The Leaders Of Sofar Sounds St. Louis Are Doing Big Things
Sofar Sounds is a global company bringing music to artists and music lovers in an intimate, raw setting—“the best way to experience music,” Sofar St. Louis leader Chris DiGiacomo says. In 279 cities worldwide, Sofar Sounds is continually growing, bringing in leaders from each city to scope venues, book acts and welcome guests who are lucky enough to “get in.”
St. Louis has been put on the Sofar map by a couple of music lovers living in South City, Chris Digiacomo and Myranda Lee. While DiGiacomo was working in ticket sales at MetroTix, he explains, “I saw a [Sofar} video of Leon Bridges, and I was super moved by it. I looked into Sofar Sounds, and I found out that there had been some people who tried to start it here in St. Louis. They had one show, but nothing really happened after that, so I reached out to them,” DiGiacomo says. “I kind of took over.”
DiGiacomo met his partner, Myranda Lee, during an internship at the Luminary on Cherokee Street. Lee is a working nanny, and has been a volunteer at the Luminary for about six years. Their love of music, volunteer work and local business brought them together, and they have been happily living together for the past three years, working to bring Sofar Sounds St. Louis to life.
So what does it take to “get into” a Sofar Sounds event? “Obviously we can only fill a venue with as much space as possible. With 150 [people] applying per month, we try to never have more than 125 [people per] show because the whole idea is intimacy,” DiGiacomo explains. As far as the application process goes, you are more likely to get an invite if you write in a comment; let them know you want to be there. “Someone wrote a haiku for us, someone else had said they missed the last one and they really wanted to be there,” Lee says, “Also, one thing that helps is if you haven’t been to a show.” The idea is to get new people every time to experience a Sofar show. When you are accepted, you have the option of bringing a plus one, so the team has to keep in mind their invite list may double.
The location of the show is top secret. Each venue is unique to the city. DiGiacomo and Lee carefully curate each show by picking potential venues in different areas in the city. People can also apply to become a “host” for a show, which the Sofar team then decides if the space will work or not.
“What we do with host and seeking host, we try to find a new neighborhood every time,” DiGiacomo says, “We are looking for more people to apply, too. A lot of people are residential, and it ends up being too small. We hate to have a show that we can’t invite more than 50 people. We do want to have more residential shows, it’s just finding the right space.” Past locations include, Style House on Cherokee Street, Climb so iLL in Lafayette Square, and Tech Artista in Central West End.
“Everyone we’ve worked with has been very incredible. One Space Architecture in the Grove had a show inside their office. They design any super cool, modern building around town,” DiGiacomo says. (Using the Rooster on South Grand as an example.) About 24 hours before the show, invited guests will receive an email with an address to the location. Everything else is left up to surprise.
Artists are chosen through an application process, as well. Anywhere from 15 to 30 bands apply per month. The Sofar St. Louis team picks from the applicants, creating a nice mix of local and traveling artists. “Sofar Sounds has a music submission online, and you can submit to any city. We look for a lot of things, but mostly we look for unique personality and stage presence,” DiGiacomo explains. “We reach out if we think it’s the right fit. A lot of it has to do with word of mouth.”
Usually hosting between two to four acts, each plays a short, four song set to ensure full audience engagement. “It’s bite size, which draws you in even more. It’s always better to say, ‘I wish they played one more,’” DiGiacomo says. Artists are paid in the form of cash or video—because having a quality video, especially a Sofar video, can be worth much, much more. Past acts include, American Wrestlers, Javier Mendoza, Monkh, Deartick, Ricky Sampson from Foxing and Saputo.
“One thing I think is very unique and proves how much we care about the artists, we don’t sell merchandise ourselves,” DiGiacomo explains. “The only thing for sale is the artist’s merchandise. Sometimes there are drinks for sale before or after the show, but never during. Also, the connections made at shows— it’s a great place to find a date.” Lee comments, “someone went on their first date to a Sofar show in Istanbul. Three years later they got married at a Sofar show in Italy.”
As ambassadors for Sofar St. Louis, DiGiacomo and Lee, along with their team of about 12 core members, work unpaid. “We started in August at one show per month. Since April we’ve been doing two shows per month due to a lot more interest. Where we are standing globally, there are about eight cities that are full time Sofar Sound cities, meaning 10 or more shows a month,” DiGiacomo explains. If interest in Sofar St. Louis continues to increase we could be up there with London, Dallas, San Francisco and other major cities bringing in huge acts like Karen O, Hozier, and not to mention Robert Pattinson—the very first Sofar performer.
DiGiacomo and Lee put a lot of time into making sure the Sofar community in St. Louis exists. They traveled to San Francisco and met with some of the Sofar founders just after San Francisco became a full time city. “It’s this huge community, but it feels so small,” Lee comments, “Everyone feels that magical connection. It sounds so corny, but having this passion for music brings us all together.”