In this isolated moment, a lot of music lovers — myself included — are longing for a social evening with friends and a live jam. Until very recently discovering a pop-up gig or house concert meant being a music maven or having a friend in the industry. That began to change in 2009 thanks to Rafe Offer, an accomplished American marketeer and brand developer with pedigree from Disney and Coca Cola. Through his company, Sofar—Songs From A Room—he’s created a unique brand of living room shows that has rapidly grown in popularity with global audiences. Today, Sofar serves their unique music experiences to over a million global fans, often in unique locations like galleries, rooftop gardens and boutiques. Core to Rafe’s philosophy is that well-executed, simple ideas can capture the imagination of people across the world.
From his home in London, Rafe shares his inspiration for Sofar and how he’s adapted his business to serve his community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Rafe Offer, Co-Founder of Sofar Sounds
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR SOFAR?
I was at a gig with two friends at a small bar in Soho, London. The music had started, and yet, everything felt wrong: people were talking, texting, going to the bar—everything but listening. I turned to my friends and suggested we get out of there and work to create something new, something where people actually listened to the music rather than all those distractions.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR RECIPE FOR GAINING MARKET TRACTION?
Focus on the product—for us, the gigs. Constantly refine, test and be brutally honest with ourselves about what’s working, and what should be left behind. This includes asking all stakeholders—gig hosts, artists, fans—what they think about the experience. Also, we have empowered local leaders—we are in 300+ cities around the world—to run their own ship. That empowerment allows them to feel like Sofar locally is ‘their own’—they are connected to a global movement, but also can experiment and grow it in their backyard.
WITH YOUR RECENT INNOVATION, THE LISTENING ROOM, HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA?
We thought with COVID-19, we cannot do live gigs, so what’s best for the artists we serve? It was an easy decision then: to get something up and running, and have a prominent ‘donate’ button, then give 100% of what was raised to the artist we were streaming that night.
WHAT INSIGHTS HAVE YOU RECEIVED FROM THE LISTENING ROOM?
People have been generous. They realize the artists have very few options now—no live events and no job to provide unemployment—so we’ve been so happy that the average donations have been really solid. Next, the people watching are a mix of Sofar fans and the artist’s fans—so it’s critical that we both promote the event. Finally, we need to keep Sofar’s soul in the live stream. We do it one way in real life—how do we do work to translate that online? It’s not easy—take experimentation and we still have to refine as we go, as it’s new to us.
WHAT WISDOM AND ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A BUSINESS THAT IS NEW TO USING DIGITAL TO CONNECT TO THEIR AUDIENCE?
Think about your audience and go from there. What do they expect from your business normally? How then can you adapt to their needs and expectations online? First use your objectives but also your company and brand vision as a compass to make things happen in “your” way. Then think afterwards about digital.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR CURRENT FAVORITE LIVE STREAMS FOR LIVING ROOM LISTENING?
Well Sofar sounds, the Listening Room, of course! Frankly we have been so focused on what we are doing, to be honest, I haven’t heard much else.
Noah Koff's mission is to help ambitious founders become the best version of themselves, by developing their mindset, skillset and toolset. He is an entrepreneur who has founded and built multiple companies from the ground up, including Redwood, a successful consulting practice based in Portland, Oregon. His wisdom comes from decades working for respected agencies and INC5000 recognized companies big and small. Noah's roots extend from global business hubs; San Francisco, New York City and London, where he's worked across diverse categories and business models.