When Vicky Wang first learned about a company that held secret undercover live music shows in her home-base Chicago (and hundreds of other cities around the world), she became a woman obsessed. “My involvement with Sofar Sounds started like that of most volunteers. I heard about it through word of mouth. I remember thinking what’s this cool, underground community that I don’t know anything about. I immediately began applying to get into a show.”
SOFAR SOUNDS ALLURE
Wang’s fascination with Sofar stemmed mostly from the company’s exclusivity. To even purchase a ticket to see a show, Wang first had to apply. Sofar’s application process is a lottery system, Wang explains to me. Once guests have created a profile on Sofar’s website or mobile app, they can apply to attend a show in the city of their choice. Once a guest applies to attend an upcoming Sofar, their name will be entered into a draw, from which Sofar’s local teams will select their guests. Guests are notified about the show’s location 30 hours before the event, and they don’t find out who is performing until the second they walk into the venue.
“I never got selected to attend because I applied to so many damn shows,” Wang tells me as we both laugh hysterically over her adolescent eagerness. Luckily, she enlisted all of her friends to apply as well and ended up attending a show as her roommate’s plus one. “That Sofar that I got invited to is still my favorite show to date,” she recalls. “It was in The Top note Theatre in Chicago, which is a music venue that isn’t open to the public anymore. Legend recorded there so it was definitely like a one time deal getting to see a band perform in that space. It was one of my favorite shows with one of my favorite acts at the time. That night I fell in love with the entire Sofar community. The employees, volunteers, guests, all of it.” It wasn’t long after the show that Wang made it her mission to be a part of the Sofar community one way or another.
“I volunteered for the company for three months and applied to work with them full-time when a position opened up. I got the job, and the rest is history. I was with Sofar Chicago for about a year and then moved out to LA six months ago.”
FROM SOFAR SOUNDS TO SOLD OUT SXSW
Today, Wang serves as Sofar’s LA City Director. “Benjamin who is our assistant director handles all artist bookings and artist communications, and I am in charge of managing our ambassadors, venues, partnerships, and overall city financial goals and the future of Sofar LA,” Wang tells me the talent selected to perform is acquired from both outbound and inbound request.
“All artist apply through our website, and since each show artists play an acoustic set, we really ask that they provide live performance links for us to review. Our team is really looking for that unique live performance experience.”
Since Sofar’s conception in 2009, the company has featured live performances from Ed Sheeran, Sylvan Esso, Leon Bridges, Billie Eilish, and several other artists who are now playing at massive music festivals like Coachella and SXSW.
“Billie’s video is absolutely incredible, she was only 14-years old when she performed for us,” Wangs tells me. “The Broods video where they performed a stripped down version of their song “Heartlines” is my personal favorite. They performed in New York or D.C. and they did this wonderful acoustic version of one my favorite songs. I was swooning the entire time.”
SUCCESS IS A FEELING
Wangs shares with me that a successful show to her is one where the energy in the room feels the way it did on Sofar LA’s first ever hip-hop themed night. “The most special part of that night happened before the show even began. Two of the acts we had that night met backstage and introduced themselves by freestyling. It was magical, and that encounter set the tone for the entire evening.”
Wang tells me seeing the different artists connect is her favorite part of hosting these events. “They won’t even know each other’s music, but there’s so much raw talent in the room that it allows for in-the-moment collaboration to transpire. That’s something that you rarely see happen on the spot at other live music venues.”
Wangs tells me that the reason why she thinks up and coming artists love performing at Sofar is because the Sofar team really encourages artists to try things they typically wouldn’t during other live performances. “What’s great about Sofar is that these artists are sitting in front of an audience who aren’t doing anything but attentively listening to them,” she says.
“People came to this show not knowing who they are, they just attend knowing that they are eager and excited to find out what this musician has to offer and what they have to say. So as an artist, if you want to try something new and get people’s real-time reaction, this is the perfect setting to do that. If people aren’t digging it or if they really love it, you can tell immediately. The community aspect of Sofar exists just as much with the artist as it does with the people who are attending.”
Wang tells me that its the community aspect of Sofar that not only attracted her to the company but it’s also what draws hundreds of Sofar attendees and volunteers all around the world. “At all of our shows, no matter what city you’re in, everyone sits on the floor. It’s a very attentive crowd in a very intimate venue. We range everywhere from as small as a 60 cap session all the way to 150 cap so even in our larger venues we try to keep that cozy, intimate feeling.”
Wang says that at every Sofar show guests are encouraged to engage with someone they didn’t come with. “You know you’re in a room with like-minded people, so why not get to know them? In a Sofar setting, we’re totally flipping the normal way of consuming live music. You don’t know the acts that are coming, so you’re really just attending for the experience.”
The idea for Sofar — short for “songs from a room” was created precisely for this reason. “Our founders were not happy with the way live music was being consumed. Meaning they were tired of seeing bands perform in loud bars, crowded venues, places where people were talking, clinking glasses, and not truly there to appreciate or revel in the music.”
In 2009, Rafe Offer, invited some friends over to his London flat for a low-key, intimate gig. Eight people gathered in the living room to listen to live music performed by friend and musician Dave Alexander. The room was so quiet, you could hear the clock ticking in the background.
Quickly, what started as a hobby spread into a global community for artists and audiences to come together in unique and welcoming spaces – with an added element of surprise – to share, discover, create and, hopefully, make a friend or find their new favorite band along the way.
Wang tells me a large part of Sofar’s continued success is due to their amazing network of volunteers. “Benjamin and I would not be able to do 23 shows a month without our ambassador team. Our ambassador team is a group of individuals who donate their time to help us put on our shows.
In LA alone we have 90 ambassadors, and they’re all individuals who take time out of their 9-5 jobs to help us put on the shows because they love the sofar community and they want to get involved. I hated the 9-5 job I had and just keep thinking, ‘I NEED something that I’m excited about to put my time and energy into that I genuinely love and believe in,” Wang shares with me. “We have 3K volunteers all around the world that are so vital to our success. They are the foundation of our company.”
For a full list of the Sofar shows occurring the month of July CLICK HERE and be sure to use the promo code (HAPPENINGINDTLA-996D5) to gaurantee you a spot to buy tickets.