Switchfoot turns up volume with Encinitas studio for youth


In 1986, then-teenager Chad Butler frequently banged on his drum kit inside his Carlsbad garage. The noise didn’t sit well with neighbors, who would pound on the garage door to get him to stop.

“I’d have my headphones on and wouldn’t notice, so finally my mom would come in and say, ‘The neighbors are pounding on the garage door,’” said Butler, who is the drummer of the alternative rock band Switchfoot.

Butler said his story is but one example of how kids in the area often don’t have a place to jam. That’s one of the reasons Switchfoot started Bro-Am Studios. The nonprofit music school for youth is opening this weekend in downtown Encinitas, at 1057 S. Coast Highway 101.

“It’s hard to get good at playing electric guitar, unless you’re able to turn it up,” said Butler, who resides in Encinitas. “It’s hard to progress as a drummer if you can’t hit the drums.”

Instructors handpicked by the band will offer piano, guitar and other instrument lessons for ages 8 to 18 Monday through Thursday. The space includes a roughly 800-foot room for group lessons, complete with a stage for bands to practice and perform. Across a small courtyard, a room about half the size is for one-on-one instruction. Outdoor showers were even installed, so band members can shower after surfing local breaks.

Butler said the space is a natural extension of the Switchfoot Bro-Am surf contest and concert, happening July 11 at Moonlight Beach. The multiplatinum band launched the event in 2005, primarily to benefit homeless and at-risk youth, and over the years it has raised more than $1 million for San Diego-based children’s charities.

Through working with these charities, Butler said the band became aware of the lack of music opportunities for underserved youth in Encinitas. To accommodate the less fortunate, the studio will run on a pay-what-you-can model.

“Encinitas has a really wide socioeconomic makeup,” Butler said. “Kids here in our own backyard don’t necessarily have all the opportunities that we did growing up.”

He continued: “The pay-what-you-can model maybe wouldn’t work everywhere. But because of the diverse socioeconomic makeup, and the generosity of the community, I think it will here.”

The idea for Bro-Am Studios was born more than a year ago. Switchfoot guitar player Drew Shirley, whose mom is a music teacher in San Diego, saw firsthand the toll that music cutbacks in public schools has taken on students.

“We became aware of the need for kids in San Diego to have access to music education,” Butler said. He added that music not only helps kids’ cognitive development, but it also keeps them out of trouble.

“When I was younger and started playing, suddenly I had this language I could speak with people, and the friendships that came out of that have been lifelong.”

The studio aims to fill another void.

For up-and-coming bands, there are few local places to perform, Butler said. That wasn’t necessarily the case when Switchfoot got its start playing in Encinitas two decades ago.

Back then, there were more all-age venues, like Miracles Café in Cardiff, which closed a decade ago. And the E Street Café, beloved by musicians and poets, shuttered last summer.

“It was easier back then; there were a lot of great coffee shops,” he said.

So in response, Bro-Am Studios will have small concerts and singer-songwriter showcases.

The space, surrounded by businesses like Hansen’s Surf Shop and Univ, was transformed into a state-of-the art studio in recent months. Butler said it’s the ideal place for a music school.

“As a musician, I’m inspired by cool spaces,” he said. “If things sound good and you’re surrounded by like-minded people, you want to perform better and you’re motivated.”

With all the collaboration that’s sure to happen at Bro-Am Studios, Butler anticipates great bands forming.

“I could picture a band that comes out of here that graduates to a global stage, much bigger than Switchfoot,” he said. “I would love that.”

Budding musicians can sign up for Bro-Am Studios lessons at

The Switchfoot Bro-Am surf contest will take place from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. July 11 at Moonlight Beach. The concert will run from noon to 5 p.m. A free shuttle will be available from San Dieguito Academy. Parking is also available at Encinitas City Hall.

“It’s rock ‘n’ roll, surfing and charity,” Butler said. “I look forward to this day all year …And this studio will sort of be a year-round version of that vision.”