Sofar Sounds Goes the Distance

Simple. Intimate. Special. Those are the three words that came to mind as I was listening to Jim Luchhese, CEO of Sofar Sound, speak at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. Sofar Sounds is a music event management company that provides unique, small-scale experiences to music enthusiasts throughout the globe. It's business model is proudly human-centric, focusing on small gatherings, respectful listening and giving burgeoning artists the platform they deserve.

When most people think about concert venues, they imagine rowdy stadiums, packed with screaming fans who paid absurd amounts for their ticket. Essentially, those going to concerts invest a lot of money to enjoy music in a big and loud space. Meaningful connections with fellow concertgoers are minimal to nonexistent, and the nuances of the artist's performance often go unacknowledged.

If concert management was put on trial, Sofar Sounds would be an expert attorney, vigorously defaming the music industry's go-to concert format. The company saw an opportunity to uplift relatively unknown artists in a way that true appreciators of music can get behind. Their business model is actually quite simple: take the concept of a typical house concert and give it a financial, legal and environmental structure, along with a large audience to support it.

Sofar Sounds limits all of their concerts to a maximum attendance of around 150 people. Event spaces can vary in location from someone's home to a local business to a library and more. As long as the location is small, compact and intimate, it can be used for a Sofar Sounds concert. For ticketed events, the company sells tickets for approximately $20 (or $30 if the event is in a major city), making it largely affordable to most people. However, in 350 cities where Sofar Sounds is established, event managers employ a pay-what-you-want model. No tickets are formally sold and concertgoers contribute whatever they think is fair.

In my opinion, the best and most fascinating element of the Sofar Sounds approach lies in its lack of artist promotion. Sofar Sounds does not advertise who will be performing at its events. How does this work? Three artists are secretly selected for each concert by the company. Attendees go into the events without any knowledge of the artists they are about to see. In addition, each artist is given equal respect and time to perform their act (25-30 minutes). I believe the company's lack of artist promotion makes the musical experience deeply personal. No one is persuaded to attend a Sofar Sounds concert to see a big name star or scream at a far-off stage. Instead, they are drawn to the events' close-knit structure, where music enthusiasts can not only listen but also appreciate the artists that perform.

Moreover, Sofar Sounds musical guests are each given a guarantee $100 payment per show, regardless of the crowd size or location. This aspect of the Sofar Sounds model may seem frugal to some, but when considering the benefits of performing at a Sofar Sounds concert, the $100 can be seen as a generous bonus. Artists do not have to worry about attracting fans to their event. Sofar Sounds takes care of the event promotion, ticket sales, sponsorships and audience capture. For a burgeoning artist, finding such a deal is almost unheard of. Sofar Sounds saw this glaring hole in the music industry and filled it with a new, unique service that gives up-and-coming artists a voice.

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