Sofar Sounds isn’t a secret, but sometimes it kind of feels like one. Sofar, short for “songs from a room,” is a global community-produced, micro-gig series that puts musicians in front of intimate crowds, generally in small or unusual venues (like someone’s living room). What makes it feel surreptitious is the fact that the audience doesn’t know who will be performing or where. One has to apply to get a spot, the address is only revealed the day before, and the band isn’t revealed until the audience shows up. Oh, and there are rules–no talking, no texting, and you have to stay for the whole show.
“Sofar Sounds is the birth child of a group of friends who were tired of going to their showcases or their friend’s showcases and hearing people talking over the music, staring at their phones or clinking around glasses while barking drink orders at the bar,” Sofar Sounds Austin City Director Steven Cantu said. “They decided [in 2010] that they were going to host their own showcase in the living room of their tiny flat in London. People seemed enamored with the idea, and since then the movement has spread to over 293 cities around the world–the main objective being to bring the magic back to live music.”
In a city like Austin, finding good, accessible music can be overwhelming, simply because we are spoiled for choice.
“I think that Austin’s music scene in general can be a tough one,” Cantu states. “There is so much talent walking around this city that it’s hard at times for artists to make true fans. Sofar Sounds gives them a platform to play for an audience of music lovers, giving them their undivided attention, ready and waiting to experience their music in its most personal form.”
It’s true that Sofar is a little bit off the beaten path when it comes to the rest of the live music scene. So far, I’ve attended showcases in someone’s backyard, a yoga studio, a coffee shop, and Google Fiber’s downtown office, among other places. The artists are usually local, but can come from farther out as well.
“Sofar is definitely a global community,” Cantu expressed. “We have many artists who travel around the world and play Sofar showcases in as many cities as they can, everywhere.”
The performers are generally a mix of new musicians building a fan base, and established musicians you might have just paid to see in a packed club recently. Shakey Graves played for Sofar in Austin, and Leon Bridges performed for the Dallas branch. Other artists, such as Karen O, have played Sofar in New York City, and Bastille recently did a Sofar show in London. Half of the fun comes from not knowing who the audience is going to see, and being thrilled to see either a favorite band in an intimate space or a new, unheard-of musician.
Sofar is especially fun for the participants, particularly those who want to go beyond just listening to music. “Any and all kinds of people from every walk of life [are invited to help out]–be you a photographer, videographer, sound technician, or graphic designer, to just someone who loves music and wants to help out by emceeing a showcase or checking people in at the door,” Cantu said. “We want anyone who wants to be a part of this movement to have that opportunity.”
To apply for the upcoming Austin show–there are three scheduled for January–or to find out how to get involved, visit sofarsounds.com.