CO+HOOTS Member Profile: 80/20 Records and its democracy of music

by | Sep 24, 2016

It only took two textbooks to start 80/20 Records: one on record label marketing and one about music law. Since its 2008 conception, everything else has been a trial-and-error progression. Let’s call it a science experiment about art — an experiment with CO+HOOTS’ most passionate music theorist at its helm.

Label founder and self-proclaimed band geek Michael Zimmerlich hasn’t built an empire with his music industry knowledge, but he certainly doesn’t want to be king. He prefers fedoras to crowns and commits to giving 80 percent royalty back to artists. Instead of aiming to be the face of Phoenix music, Mike acts as the gears behind it, handling distribution, marketing and various coordination needs.

Over the years, 80/20 Records has become synonymous with a commitment to helping artists make money. Mike emphasizes the importance of giving artists exactly what they put into their work.

“They’re the ones who create the music,” the founder said. “It’s their baby. They’re the ones who literally put blood, sweat and tears into what they create, so in the beginning, it had always been about how I can make a business where I can give the most back to them, so that they can actually make a living from it.”

This mindset brings artist-label relationships that are almost completely unique to the 80/20 Records network, where transparency is key.

“The more that I empower the artist I represent, the more that they can do in the end,” Mike said. “When I am transparent that way, there’s a sense of trust that has developed between the label and the artist, which unfortunately sometimes — depending on the record label — doesn’t always happen.”

The commitment of the label’s musicians to their art is a necessary part of this trusting relationship. Mike said he seeks to work with artists who reinvest into themselves, upgrading equipment, producing albums and going on tours before splurging on personal desires.

In the past, 80/20 Records artists showed this commitment by travelling to New York for two days and a whole night — all for a 30 minute performance at a prestigious CMJ showcase. Within two days, they were already on the long drive back.

This is just one example of the sleep deprivation-worthy opportunities gained by artists, after signing onto 80/20 records.

One of the label’s biggest effects can be seen in the success of local band Captain Squeegee. Once the musicians connected with the label, they were able to develop a crowdfunding campaign, from which the band is still reaping benefits today.

“We were able to raise over $10,000,” Mike said. “That, plus additional funding from elsewhere, was enough to go into the studio to record an album. That album ended up being leaps and bounds, in comparison to previous albums they’ve released. That was what gave new life to the band.”

The album led to an enormity of social media attention and national coverage. Since the release, Captain Squeegee has gained the chance to play on the same stage as Beck and in the world’s biggest music festival, Milwaukee’s Summerfest. At the heart of this success is 80/20 Record’s ability to provide local artists with the motivation to relentlessly go for gold.

CO+HOOTS has been instrumental to the visible success of the label, Mike said. In addition, the coworking space continues to provide him with tools for personal and professional growth.

“It’s very hard to find people who just want to see everyone else do well,” Mike said. “Because of that, because of the community of CO+HOOTS, I was able to excel myself to a whole other level that I never thought was going to be possible.”

Even as 80/20 Records maintains its mission to meet the needs of its artists through vast support, Mike continuously furthers his efforts to advance the Phoenix music scene as a whole.

“A lot of people don’t realize how lucky they are to be in a city that has a lot of incredible musicians around,” Mike said. “I try very hard to make sure that people who are outside of the music scene are aware of the fact that there are a lot of amazing bands that are coming through, that are being born in our city.”

Michael’s passion for bringing awareness to local talent is exactly what makes his work with 80/20 Records worth the effort, and much more.

“The best part of it by far is that I get to do something that I’m passionate about,” Mike said. “I love music and I love helping artists. I like being creative with other creatives.”