INTERVIEW: Balanced Breakfast Co-Founder Stefan Aronsen Talks About Strengthening Local Music Scenes With New App
Have you ever found yourself wondering what you can do to better your local music scene? Well it turns out you're not alone, but if you're familiar with Balanced Breakfast, then you already knew that. If you're unfamiliar, Balanced Breakfast is a meeting of people who are passionate about their local music industry, formed by two like-minded individuals, Stefan Aronsen and Andy Freeman. What started as a weekly breakfast meeting between two friends turned into five to ten people sitting around a table at a local San Francisco diner, which quickly caught wind and continued to grow. Now, Balanced Breakfast meetings are had among industry folks, musicians and those passionate about their local scene across the country, and two international cities: Toronto and Bogota.
So what's the next step? Well, today Balanced Breakfast is launching an app that will make it easier than ever to connect with like minded people in your own local scene! The Balanced Breakfast app streamlines the process of searching for exactly what you need in your local scene, whether it's a guitarist, photographer, journalist or even artist managers. With the app available today, we talked with Balanced Breakfast co-founder Stefan Aronsen about the concept behind the project and goals for the future of the app and upcoming meetups.
Interview by Shannon Shumaker
Can you tell us a little bit about Balanced Breakfast?
BB is a meeting of community oriented people who are passionate about the music industry. We have found that each city we are located has different struggles. However, one thing remains the same, we all strive for more connectivity in the scene. BB attempts to bridge the gaps between people in hopes of creating a more healthy music environment.
What is the concept behind these meetups?
We believe the music industry is better place to work in if you have a supportive community behind you. Our goal is to teach people better professional habits and help foster more friendships and business connections as they strive for individual success.
What first inspired you to start getting together for them?
BB started because my cofounder Andy Freeman kept seeing me tweet about shows I was attending. We didn’t know each other except for digitally, but we ran in a lot of the same circles. He reached out to me and suggested we meet. Both of our schedules were very busy, if he was free, I wasn't. Eventually we agreed to meet for breakfast because most of our mornings were wide open. At our first meeting Andy and I clicked really well. He was so excited about what we could create together, we discussed creating a label, doing licensing, or maybe managing bands. I’m normally the one to chase wild ideas, but this time I asked if he would be in to meeting again and inviting friends. Little did we know then that 2 people would become 7 and soon we’d be in 22 cities and have thousands involved.
How do you feel that having this community and these connections has helped to strengthen your local music scene?
I used to wonder if I would know anybody at the shows I was attending. Sometimes I wouldn’t go to a show because I didn’t want to go alone. After BB started, I never had to wonder if I would know anybody. At our meetings we encouraged attendees to go to more shows. We always end meetings by talking about upcoming shows. I think this triggered a movement, as BB member Cade Moore say’s, “we come for the first band and stay for the last band.” I no longer worry that I won’t know anybody at a show. There is always a BB member front and center at a show, we stand in the awkward space others are afraid to stand in. We create mosh pits for music that doesn’t usually need it. Our attendees support the scene and it’s exciting to see.
Shortly after you started having these meetups in your hometown, the idea caught wind and began to grow into what it is now. Did you ever imagine it getting as big as it is now?
I joke that I only expected BB to be 10 friends talk about music around a small table in the Mission district of San Francisco. I sometimes feel like I’m just holding onto the reins of beast that needs to grow, this movement has become bigger than I could ever have imagined. Meeting for breakfast and talking about music isn’t a unique concept. We didn’t invent meeting in the morning for eggs, bacon, hashbrowns or cornflake french toast. (Shout out to Crepe House in SF) I think we just had good timing and responded to a need for community in a way that people could relate to.
Now, you’re releasing a Balanced Breakfast app, which will make connecting with other like minded individuals and industry professionals easier than ever. Can you tell us about the app and what to expect from it?
BB met for 3 years and tabled a lot of ideas about what it was we wanted to do. We hosted shows, did residencies, toured to Denver for UMS and Austin for SxSW. These were all fun adventures, but none of them were sustainable. We needed something that could help foster growth and keep track of members. There was talk of a database for years, but as much as we tried we couldn’t find a platform that could do everything we needed. Eventually I realized I needed to take a break from doing design for others and focused more time on creating Balanced Breakfast’s first product. I tried to make the first version of the app accomplish a lot of the things we tried have tried to solve in the meetings. The idea of BB membership and a database of people in our local music scene was tabled many times. People were calling themselves BB members before we ever had a way to keep track of members or clarify what being a member meant. The app helps us establish this. It gives further meaning to being a member of Balanced Breakfast.
