Sofar Sounds, the music movement bringing musicians into people’s living rooms and spaces in city’s around the world, is cultivating intimacy, an appreciation for musicians and fans alike, and bringing back a sense of community into the world of gigs.
The grassroots “back to basics” approach sees Sofar (Songs From A Room) Sounds host small and intimate shows from people’s homes. Anyone keen to host a gig can nominate their own space. Invitations are sent out to those who sign up to a mailing list. The venue is revealed up to 24 hours before the show itself.
For those lucky to have got a ticket and experienced a Sofar Sounds hosted show, around three to four artists play in any given session and there’s no genre boundaries – meaning musicians as varied as a beatboxer, an opera singer and an indie band may share “the stage” together. Boundaries and borders don’t apply at Sofar gigs – it’s just an open platform where gig-goers can appreciate music in its various forms, enabling artists to cultivate new, diverse and varied fan bases, and similarly opens up new sounds to audiences.
Sofar Sounds started life in London nearly a decade ago by friends Rafe Offer, a Marketing, Innovation and Branding expert, Rocky Start, a former London DJ, and Dave Alexander, a singer-songwriter from Belfast. The concept behind the global music start-up was kickstarted at a Friendly Fires gig.
As Rafe Offer recalls, he and Rocky Start were “trying to listen to the band [Friendly Fires] and there was this moment when we realised that half of them [the crowd] were talking or texting, and you could actually hear the beer bottles clanging in the background from the bar. And we said: ‘this is not OK. There must be a better way we can enjoy music so let’s get out of here’.”
The scenario that Rafe Offer has described is something that has become all to familiar to musicians and gig-goers around the globe frequenting venues, from large arenas through to small bars. People chat their way through gigs, record the gig on their phones, snap pictures, Tweet, send to Instagram, etc – “capturing the moment” they may say, albeit actually truly being in the moment or appreciating the music in that moment.
In 2009, the first ever Sofar Sounds gig took place at Rafe Offer’s small North London home where Dave Alexander played a solo acoustic performance for an audience of eight. Everybody was asked to focus on the music, Rafe Offer recalls, as the three friends worked on reconnecting artists with listeners. Those same rules still apply today as Sofar set to engage artists with their audiences from the get-go. Before each Sofar Sounds gig, an MC sets the rules – they ask that no one talks or uses mobile phones during the shows.
After the first gig, news spread fast. By the second Sofar Sounds show, there was a line out the door. By the third show, people showed up and the Sofar Sounds crew didn’t have room for them.
With their magical formula of organising secret, intimate gigs in their living rooms with the simple idea of “making every show magical”, the Sofar Sounds founders quickly discovered that many people were on the same page and wanted the same thing.
Today Sofar Sounds currently hosts around 300 shows a month in 268 cities worldwide including London, NYC, Toronto, Manchester, LA, San Francisco, Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro. The average show is oversubscribed by 10 to one.
Each Sofar Sounds show is different given the diversity of artists that you may hear play and each city recreates its own unique Sofar Sounds experience. Sofar Sounds essentially provides a springboard for artists, mostly unknown and some well-known, to get their music out there; a space for audiences to be able to fully appreciate the music; even the opportunity for musicians of different genres the opportunity to collaborate; and for both musicians and music lovers alike, a chance to meet and connect with like-minded people.
Acts as well-known as Leon Bridges, George Ezra, Bastille, and Hozier have all played Sofar events around the world.
Last year, former Virgin Records boss, Richard Branson, came on board as an investor to support Sofar Sounds. In a post on the Virgin.com website, Richard Branson wrote: “I like how Sofar embraces diversity too, with cellists, beatboxers, hip hop and spoken word artists just as welcome as folk or electronica acts. The artists come away with new, engaged fans who have been immersed in an authentic, eclectic night, and maybe meet a new friend or two as well. I love the idea of romances beginning in random living rooms over a shared appreciation of a harpist or a rapper.
“In our digital age, so many social experiences take place solely online. Sofar is bringing communities of like-minded people together to create a global network of members, artists, hosts and ambassadors who can be grouped by a more simple term: music lovers.”
Describing his first-ever Sofar Sounds gig in London last October, Richard Branson said: “I walked into a living room to see people milling around with drinks, chatting away and finding positions to sit on the floor. Nobody was on their phones, nobody was talking – everybody was listening to the music intently.
“The most magical element of the show was how appreciative and engaged the audience were. It took me back to when we started Virgin Records, sitting on beanbags and drifting away with the music as we found new bands to sign and fall in love with.”
Sofar Sounds has a small staff, but volunteers keep the events running smoothly. Any artists that want to play a gig are required to send in their demos, while a team of A&R people go through the demos and decide on each show’s line-up.
The Sofar Sounds community, opportunities and possibilities continues to expand. Last month Sofar Sounds announced a new partnership with Airbnb, which will see Sofar Sounds’ intimate home concerts available on Airbnb’s Trips platform. Sofar Sounds gigs are currently bookable in San Francisco through Airbnb Trips and will soon launch in London and LA.
Trips allows travellers to book experiences – including the all new music-based experiences – in the city that they are visiting, allowing music fans to skip the queue and gain access to events that have only been available to the Sofar community via lottery purchase previously.
Rafe Offer, Sofar Sounds co-founder, said: “Sofar Sounds, like Airbnb, is all about global community; the magic that happens when people come together around the universal things that really matter, like music. With this new partnership, we’re excited to welcome Airbnb travellers into that community – allowing them to discover and get closer to the best music experiences that cities have to offer, every night.”
Sofar Sounds’ secret shows operate in cities around the world. If you want to get a ticket to a Sofar Sounds show, play host to a show or simply want to volunteer, check out the Sofar Sounds website.
Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com