If you are reading this magazine you probably know about SOFAR, the London-based organization that produces house concerts in 350 cities around the world. Los Angeles is one of their most active SOFAR cities, producing two or three concerts a night four or five nights a week. In fact SOFAR-LA may be the largest music event producer in LA in terms of number of weekly events. London is equally prolific, while smaller cities like Charlotte, SC, and Austin, Texas, produce one or two a week – still not bad.
I attend about one SOFAR a month to keep my finger on the pulse of upcoming artists, and because every now and then a “star” slips in to test some new material. I also go because of the interesting locations. I have been at concerts in the plush home of a Hollywood music mogul, a comic book shop, a record store, an empty apartment building, and many backyards and living rooms. My favorite was a hair salon –comfy chairs if you got there early
SOFAR Ltd. started in 2009 as a for-profit company, although the co-founder, Rafe Offer, told me last year that he wasn’t worried about making money. Now that he has created a global phenomenon that generates millions of dollars a year, that may have changed. Most of the local SOFAR’s are run by volunteers who do it because they love live music and it is a lot of fun. The LA office has paid staff and they pay the bands $100 for a three or four song performance. Tickets are $20 and usually the room holds 30 – 40 people, so after paying the bands and buying them food and paying the staff , there is not much left over for “profit”.
But profitable or not, SOFAR has an impact. I was at a SOFAR last week in a Tees + Jeans shop in Venice, CA. The shop gained new customers, the evening’s early career bands made some money and recruited new fans, and one artist, Eva Ross, got booked for a radio interview. I also renewed my friendship with Alicia Blue, whose album I reviewed last year after seeing her at SOFAR . A win-win all around.
What I can’t measure is how many of the people sitting on the floor at Tees + Jeans, if any, would have been at the Trip, or the Echo, or St. Rocke or another venue that is paying rent and taxes. What I also can’t know is how many of those venues pay the bands, or required that they bands pay them. So SOFAR is an alternative for the artists. In a market as big as LA or London, it may not matter; in a smaller market like Charlotte or Seattle or Salt Lake, maybe the competition hurts the venues, forcing them to pay bands more, not necessarily a bad thing.
Those questions came up when I read the story this week in The New York Times Magazine “25 Songs that tell us where music is going”. Most of the listed songs were rap, hip hop and R&B. Music critic/editor Nitsuh Abebe, wrote in the introduction that a tectonic shift is happening in music as the post-millennials take over and push their genres. He notes that a the highest number of births in US history occurred around 2007, making, in his opinion, today’s 11 year olds the largest group of music tastemakers in the country.
I disagree.. I think the greatest tastemaker in music today is the hair salon. SOFAR and the many organizations like it give fans another choice to hear music their way or even to host it themselves. What is driving music today are the technologies that make it possible for me to learn about a concert in a hair salon, sign up for , pay for it online, and arrive with my choice of drinks and maybe with a posse of friends. Or watch it on YouTube, or hear it online and blog about. What I see is not a generational change, but a technological change that is giving fans of all generations more control of their music, live and recorded. SOFAR staff have told me that their concerts often attract 1000 requests for 40 tickets and they are adding shows to accommodate the demand. There are few 11–year olds at SOFAR events or those of the many other organizations now producing house concerts, so they have little if any impact on this fan-generated and often fan-hosted music dynamic.
The same is true for touring. I was at a ZZ Ward concert last night, the wrap up of her Storm Tour. It was great. But there were people there who drove 200 or miles to see her – each way. A growing number of organizations like Road Nation now crowd-source tours giving the power back to fans to decide where artists should play by selling a critical mass of tickets in advance. They have the power. This power extends to “likes” on YouTube, song lists on Spotify, fan sites under fan control.
To me, this all adds up to a tectonic shift not in music styles, but in the audience’s control. Fans are more than ever moving into the driver’s seat of who gets played, who tours and where they tour, where concerts are and who plays them, and who gets streamed. And because the music audience – essentially everyone – is tremendously diverse, a diverse spread of genres and bands and tours and concerts and online sites will be the result. Something for everybody. You can get a song from your friends on snapchat, you can stream the latest metal on Spotify (metal is the #1 genre streaming on Spotify, according to Quaratzy) , or you can consume “Despacito” on YouTube until you dream in Spanish, or you can spend evenings sitting on the floors of hair salons or mansions meeting new singer/songwriters. Me, I like the hair salons. Great chairs, just get there early.