Sofar Sounds CEO Defends Poor Artist Payouts as Company Raises $25 Million

Sofar Sounds has reached a new fundraising milestone.

Led by Battery Ventures and Union Square Ventures, the house concerts company has raised $25 million.  Sofar Sounds previously raised $6 million from Octopus Ventures and Virgin Group, who also participated in the recent fundraising round.

The announcement comes just three months after Sofar Sounds hired its new CEO, Jim Lucchese.  He previously served as the Global Head of Creator at Spotify and also as CEO of Echo Nest.

The company will use the funding to fuel its global expansion plans.  It aims to become “the de facto way emerging artists play outside of traditional venues.”

Sounds great, except for some lingering exploitation problems.  According to Josh Constine at TechCrunch, Sofar Sounds often pays bands just $100 for a 25-minute set.  The company also doesn’t pay host venues anything, while Sofar pockets around $1,000 to $1,600 per gig.  Spinning the unfair practice, the company argues bands receive more exposure this way.

Sofar now hosts over 600 shows per month across 430 cities around the globe.  These include New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Sydney, and Seoul, among many others.  The company has also claimed that 40 of the 25,000 artists who have participated in performances have either received a Grammy nod or a win.

According to a source speaking with TechCrunch, the lack of fair payments to artists likely comes from overhead costs.  Sofar Sounds, a for-profit company, pays full-time employees to focus on venue reservation, artist bookings, and promotion.  The $100 payment artists receive, however, remains only a fraction of what Sofar earns from ticket sales alone.

Speaking about the company’s lopsided payouts, Joshua McClain, an alternative artist from Oakland, explained,

Sofar… seems to be just fine with leaving out the most integral part: paying the musicians.

Urging people to #BoycottSofarSounds, he adds,

This is where they willingly step onto the same stage as companies like Uber or Lyft – savvy middle-men tech start-ups, with powerful marketing muscle, not-so-delicately wedging themselves in-between the customer and merchant (audience and musician in this case).  In this model, everything but the service-provider is put first: growth, profitability, share-holders, marketers, convenience, and audience members –  all at the cost of the hardworking people that actually provide the service.

Speaking with Digital Music News, Hattie Webb, an independent artist, described her experience with Sofar, explaining why she ultimately turned down the company.

Sofar approached me a while back to play a show which I was initially interested in doing.  When I asked about the numbers, they said 100-150 capacity, £10 ($12.66) a ticket, £80 ($101.29) to the artist, it didn’t add up.   They didn’t offer a house PA or a sound engineer to mix the gig and their negligible payment wouldn’t have covered either!  I passed on it.”

Defending the company’s practice, Lucchese said,

$100…for a showcase slot is definitely fair.

He doesn’t think playing “a Sofar [gig] right now is the right move for every type of artist.”   Spinning the poor payouts, Luchesse said shows are “pay-what-you-want” and artists keep “the majority of the money.”

However, in an exposé published two years ago, KQED writer Emma Silvers found most artists don’t know Sofar Sounds is a for-profit company.  They also don’t know the company pockets most of the money earned from gigs.

Speaking with Silvers, Madeline Kenney, another Oakland singer/songwriter, explained,

“I think they talk a lot about supporting local artists, but what they’re actually doing is perpetuating the idea that it’s okay for musicians to get paid s—t.”


Featured image by Sofar Sounds Melbourne.

3 Responses

  1. Bozzie

    Did Daniel do any research for this article and talk to artists directly who have play Sofar Sounds shows or did he just quote other articles? And did Daniel pay the other writers for their quotes or just copy and paste?

  2. Tom Hendricks

    Time for DMN to talk about the music revolution that would tackle all the issues facing musicians and usher in the first real new sounding music in a decade.

  3. Anonymous

    I work as a contractor for Sofar Sounds (Audio Engineer) I get paid a little less than the artists at around $80 a gig.

    Any other venue in town would pay a sound engineer upwards of $200, would provide an in house PA and reimburse for travel expenses.

    I have to pick up the PA and am notified the night before about the acts needs.

    I also find that the company is a little elitist. They tend to stick with the same roster of artists even though they host around 25 shows a month in the city I work in. Many musicians in the city don’t get to play the gig because they aren’t provided the opportunity or don’t have an “in”.

    That being said, I find that artists always find positive response and get new fans almost immediately through SoFar shows – so I can understand the CEO’s point.

    I would suggest doing a SoFar Gig in conjunction with a gig at a local club/bar, you can advertise the show to the people there and probably get a decent turn out.

    Use SoFar as an advertising opportunity at best. It’s nice if you’re touring and looking to play to a guaranteed audience to break into a market. Those things don’t have monetary value immediately, however they do pay off if you return to the market with new found fans.

    In most circumstances, if the show is filmed and posted on their YouTube channel, the artists get paid nothing at all, because they “got a video” instead.

    Mixed feelings about SoFar – however I think it’s a great concept that does benefit the Music Industry as a whole. But yeah, pay the artists more, pay the engineers more. We’re the whole show, without either there’s not much to come see/hear.