Sofar, so good
Now going strong in Portland, Sofar Sounds arranges music shows for the spontaneous types, the fans and bands who don't mind being in the dark about details — such as where the gig is and who the performer is.
Sofar Sounds, founded in London 10 years ago and operating in more than 440 cities worldwide, sets up shows at small venues around the city. In Portland's case, they've been in backyards and bakeries, office buildings and art galleries, breweries and boutique shops, and, well, you name a place with some seating and room and where they allow BYOB, and it's a candidate.
Fans are charged $15 or $20, and bands are paid $100, allowed to keep 100% of merchandise sales and play 25 minutes of original music.
Christina Klinge, Portland director for Sofar Sounds, said business has picked up in the past year, and there'll be 15 to 20 shows scheduled per month.
"It's a win-win all around," said Andrea Walker, who teams with Solange Igoa in band Glitterfox, which has played Sofar shows in big markets like Portland, Seattle, Dallas and Denver, and Long Beach, California, Austin, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina. They first played the Lizard Lounge clothing store in Portland, and houses.
"There's something kind of exciting about it," Walker added. "You discover new venues, we like the anticipation and excitement that builds, and audiences are always fantastic. It's a very intimate environment, and it's extremely supportive to the musicians performing. That's special for a band. It's a lot of fun."
Said Igoa: "It provides a whole different energy. It's great to go and play for an audience that is excited to hear what you have to say. That doesn't always happen."
Indeed, it's not like going to a bar where the band might be the third form of entertainment — behind drinks and friends. The Sofar Sounds shows are designed to be mini-concerts to the benefit of musicians and their original music.
"The coolest part about Sofar Sounds is they are secret shows, and everyone likes to keep a secret," said Jacob Westfall, who has played several Sofar shows in Portland, Seattle and San Franciso, sometimes with girlfriend Taylor Dawn. He's played at a financial building in downtown, a bakery and houses, as well as the 811 Stark building in Southeast Portland.
"I tell everybody I'm playing a secret show and said I can't tell them about it, and Sofar doesn't promote it. Everybody wants to know what's going on."
Artists and fans are told information about the show 30 hours before the show. On the website, www.sofarsounds.com, only neighborhoods are identified where the show will be.
The sets are short but sweet, because of the original music component.
"It's just enough time to get the full experience from an artist," Westfall said. "It's not too much time if you don't like the artist. There are usually two or three artists, and the crowd has no idea who they are before the show."
It's great for exposure, obviously. Alt-country/glam Glitterfox has played other venues, such as The Old Church and Doug Fir Lounge, and Westfall, an alt-country and pop artist, has performed in bars and other small venues.
It's certainly a step up for the coffee shop artists, too.
"The issue that many artists have nowadays, especially in bigger cities, is that there is an oversaturation of artists and shows," Westfall said. "You're constantly struggling to play songs and be out there. For artists putting themselves out there every night in bars or dingy venues, and after 90 minutes of mostly covers, it's very draining. Sofar is different, it's five to six songs and they prefer all original music. People are coming to experience something new."
Klinge said that it's mostly local bands that Sofar Sounds chooses to promote. Sofar does the promotions and venue arranging, which can be the most expensive and time-consuming parts for musicians and bands.
"We host them all anywhere you won't see a concert. It's usually between 50-100 people," Klinge said.
She said that Sofar Sounds works with most genres, and it's trying to incorporate more hip hop and R&B artists.
In addition to being paid, a Sofar Sounds act will be provided with a video of one song to be posted on social media.
"It's really been exciting to be able to grow in Portland to where we are now," she said. "We grew really organically over the past 10 years, by more word of mouth, and then with YouTube channel videos, artists and guests started talking about it. We do a little more advertising on social media now."
Walker of Glitterfox said the band has seen a big increase in social media followers since doing Sofar Sounds shows.
The pop-up nature of Sofar Sounds is really fun, Walker added. "I'm a very spontaneous person. I like surprises, I like going to places where I've never gone."
"I can't express enough how nice it is to go to a town and have a loving crowd," Igoa said.
"Sofar creates that special thing," Westfall added. "People come to see you, and they feel you as an artist."
Check out all the show info, for Portland and other cities, at www.sofarsounds.com.
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