Indie Music Website GroundSounds Embraces Columbus
Dayton-born Jon Berrien started an independent music publication in the mid-2000s as a passion project, and as a way to establish a hosting career. Inspired by music personalities like Carson Daly and Sway Calloway, he moved out to L.A. after college. He worked at a number of entertainment companies, but mainly behind the scenes.
“I wanted to be a host, that’s really why I went out there. And I knew nobody was just going to give me that opportunity,” he says.
From the beginning, he had a much easier time accessing up-and-coming musicians for interviews. He used his professional connections to major labels like Epic and Capitol Records, as well as indie labels and publicists, to get submissions and interviews with artists around the world. A connection at Capitol Records has even led to Berrien interviewing “Same Love” singer Mary Lambert several times over the years.
While living in L.A., Berrien’s wife got a job opportunity that moved their family to Washington, D.C. But when the company got bought out, they decided to return to Ohio. Once in Columbus, he got a job producing strategic video content at a legal association. He was able to use the same skills he developed producing content for GroundSounds for his day job.
After a successful few years, the association stopped seeing a use for his work and resisted any more new ideas he had to offer. As a way to escape the job, pay the bills and keep GroundSounds running, he started Berrien Media, a video content startup. He moved into a studio at Millworks Art Studios and midway into 2018, Berrien brought on Jayden Hefner and Caylib Mason as directors. Hefner and Mason are both from Wapakoneta, Ohio, but moved to Columbus after just one meeting to work for Berrien.
It was Berrien’s “vibe,” says Hefner, and his story that led him to pick up and join the team.
“I knew I always wanted to come to Columbus beforehand,” says Hefner, “but when I met Jon, it was just him as a person. You know, investors don’t invest in the idea, they invest in the person.”
Berrien’s approach to life is largely centered around his faith as a Christian. Leaving a sure-thing corporate job was a leap of faith, he says. He has two kids and a wife to help provide for. Some of his family members thought he was crazy. But the success he’s seen in GroundSounds and Berrien Media is changing rapidly, and in a positive way, he says.
“I believe you’re able to create your reality in this world,” Berrien says. “Since I took that leap of faith … now I’m even more certain.”
Hiring Mason and Hefner was a leap, too. When he first hired them, he told them he may not be able to employ them for longer than three months. They’re now eight months into working at Berrien Media.
“To me, it’s been a very surreal past year and a half, in a very good way,” he says. “When you just quit your job and do these startups, it’s not supposed to be easy. We’re not only being challenged and being tested, but we are rising to the occasion and overcoming things that are only making us stronger.”
Berrien says now, the challenge is figuring out how to monetize GroundSounds. He says the site is becoming more real to record labels, who are starting to send artists through Berrien’s studio. But first, he wants Columbus to embrace it.
“I think it’s taken a while to get to this level with GroundSounds because I’m trying to create something on more of a global, or at least national scale,” he says. “And so now I’m looking for that first city to embrace us, and Columbus will be that city.”