More and more music fans in New York have had it with the state of small live performances today. Random band lineups and chatty venues that don’t feel like they’re part of an aesthetic community have fed the demand for more eclectic programming in quiet environments like the curated Hum concerts and the uber-analogue record listenings at Classic Album Sundays. One of the largest producers of these shows in New York City is Sofar Sounds, which books 60 shows a month at various residential and commercial spaces all over the city.
One of those spaces is Secret Loft in Bushwick. Last year, we featured their final show at their old location; they’ve reopened nearby and last week I saw a showcase headlined by Australian band Bad Pony who also played a few other Sofar events during their brief US tour. Since their move, Secret Loft hasn’t immediately thrown the wild parties they used to and have stuck to lower-key events such as their long running Secret Loft Comedy Show and one or two Sofar shows a month. The folks who host the events don’t get much in return financially but it’s keeping Alex Neuhausen’s venue on the local radar and Sofar’s “ambassadors,” 200 of which run the NYC events on their own time, take care of everything including his soundboard, watching the door and introducing the bands.
After meeting their ambassadors at the show, I visited Sofar’s local paid staffers at their office in Chinatown to find out more about them. NYC director Amanda Presson and assistant director Sophie Everhard explained how Sofar doesn’t release the line-up and locations beforehand and curates both the musicians and audience. It’s led to party crashers being rare and encourages folks to stay for the whole show as opposed to skipping out on a opening act. In many cases, there are more folks who want to get in than there are tickets and almost as much effort is put into selecting the audience as the bands. They look to see who hasn’t seen a show yet and make sure they get a chance in a way that first-come-first-serve wouldn’t allow.
Sofar’s operation is split between the main office in London where it was founded and a smaller one in Manhattan’s Chinatown that opened this past September. “Sofar was still a passion project up till three years ago,” Sophie told me. “In that time we’ve grown a lot and this year we’ve been [financially] sustainable for the first time in Sofar’s history.” What had started in 2009 in co-founder David Alexander’s own loft and took in money only from a donation jar was given a boost in last year when Sofar obtained investment from Virgin Record founder Richard Branson. Sofar is now books in about 300 cities spread across 60 countries. While most shows around the world still follow that donation model, Sofar has started charging $15 for all US shows, which is comparable to other venues that feature their repertoire.
In light of the recent closure of DIY venue Shea Stadium and the imminent closure of legitimate venue Don Pedro, Sofar Sounds will become a bigger player in a smaller field of intimate live music performance venues. As that scene dwindles, Amanda and Sophie told me, a community has definitely grown within their circle. “People will come up to us at shows and say thank you,” Amanda said. “It’s awesome when you see familiar faces and it gives everyone the best feeling.”
If you’d like to attend a Sofar performance you can sign up here for upcoming coming shows.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the job titles of Amanda Presson and Sophie Everhard as well Sofar’s ambassadors.