Interview: Tom Osland – Sofar Sounds

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting more and more annoyed whenever I go to live gigs. The acts are fine, that’s not the problem, it’s the audiences. If they’re not filming it on their phones, they’re talking through the songs and generally making me wonder why they paid good money to be there in the first place. So thank heavens for Sofar Sounds. They put on gigs for anyone who just wants to listen and enjoy music played live. They’ve been putting on brilliant shows in Sheffield for a few years now, and Thomas Orland has just taken over the organisation from the multi-talented Gina Walters, who’s handing over the reins so she can concentrate on her new group, Before Breakfast. I had a word with Thomas, ahead of his first show in charge.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Sofar Sounds, give us a quick run down of what exactly they do.
We put on intimate gigs, in unusual places, for people who appreciate live music. It’s as simple as that. It all started with a couple of guys in London in 2010, who were sick of how people seemed to be behaving at gigs, spoiling it for anyone who just wanted to listen, so they wondered what it would be like to put on a gig in their front room, and invite people who just wanted to listen. It was such a success that the idea spread. Now it’s become a global network of artists, hosts and guests, all with the aim of just bringing back the magic to live music. At the last count Sofar was in 310 cities around the world with around 500 opportunities for artists to perform each month.

How did you get involved?
Gina Walters has been running it since it started in Sheffield, and I went along to a gig at the start of 2016, after my uncle told me about meeting one of the original guys who set it all up. I was intrigued, went along and was so impressed that I asked if I could help out – they’re always looking for volunteers. I started by organising the AV, and making sure the gigs got filmed. That’s one of the things the artists get back from doing a Sofar gig. We make a video of one of their songs and put in on our YouTube channel. The time came for Gina to hand on the organisation of the gigs as she’s really busy now with her own new band, and she wanted someone with some fresh ideas, so I said I’d take it on.

What do you think you can bring to Sofar?
I want to increase the number of people who see our shows, and increase the number of shows per month. The way it works is you register online, and we send out an email a few before each gig so you can then apply for tickets. If you get selected to come, we don’t tell you the location until the day of the show, and you don’t know who’s playing until you walk through the door. At the moment the number of people registered with us is in the hundreds, which is quite small for such a large city. The bigger we can make it, the larger a reputation we’ll have and so hopefully we’ll be able to attract bigger acts, like they do in London. My first gig in charge is in February, then from April it’ll be one a month, and hopefully more frequent than that.

I’ve always been impressed by the variety of artists involved.
Yes, it’s not just just music. That’s why Sofar is so exciting, you never know who or what you’ll see. It might be indie, or hip-hop, or someone reading poetry, it’s so varied and that’s one of the things people say they love about it.

The unusual choice of venues also make it a unique experience. How do you pick them?
Yes, the venues we’re looking at are often just really unusual and exciting places to hear music. We’ve had gigs in studios, private houses, cafes, barbershops, museums… it’s such a thrill, and people love hosting the gigs. What could be more fun than a singer or a band showing up in your house to play just for you and your friends?

If you’re interested in attending, volunteering, hosting or even playing, you can register at www.sofarsounds.com

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