in Mouth of The South. Little did we know we it was no in/outs and we are all 25-27. Sucks cause we were stuck inside with a dub step stage on one side and metalcore for 6 hours on the other side. Dallas was way better before Mike Z intruded.

I usually just wait for bands to come to HOB or Palladium and just pay the ticketmaster/livenation fee.

Best venue around still is Trees which i dont think he does as much at.
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