A typical night out at a live music venue usually comes with more than just music -- it also comes with live background noise. That makes sense, because many people go to shows mainly to socialize. For them, the music may be secondary.
But for some of us, it’s not.
Sofar Sounds aims to appeal to music lovers seeking less background noise and more intimacy. The events are usually attended by no more than 50 people. Shows often feature Christmas lights, carpets, and cushions. The experience brings together a community of music-lovers, musicians, audiences and hosts, guaranteeing a sold-out show of audiences who are there to listen and engage.
“The pillars of Sofar are based in building a respectful environment for the musician and for the audience,” said Andrés Daza of Sofar Miami.
Sofar dates back to 2009, when three friends in London grew frustrated that music wasn’t taking center stage at most concerts they went to. So they decided to host a private show at their North London flat, with just eight people. They called it Songs From A Room, or Sofar for short. Now Sofar Sounds has chapters in over 400 cities around the world, including ones in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Sofar Miami is Florida’s flagship chapter. Daza said Sofar Sounds is a reaction to the “current state of live music.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just there’s a lot of distractions that happen during the music,” he said, like “people talking, phones ... glasses clanking in the background. And the connection between the music and the audience wasn’t happening anymore.”
While each chapter operates differently, they revolve around the same rules: the lineup of performers isn't revealed until the show starts, people sign up online to become part of the roster from which organizers curate audiences for each night and the venue isn't announced until 24 hours before the show. Venues also tend not to be traditionally musical; they range from museums and cafés to private homes and warehouses.
Artlovetrap, frontman of the Miami band Freedystopia, not only performed at a Sofar show, but also hosted it at his Hialeah art space, the Miami Warehouse. He said the first time he attended a Sofar show was eye-opening.
“I’ve always wanted to have shows that were super intimate and I could never really get it,” he said. “Every musician just prays for that, just to even get an unbiased flow of performance, uninterrupted.”
Each Sofar show features three musicians, performing up to four songs. There are no limits when it comes to genre, though instrumental arrangements may depend on the size of the venue. Most tend to be dialed back and acoustic. Shows in Miami and Fort Lauderdale have ranged from folk and hip hop to rock and jazz.
Musicians are paid either a flat fee of around $100 or a professionally produced video of the performance. The local team also handles show promotion and audio production, as well as help with merchandise sales. That leaves musicians free to concentrate on performing and connecting with the audience.
“We provide something to look forward to every month, and each show is totally different from the one before depending on the artist and venue,” said Sofar Fort Lauderdale leader Jennifer Rink. “I think that appeals to people out there who just are seeking cultural events.”
Lise Efronsen has been a Sofar fan for about a year-and-a-half. She said the intimacy allows her to directly connect with the performers.
“At Sofar, you really give your undivided attention to the musician,” she said. “Even afterward, speaking with the musician playing, for many of the musicians it’s like their first time where people are just listening to what they’re playing.”
South Florida native Joseph Sanzone said he appreciates the respectful and accessible cultural experience.
“To go to a venue where the patrons are actually there to listen to the artist, it’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s an affordable evening with high-quality, up-and-coming musicians.”
Arrangements differ from city to city, but tickets are usually $15. Audiences can sign up online and apply for shows they would like to attend.
According to Daza, the elements of secrecy and adventure encourage people to go out and listen to music they don’t already know.
The other part of the package is the sense of community. Most city chapters of Sofar Sounds are run by volunteers. Team members often have second or even third jobs. A full-time audio engineer himself, Daza said the extra work is worth it.
“It’s this feeling of euphoria when the audience is looking at the band and just melting into that experience, and I’m looking at everybody’s faces making sure everybody’s having a great time,” he said. “That’s a great reward.”
Other Florida chapters include Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Gainesville and Tallahassee.
Johan Danno performs an original song at Sofar Sounds Fort Lauderdale.