by Carly Schorman
Michael Zimmerlich made a name for himself around town with his music label, 80/20 Records, and he’s branched out over the years to to apply his unique amalgamation of talents and hard won wisdom in new, unexpected arenas. Generally, we find him behind the scenes as a label owner, coach for musicians, and event organizer, but these days you can find him taking to the mic for his new podcast: The 80/20 Show.
Zimmerlich came right out the gate with an impressive guest list, including Herman Li of the band DragonForce, filmmaker Matty Steinkamp of Mango Skies, and Kevin Lyman, founder of the Vans Warped Tour. I got a chance to talk to Mike about the new show, moving from behind the scenes to in front of the mic, and, of course, 80/20: The Record Label. Read our Q&A with Michael Zimmerlich below and make sure to check out The 80/20 Show on your preferred podcast platform!
So, to get us started, please tell us about your new podcast.
The 80/20 Show is about interviewing professionals in the music industry from artists, managers, labels, music journalists, artist relations for brands, to radio hosts and let them tell their stories of their journey through the music community.
I think you are uniquely positioned to lead this podcast from an informed perspective. Can you share a bit of your musical and professional journey that brought you to where you are today? Take all the time/space you would like. Haha.
Wow that’s a loaded question! I started playing music when I was about five years old where my folks put me in front of the piano and hired a private piano teacher. I like to joke that I was learning to read music at the same time I was learning how to read English. Since the piano can’t easily travel to school I had to pick another instrument, which I’ve landed on the trumpet after my father. I was jazz-trained on the trumpet all through college.
During college I’ve been working on ideas of starting a business and eventually landed on starting a website that allows musicians to upload their songs and we would host our own internet radio stations. This was before Pandora and last.fm got popular. But since both of those services far surpassed us we decided to start a record label instead. However we knew that we wanted to do something different so we formed a company where we can give the most back to artists as possible, hence the 80% royalties to artists. Thus 80/20 Records was created, which was over 12 years ago.
We’ve come to know you as a behind-the-scenes guy. How does it feel to be on the microphone (and the camera) for this new undertaking?
I absolutely love it! I’m one of the weirdos that loves meetings and having conversations with people and learning their stories. And to be honest it’s energizing to be in the spotlight as I’m usually supporting everyone else that gets the attention. This is something that I truly enjoy doing and can be recognized for.
It seems like each thing you’ve done sorta prepared you for the next step in an organic way. Do you have some favorite lessons you gleaned from your college experience that helped you run a label?
Absolutely. Everything that I’ve done before has brought me to what I’m doing now. One of the most important lessons learned from college is how to be a team leader. We are often put into groups and someone has to take the mantle to steer the group and delegate. I’ve found myself in this position a number of times as a necessity and learned how to handle all kinds of personalities.
Another lesson is how to lean on your strengths. One of my favorite stories is for my capstone project. We had to develop a plan to create a news website (I was a Computer Information Systems major). Ironically this was just after I launched the internet radio website with my business partner. So I told the group if they can do the majority of the documentation I’ll actually build the entire website. It took me a weekend to get it all together. When it came time to present to the class I was the main presenter, and showed them not only a plan but a fully functioning example of the site. Everyone’s mouths were open, including the professor. No other group was even close to what we’ve done. After class the professor asked me how I did it and after I explained what I’ve done he just nodded and said “good job”. Needless to say I aced the class.
And, likewise, any favorite lessons running a label that stood out for you as a coach?
Although there are common pitfalls and goals, every artist has different needs. So I handle each artist as though it’s the first time but with the experience and wisdom from all the lessons I’ve learned with the dozens of musicians that we’ve worked with.
And, the one I’m most interested in, what are you taking from your personal experience to really give shape to your interviews?
To get out of the way and let the guest tell their story. Although I have prepared questions I let the conversation progress as naturally as possible. I want to make sure they talk about certain points in their life. It’s more important to let them talk about what they want. Sometimes that means I ask all the questions I have, or sometimes none at all.
What first drew you to the music industry? With your degree, it seems like you could have really gone any direction in this great big world.
Music has always been a big part of my life and I always knew when I wanted to be an entrepreneur that I would want to be involved in entertainment and/or technology. I’ve always felt this draw to how content and art was created behind the scenes. From film to television to video games to music, I love it all.
You’ve had a lot of conversations already. How many shows did you have recorded before you began releasing episodes to the public?
I had about 13-14 interviews already recorded and about 10-12 of previous material such as interviews where I was the guest, lectures I’ve done as well as panels that I’ve moderated. In total I would say close to 26 episodes.
Do you have a production team that helps with the show or is this a solo effort?
Oh yes, I have a team, there’s no way I can do this on my own! I’ve been very fortunate to have an amazing team with 80/20 and without them there’s no way this would’ve been launched. I want to give a special shoutout to Bryana Bouck and Moira Christiansen for all their hard work on producing these episodes with me.
Is this more a show for music fans or musicians? Or both?
I would say both. This show is meant for anyone who is interested in how the music industry works, those who are currently in the music industry, and those looking to get involved in the music industry.
Okay, okay… what are some of the podcasts that you really enjoy listening to when you’re not recording podcasts?
Tim Ferriss for sure and sometimes Gary Vaynerchuk. Both are so inspirational in their own ways. Also love Office Ladies cause I’m a big The Office fan.
Any music have a special hold on your attention right now?
I’m completely obsessed with Stand Atlantic right now.
I know you have a lot of great guests lined up for the show. Can you give us any sneak peaks of what’s in store for listeners you can share with us?
We just published episodes for guests such as Kevin Lyman founder of Warped Tour and Herman Li co-founder of DragonForce. Also for the month of September we’re doing special previews of the show on KWSS 93.9 FM. I will say that upcoming will be Sam Means co-founder of The Format and founder of Hello Merch as well as a rare interview with Frank Magarelli the owner of KWSS 93.9 FM.
What’s keeping you busy when you’re not working on the new show?
The label itself has been keeping me busy. We have a number of our artists working on new material that we should be releasing soon. I also manage the band Love Like Fiction which they’ve absolutely a pleasure to work with. Also personally coach artists of various genres and stages of their career as well as am an Adjunct Professor in Music Business at Mesa Community College.