Sounds of support

Sofar Sounds adapts to help artists

Sofar Sounds, a company that books musicians into intimate venues, is adapting to a world where isolation has replaced closeness.
Published: April 22, 2020 | Updated: May 1st, 2020 at 2:25 am

Andi Pomato performing.
Andi Pomato performing.

As the coronavirus began its worldwide spread, Andi Pomato had a decision to make: stay in his hometown of La Plata, Argentina, and cancel his upcoming European tour or go on his tour against sensible advice and hope for the best. He decided to stay home. It was a difficult choice, but, in retrospect, the right one.

“Facing this situation, I decided to stay in Argentina with my family, my girlfriend, my friends, at a distance,” Pomato says. “Since I decided to not travel, I’ve been at my house because I understood the severity of this.”

The Argentinian singer-songwriter, who made a name for himself while busking in the streets of London, caught the eye — and ear — of Sofar Sounds. Sofar has a unique business model. It books artists into venues, typically intimate spaces like living rooms and retail shops, in over 340 cities worldwide.

The company offers patrons an opportunity to sign up for tickets to an upcoming show, and attendees are chosen through a lottery system. Sofar emails confirmation to those selected to attend and doesn’t disclose the names of the bands. “You won’t find out who’s playing until you get there, so come with an open mind,” Sofar’s website says. That said, attendees can learn who’s playing if the artist promotes the show. Some of the venues for Pomato’s previous Sofar shows have included a beautiful arts studio in Paris, a park in La Plata, and a lodge in Udine, Italy.

Andi Pomato drinking mate while recording.
Andi Pomato drinking mate while recording.

In mid-March, Sofar suspended all of its remaining shows. Because Pomato had gigs involving paying audiences, Sofar will reimburse him from its own funds for the shows that got cancelled. Another way that Sofar is helping its artists is by creating its recently introduced Sofar Listening Room. The online site offers free livestreamed shows, many from an artist’s living room, and provides an option for donating money to the artist who is playing or to the Global Artist Fund. Sofar has also compiled a list of resources for artists. For audiences, it has provided a list of tips to optimize the couch-watching experience, such as creating the mood through dimming the lights, throwing some pillows around for ambience, and pouring the wine you’ve been saving.

Sofar is trying to navigate through this period when the world needs isolation, not intimacy, which is especially difficult for a company built on allowing music fans to discover new artists in small gatherings. “With the virus going around, we don’t want to expose ourselves, but even less our artists and guests,” Sol Rios, a producer for the La Plata Sofar team, says. “So, for now we will promote artists from the space we have. We’ll keep uploading pictures. We’ll keep producing videos. This is a way to move forward. We’ll see about the rest.”

Until he can hit the road again, Pomato tries to stay calm and enjoy the time he has with his girlfriend in La Plata. “If I get a new idea [for a song], I want to move it forward as much as possible, but the first day was the worst,” he says. “Now that I’ve talked to friends about what’s happening, it’s helped me to lower the level of expectations with this situation.”

Fermata: Arts & Culture in the Time of Coronavirus
This article is part of the Fermata: Arts and Culture in the Time of Coronavirus series reported by students in the Critical Writing course at the Newhouse School. Fermata features stories on the impact of the pandemic on a wide range of artists and cultural figures, from musicians and comedians to restaurateurs and boutique owners.