Sofar Sounds is redefining “house show.” Many of us are familiar with the Christmas lights and sweaty basements, but an RSVP-list? Started in London in 2009, Sofar is an international brand that brings exclusive concerts to music lovers in living rooms worldwide. Sofar stands for “Songs From A Room,” inspired by the 1969 Leonard Cohen album.
How does it work? You sign up for the mailing list for your city and await that magical e-mail. Sofar shows are announced 48-hours prior with the address to said mailing list with limited capacity. No artists are announced. Sofar aims to help music lovers make discoveries, so you won’t know who you’re seeing that night until they take the stage.
The Boston chapter of Sofar popped but this past July and Allston Pudding caught up with Dean Davis and Eric Shea from the Sofar Boston team to talk about the project.
AP: How did you two end up working with Sofar?
ES: We came on two different paths.
DD: Back in May, a friend of mine saw a Sofar Sounds show in Costa Rica. She came back here and went to school with me and told me about it – that’s how I first heard about Sofar. So we contacted Rafe (co-creator of Sofar Sounds) and told him that we wanted to bring it to Boston. And the rest is history!
How did this global brand begin?
DD: In 2009, David Alexander and Rafe Offer were sick and tired of how the music scene was being perceived where people would go to bars and
clubs and not be able to hear the music that these musicians has crafted over 20-some years of their life. They decided to create a house show and the first one had a couple of people and it started to turn into 20 into 150. It’s a movement. People started listening to it and realized, “This is a great way to support independent music!” It spiraled out of control and now it’s in 40 cities around the world.
ES: It’s based completely off of word-of-mouth. The cool thing about it is the secrecy and the exclusivity of it. Signing up for the shows, we don’t tell you where it is until two days before and you don’t know who’s playing until you get there. It’s a whole community of people who are buying into this idea of being discovered. It’s great for the bands because they get a room of 150 people who have never heard their stuff before.
DD: We’ve found that a lot of people want to be a part of this. At our last show someone came up to us saying they wanted to start one in Madrid – that’s it, it’s all word of mouth.
I understand there are some rules at the show. You have the stay the whole night and talking is forbidden?
DD: The guidelines are very simple. No talking because we want to give respect to the musicians so people can really connect with them. That’s the intimacy that Sofar creates between band and the artist. And we want you to stay to see everyone we have lined up. We spend a lot of time getting all these acts together. We’re trying to be the tastemakers. It doesn’t make sense for someone to come, hear one act and say, “I’m not going to give the others a chance.” Our list is crafted for real music lovers who want to discover something new.
Is it difficult to find hosts?
DD: It can be tricky…*both laugh* It’s hard to say, “Can I borrow your house and invite 90-some people to bring with me?” But we have met a couple of crazy people who just say, “Let’s do it.” The people that we find are those who believe in the movement. The best part about it is that the people who attend shows, turn into hosts. In the beginning it was really difficult but now it’s starting to get easier with the more people we meet. As we have more shows and the network grows, it will get even easier. Another beautiful thing about Sofar is that we don’t release the address until two days before so technically we have until two days before to find a space.
So then the secrecy aspect is half-convenience, half-suspense?
DD: It is mostly suspense but the convenience is nice.
AP: Little does the audience know you may have been scrambling to find a venue, but on the surface it looks all neat and planned out.
DD: For our next 3 shows, we have places lined up.
Or so you say…we’ll just have to wait and find out.
DD: We do, we do! We’re really excited about what we have in the works, but we are always looking for more resources.
What about finding people to play?
DD: The bands that we’ve had play so far have all been within our own databases and networks between ourselves. What we do is send a band we want to play a Sofar Boston show through a vetting process with global reviewers from other Sofar cities around the globe.
ES: The global reviewers come from Sofar Creative. When they are reviewing in this global context, a band in Boston may not work in Costa Rica.
We have different tastemakers from each section to pin-point which act will work well with each culture. Sofar Sounds is kind of acting like a global talent agency in that regard. We’ve had other cities reach out to us saying, “We have a great band on tour right now, can you hook them up with something? Whether it s a Sofar show or something from our other resources. It’s a complete global collaboration. This is a great way for a band to boost their visibility globally.
This sounds to me like the most collaborative project I’ve ever heard of, from legitimately every single angle.
DD: Once you’re in, you’re in this global network.
ES: It’s a family!
What’s the ultimate goal here?
ES: In Boston we’re trying to bring together a music community that is sometimes fleeting. College kids come in and out of this town and we’re trying to create a community to share this music in an unusual way. We want to spread the word about the music and let people know what is happening around them.
DD: We know that there are people out there looking to go to random shows and take a chance on things like this. We want to find them, we want to put them all in one room and give them that chance to make a discovery. The biggest thing for Sofar’s wish-list is, yes, we want to be the tastemakers of independent music. It’s finding all of those people looking to discover and being the connector between them, the artists, and independent promoters, to bridge that whole gap. We want to build these artists’ success. We want to have that global community so that in the future we can book a tour, around the nation, even internationally, just by getting people to open their homes.
*Rumor has it there will be a Sofar Boston gig this month, be sure to sign up for the mailing list in time!