I first came across BalconyTV in 2011 when Atlanta songwriter Nerdkween posted her performance on Facebook. The concept behind the web series seemed simple, but effective — a live takeaway show featuring intimate performances recorded on a balcony or rooftop, followed by an artist interview. At the time, the site was already an international operation with over 20 million views, and the Atlanta chapter was in its infancy, attempting to navigate its way as a fledgling franchise.
Over the years, there have been several incarnations of BTV ATL, but none have managed to take a firm hold in the city and they’ve all dissolved for one reason or another. In the meantime, the mother site has grown immensely with 60 official chapters located all over the world from international hubs like London, Tokyo, and Rome to more remote locales such as Cairns, Australia; Trento, Italy; and Zamora City in Spain. Late last month, however, BTV ATL had its official launch, making it the 11th city in the U.S. to make the BalconyTV roster and the 61st city worldwide.
None of this would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Taylor Nelson, an Atlanta native who previously worked as an audio engineer for the Los Angeles chapter. Nelson was searching for a way to bring his production skills back to his hometown and jumped on the opportunity when the previous production disbanded. But there was much more to his decision than just a desire to return home; he also wanted to lead a program that would highlight the diversity of the local and regional scene. “From an outsider’s perspective, Atlanta’s music scene is viewed as purely rap and hip-hop driven,” Nelson explains. “As an Atlantan I felt the need to show the world the diversity in genre and style that make up Atlanta’s scene. BTV has a reputation for breaking local artists on an international platform and ATL was definitely in need of such a program.”
According to Nelson, the plan is to seek out the city’s best up-and-coming talent and showcase them alongside more established acts in order to bring international attention to those emerging artists and help boost their careers. Each episode will be produced by local production company Lake City Sounds and must follow the the rigid guidelines set forth by BalconyTV in order to maintain the consistency of quality that has made the site a worldwide sensation. These guidelines include no cuts, edits, or zooms — each session must be shot in a single fluid take and must follow the basic format of a host intro, performance, and then artist interview. New sessions will be posted every other week for the first three months and every Monday after that.
As the producer for the show, Nelson is responsible for seeking out the artists to feature on the show. His criteria accounts for many factors, chief among them being skill and dedication to one’s craft. “I focus on several different things when making decisions on whether or not to feature an act,” he says. “Some of those things include songwriting, mastery of an instrument, vocal prowess, and whether or not the group is actively pursuing a career in music.”
inaugural second episode, BTV ATL selected Athens duo Art Contest and filmed them playing a raucous new track called “RGB” atop Atlanta’s storied Tabernacle venue overlooking downtown. The genre-bending group was certainly not an obvious choice — the band has only released a pair of singles to date — but Nelson chose them for their unorthodox style and impressive technical chops. “Art Contest is an act that I feel other BalconyTV producers would probably not feature on their program and thought this could be a great opportunity to highlight our location as a program that real music lovers could appreciate… Showcasing acts like [them] is one thing that will separate us from other shows who focus more on broad acceptability and highlight our location as a program that looks deeper than mass appeal.”
Although BTV ATL is just getting started in the city, Nelson and his crew are committed to sticking it out and succeeding where previous production companies have failed. In addition to shooting its first two episodes at the Tabernacle, future performances have already been filmed at SweetWater Brewery and Tin Lizzy’s in the Fourth Ward, among other locales. Still, finding the right locations hasn’t proved easy. “Atlantans seem to covet their rooftop and balcony views and hold them at a high ransom,” Nelson reveals. It’s not exactly surprising, but hopefully with more exposure and notoriety, BTV ATL will find more doors (and balconies and rooftops) open to them in the future.
UPDATE: The original article listed Art Contest as the inaugural episode. That distinction belongs to Iowa band Holy White Hounds. The episode aired on May 23.