Unplugged Understanding: The Genius Of Sofar Sounds

April 17, 2018

Last weekend, Stone Arch Isles, the indie rock band I’m a part of, hit the road with about half the gear we usually need. We were heading to Chicago to film a Sofar Sounds performance for about a hundred strangers who had never heard our music (and also my mom).

Sofar organizes unique shows in intimate settings, usually residences and small businesses, around the world. There are no green rooms, PA systems or cell phones, and people have to apply and pay for tickets before finding out who the artists are. The idea behind these gigs is to generate impact (not impressions) by creating a space where artists can feel vulnerable and connected to their audiences, and it works.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m just a doe-eyed music lover who has no idea how the business works. Why would someone spend their money on seeing some band they’ve never heard of in someone’s apartment? What sort of artists worth seeing wouldn’t prefer to play a big show? Who would even be willing to open up their home or business to that kind of crowd?

While you’d be right in that I have no idea how the music business works, these “hurdles” mentioned above can be addressed by asking the same questions good marketers ask of the brands they represent every day.

Who is our target market?

Forget the people who only go to concerts to hold up their phones and share content. That’s not who they want. Sofar is for music lovers, people who want to have a drink with their favorite artists and ask them about their work, not people looking for a selfie or an autograph. Sofar offers these people the chance to hang out with artists and experience their work without any filter.

What is our content, how do we produce it and how do know it will resonate with our audience?

These audiences want to be moved. It does not matter if the music is happy or sad, hip-hop or indie rock, etc., as long as it is fiercely authentic. So, the key is to secure artists who have something to say. These types of performers want to discuss their work and tell stories with the audience, and a Sofar session is one of the only settings where that’s possible. Long story short, the opportunity to be part of a Sofar show offers unique value compared to traditional concerts for both artists and audiences.

What are our values and how do they relate to our mission?

To me, the purpose of Sofar is to give community and creativity the opportunity to amplify each other. The community piece is so important as to why this works. It’s the reason people are willing to open up their homes (and why audiences are respectful enough not to trash them). It’s also the reason I spent the half hour before our set standing outside welcoming people into an apartment I’d never been to, thanking them for coming and listening.

As for the creativity piece, last Saturday, a guy who grew up on the south side of Chicago and identified himself as a rapper came up to me after our set and said, “Man. That music, man. It made me want to get back into SONG writing. I’ve been just laying verses on other people’s [stuff], but your [stuff] is making me want to get back into writing SONGS.”

Sofar’s Chicago chapter created a community within the listening space and THAT gave our music the opportunity to inspire someone to express themselves. Mission accomplished, I think.