My first SOFAR-LA concert was held at the home of a music executive in the San Gabriel Valley. I didn't know what to expect, but since I had produced house concerts for five years in Marin County as the Chairman of the Acoustic Vortex house concert series I expected one or two duos or trios, mostly or all folky and acoustic, playing to room full of middle-aged people sitting in chairs and sipping wine from the free bar and munching on snacks with some time at the end of the concert for meeting the talent and buying their CD's.
Well, that wasn't quite what happened - it was much better. There were few chairs. People - who were mostly, but not all, under 35 - sat on the floor, pressing against each other with much laughing and introductions. The only wine in evidence was brought by a few folks who knew to bring their own. But no matter: what was important was the music. There were three bands with varying degree of electronics and amplification, and all were outstanding. In fact, I was so impressed that we booked two of them on Music Friday Live that night and follow them to this day.
And the music was well presented - the people in the back did not have to strain to hear the soft guitar strums or the gentle vocals. SOFAR-LA's sound system was perfectly tuned to the room and caught every nuance. Plus, two video professional crews recorded the performances from several angles. Best of all, instead of telling us to shut off our cell phones, we were given the hashtags and twitter handles of the bands and of SOFAR-LA and encouraged us to (quietly) spread the word on social media - photos, videos, posts.
As the last band wrapped, I thought, "who are these people who know how to produce great music in a stranger's house?" So, being a journalist at heart, I found out. I met the SOFAR-LA crew of volunteers there that night. That's right, volunteers. A handful of people had given up their afternoon to create a space for these bands to present themselves and for a roomful of people to see, hear and meet them (they have since added a paid person). And they do it once or twice a month - a big commitment of time.
SOFAR-LA is part of a global organization created in London by a marketing genius who wanted to hear good music in his (or someone's) home without the noisy bar and other distractions of a club or the big ticket price of a large music venue. The house concert series he created has now grown into a company, SOFAR Sounds, producing house concerts in 181 countries, and it is fair to say, SOFAR Sounds is revolutionizing how we listen to live music and how bands can get introduced to fans. And just in the nick of time.
As any rising or even mid-list band will tell you, music is a very, very tough business. CD sales are disappearing under the growth of streaming; the only place left to sell CD's if you are not Taylor Swift or Kanye is at small concert venues and festivals. But many small venues don't pay, or even ask the bands to pay them for the opportunity to play, and festivals can involve high costs of transportation and lodging and often have limited opportunities to sell CDs and merch. For an emerging band, getting in front of an audience is make or break.
For an audience, investing the time, door money, parking, drink minimums, crowds, bar noise and other hassles of clubs interferes with listening to music. There is a need for a place that is supported by donations, that is not crowded, that does not have a bar or other noise, and allows fans to focus on music and musicians to focus on entertaining fans. SOFAR Sounds fills the bill. For a donation of $10 or $20, fans get great music in a warm, friendly intimate environment with no hassles. And musicians get new fans.
All this means that I am happy and proud that the founder and leader of SOFAR Sounds, Rafe Offer will join us this Friday. He will call in from London and yu can talk with him. 11:05 am PT/2:05 pm ET/7:05 pm London.