How can artists, fans, journalists, promoters or other industry professionals benefit from this app?
With the introduction of the BB app, we now have the tool we need to find people in our scene based on location, profession and skills. The app is the beginning of clarifying what it means to be a member of BB. Our goal is to create a product that leverages existing API and fills the gaps where traditional platforms fail. We don’t intend to replace successful products like Facebook or Linkedin, but rather give you a tool that accomplishes things that they haven’t yet solved. We hope to help you create community by connecting you to the people in your scene that can help you be more successful. Whether you’re looking for a banjo player or a mastering engineer, we can help.
What are some of the coolest features that people will be able to utilize?
BB members are always asking me, “Do you know any music journalists?” With the app you can find bloggers, vloggers, photographers and all sorts of music journalists. I also get asked if I know any female drummers. I might not know a female drummer, but hopefully the app does. Ultimately the app helps users find the people they are looking for.
What would you like to see Balanced Breakfast - both the app and these meetups - accomplish in the future?
My hope is that the app and the meetup help people create deeper connections. I want to hear more stories about new friendships, bandmates, business partners and maybe someday marriages. If BB can help you create a healthy network of people, then I think we’re doing pretty good. If you do get married because of a person you met at BB please invite me to your wedding.
What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to strengthen their local music scene?
It takes you being involved with your local community in order to foster stronger relationships in your local music scene. If BB is in your city, join us! If we’re not there yet, reach out to us, we’d love to work with you to get a group started in your city.
Do you have any big goals for Balanced Breakfast going into 2018?
Each year I hope that BB can reach more people than the year before. I pray that people feel supported and are accomplishing their version of success. We’ve done some amazing things over the years. However 2017 is going to be hard to top! We officially became an LLC, I visited 15 cities in 10 months, did a 3 day showcase in Austin during SxSW, traveled to Denver for a BB show during UMS, launched multiple new meetups and released the BB app on iOS and Android. That seems hard to top, but we’re going to try. Our first order of business for 2018 is the National BB Summit in San Francisco. It will gather all of the leaders from our 22 cities. We will educate, network and party for 2 days at PianoFight. We’d love to see you there. That’s just the start, the year is ready for us to dominate it.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Balanced Breakfast is a success because of the people involved. If we aren’t in your city, we want to be, reach out to us and we’ll make it happen. Our growth is 100% due to our membership, I am thankful to Brian Bergeron for starting BB in Oakland. Shout out to Barbara Wahli for taking the group down to San Jose, it was our 3rd location and the beginning of real growth. The group might not have made it out of California if not for Angela Mastrogiacomo who helped us launch in Toronto, Boston, and Nashville. I am also thankful for Barb Leung who launched BB in LA and connected us to San Diego, Temecula and Denver. More recently I owe a great deal of thanks to Levi Winkler who has taken on BB’s operations and has helped make the new BB app possible. Thank you to all of the OG members, leaders, and people who have been involved over the years. Big props to Piper Payne, Jared Swanson, Travis Hayes, Andy Strong, Cade Moore, Ted Maider, AJ McKinley, Chelsea Tinaturner Nobbs, Cliff Tune, Kanoa Blodgett, Neck of The Woods, Rob Ready, PianoFight, Peter Jacobsen, Music City SF, Barb Blank, Jonray Higginbotham, Serafino Barto, Josh Windmiller, Mindi Levine, Carmen Caruso, Jan Thompson, Reed Cameron Fox, Omar Peña, Aliza Hava, M Florentino Buenaventura, Jahna Eichel, Fred Hausman III, Steve Phelps, Kit Russell, Joe Markert, Genevieve Primavera, Kat Ellis, Philana Goodrich, Mona Khalifa Magno, Dan Ryan, Suzanne Yada, Caitlin Mae, Stephen Munoz, Adam Vara, Dale Edward Chung, Dyniss R Rainer, Eric Barfield, Robert S. Austin, Jason Eichel, Brent Curriden, Chelsea Cressman, McKendra McKendra, Lyle Burns, Maria Gironas, David Earl, Ryan VanDrie and Tim Corbin for all your support. Also thank you to anybody I forgot to mention.