Photo by Theodore Maider
Every Thursday at 8am, a group of musicians, music industry professionals, and everything in between meet up at San Francisco’s Piano Fight for Balanced Breakfast, a meet-up catered to tackling, addressing and learning the many facets of the music industry. Starting in San Francisco, the meet-up has spearheaded the movement toward demystifying many aspect of an otherwise difficult to navigate or cryptic industry. Along with this, Balanced Breakfast has presented numerous shows around the Bay Area (and even at SXSW) and hosted other gatherings. Later this month, Balanced Breakfast will be presenting one of their biggest shows yet: a night at The Independent featuring bands that attend the weekly meet-up.
I met up with co-founder, Stefan Aronsen, to talk about Balanced Breakfast’s history, meetings and quick expansion.
The Bay Bridged: So, tell me a bit about how Balanced Breakfast got started.
Stefan Aronsen: If you keep going back before breakfast, I finished grad school in 2009-2010, and at the time I created a project called SF Intercom, which was a survival guide for bands to learn how to better promote themselves. I knew that musicians wouldn’t read a survival guide, so I tried to make a very visually oriented survival guide, and broke it up into five parts. I put it into musicians hand and they were excited about it, but otherwise it was too dense for them to find or look into themselves. It sort of became a visual calling card for design jobs, but I didn’t feel it was making a huge impact on musicians ability to survive in San Francisco. I started the radio show at Mutiny, and that seemed to be working, since all of the social media stuff was falling on peoples’ radar.
It then specifically showed up on Andy Freeman’s radar and he reached out to me. We had similar friends, music tastes and all that, so we decided to meet up. We met up once, and then had a great talk, so we decided to meet again. At that point he just kept dropping bombs on me about changing the music industry and hitting the ground running in bridging LA to San Francisco. So after a couple of meetings, we decided to invite more people to our following meetings, focusing on inviting friends. In our first meeting we were about five, and it was one of those awkward situations where everyone was asking each other: “are you here for breakfast?” But five turned into more, and we outgrew our diner in about a month, then we moved to Crepe House and outgrew that quickly. Then PianoFight approached us to having our meetings at their venue, and we’re pushing about fifty-sixty people or so per meeting.
TBB: How long between the first meeting and now has it been?
SA: About a year and a half. It was fast. And not only was it growing fast in San Francisco, but we also splintered off into Oakland. Brian Bergeron of Mr. Kind reached out to us about bringing it to Oakland and he started it. He experienced the same kind of success, from about five people to fifteen in about a month. Now they average about thirty or more. We have other people start a San Jose chapter. Then, we had another member, Angela Mastrogiacomo, move to Boston and she started a chapter there. Then she moved from Boston to Toronto, and started a group there while leaving the Boston group running. Andy Freeman moved to Los Angeles, so now we have a presence there. And another member started a Breakfast from the Los Angeles group and decided to start one in Denver. Next one that we’re working on is a San Diego group.
TBB: And every meeting is weekly and at 8am?
SA: Each city is culturally differently, so it’s 8am in Oakland and San Francisco, 10am in San Jose, and so one. But we try and keep it morning if possible, since like we say: “8am means you’re serious.” If you get there early you’re not drunk, you planned this in your day and you’re here for the community of people.
TBB: And what is your experience with the music industry? What made you get involved with this?
SA: It’s like I always say: I’m trying to redefine what it means to be a groupie. I’m trying to become some sort of the Pennylane where I can have a reason to be backstage and in the green room. It’s a move toward taking friendships with bands to the next level. Things like creating a marketing plan or working with bands on their social media, that gives me a reason to be there and in it all. Andy comes from a producing and engineering background, so we just decided to bond over our interest in music with the sanctity of a meal. That’s what Balanced Breakfast is about. It’s about old school style, old school standards, where we come together and commune.
TBB: What can people expect at the weekly meetings?
SA: We always have a topic that is tabled and try to have a discussion about that topic. We also try and give every person there a chance to introduce themselves and what they do so that people can get to know one another. We also always try to end with show so that there’s almost always a guarantee pay-off, since you can advocate your show and there’s a good chance that Breakfast people will come out to your show.
TBB: What else has come with the exponential growth of BB?
SA: I can now almost guarantee that any show I go to I will see some people from Breakfast. Every time I walk into a show, I can run into people and have a conversation that isn’t shallow since we both know what one another are up to. It’s a good launching point for a conversation and a good way to be able to hang out, connect and enjoy the music scene as well. It nurtures and creates relationships based on the common ground of love for music.
TBB: Who can you expect to see and run into at the weekly meetings?
SA: Well, we have about forty-five regulars at our meetings and about 5-15 newcomers every week, so we’re always getting something new to the table. Most people have this misconception that it’s a musician meet-up, but we really are working to become a music-industry meeting. So while a good amount of our members are musicians, we also have mastering engineers, recording engineers, bloggers and people who are just passionate about music. People have made friendships and relationships here, so you can also find new friends. Or if you’re single you can find your new partner here.
TBB: In addition to your meetings, you have also presented shows in the Bay Area and beyond, right?
SA: Yeah! When Andy and I first met up, we talked about different goals and plans, with the idea that they were probably going to be five-year plans. But we started and we got big so fast that we had talked about so many different topics about throwing shows, entertaining better, reaching out to press and fans, and we realized that we had to put into action the things we were talking about. Our first show was the September residency about a year ago, and it worked out really well. We only booked Breakfast bands and put into practice everything we said, and we drew in about 150 people to each show. It was great, so we decided not to stop and to put on monthly shows.
We raised money from those shows and threw a Rock Lotto show, where we made bands out of randomized assigning and they had a timeline to come up with new songs with the bands. It was our best show yet, because it pushed and developed new friendships and relationships with people involved and it fostered new experiences too. I’m not really a musician, but I fronted a band for that show. We went to SXSW with about nine bands, which were all from Balanced Breakfast. It was wild. We had a line at the door with people waiting to get in. It was way too cool. Now we have the show at The Independent. We’re trying to keep that momentum going.
TBB: Yeah! Tell me more about that show?
SA: Well, from what I’ve been told and what I can say, it’s all going to be an interwoven set with no real set breaks. It’s going to be a full on creative experience. We’re always pushing that the job of the musician is to entertain their fans, but if you can get people to come for the first band and stay for the last band, then that’s successful. If you miss the first band, in this case, you will be disappointed, because you’ll be missing part of the experience. There won’t be a down moment.
TBB: I’m already loving that idea. It’s about a couple of hours of just straight live music.
SA: Absolutely. It’s how it’s been described to me and how I’ve been describing it to people.
TBB: Any other goals or agendas you have in mind for Balanced Breakfast?
SA: Our goal is to get to Portland. We’ve had meetings there but haven’t sustained a group there. We’re definitely looking to start it there. We also have someone in Seattle who wants to start a group too. Our goal with that is to then be able to tour up and down the coast. If you’re starting in Seattle, you can make some calls to Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and all the other places along the way to be able to get shows and tour with the local Balanced Breakfast bands there. We’re also looking to get involved in all the things that are already set up here. We want to work with The Bay Bridged, with Noise Pop again, with all the local music industry sectors here.
Catch a playlist of the bands playing the Balanced Breakfast show at The Independent (and more) below. You can also attend a Balanced Breakfast meeting in the following places and times:
San Francisco Balanced Breakfast: Every Thursday at Piano Fight from 8am-10am
Oakland Balanced Breakfast: Every Friday at Awaken Cafe from 8am-10am
San Jose Balanced Breakfast: Every Saturday at Rockbar Theatre from 10am-12pm