Twenty four hours before the show, expect an email disclosing a secret location ranging from private houses to coffee shops to rooftops. These exclusive events bring together a curated musical experience and encourage audience members to meet the artists, make new connections, stop checking their phones, and just listen.
These secret concerts are part of a global performance network called Sofar Sounds.
“There’s a certain magic to stepping into a room and not knowing exactly what you’re going to get,” said Jake Otero, 32, Director of Sofar Sounds San Gabriel Valley.
Many people think music in bigger venues is better. But a dedicated group of musicians and concert organizers are providing an entirely new concert experience.
“It’s 100 percent different than other venues. Now you really have the opportunity to show and connect,” said Alicia Gutierrez, who performs as Alicia Blue. She has performed at more than 15 Sofar concerts.
“It’s what any artist would love to be playing most of all – it’s all about you and your art. Just you and your instrument and your voice – it’s so live and so real,” Blue said. She described her music as folk with a little bit of blues and soul sprinkled in and said most of her songs involve storytelling so the lyrics are key.
“Throughout the show there’s a lot of interaction. People will laugh at certain lines or chime in – it’s a very friendly,” Blue said. “You can really connect and dig in to make sure they can walk away with something.”
“It’s so different than playing in the loud bar scene, a lot of artists are surprised that people are actually listening to them,” Otero said.
Otero started volunteering with Sofar Sounds about nine months ago and is currently the Director of Sofar Sounds San Gabriel Valley. Like many people currently working for Sofar Sounds, he started as a volunteer.
Audience sits close
The proximity of the audience to the artists is one of Sofar’s biggest draws. At most venues, audience members sit on the floor, less than 500 feet from the musicians.
Blue described the experience of performing at a Sofar Sounds concert as different than anything else. In between sets, musicians sit on the floor with other audience members instead of waiting offstage. This encourages a connection between musicians and adds to the family-like atmosphere, according to Blue.
“Every show, we encourage people to meet someone new, someone they didn’t come with to really build community,” said Vicky Wang, Director of Sofar Sounds Los Angeles. Wang said she first heard about Sofar Sounds through a friend.
These secret concerts are mostly run by highly skilled volunteers and have built a loyal following of industry professionals who follow concerts from city to city.
“It’s nice to know there’s a community of people that are willing to give up their time to make this happen – the hard work of the volunteers is really what makes this possible,” Otero said.
In a music-saturated city where concerts are being advertised in every musician’s social media feed, Sofar Sounds is the exact opposite. To maintain its secrecy, Sofar Sounds concerts are not heavily promoted on social media. Most people find out about them through word of mouth, Otero said.
“It’s cool how the show just kind of runs itself,” Blue said. “You don’t have to spend seven days a week hustling and promoting to get people to your shows. Rather than spending time doing that, I can spend time on the music which is what we all really care about.”
Tickets to Sofar Sounds concerts are given away through lottery a few days before the concert. Each winner is encouraged to bring friends, sometimes for free, depending on the size of the venue.
“There is definitely a cool factor involved. These experiences will never happen again – they’re an element of exclusivity,” Otero said. “What sold me was the idea that you don’t need a traditional space to have these events…that’s the power of music — it can happen anywhere.”