On a recent Friday night, people packed one London office space, not to work but to watch Norma Jean Martine.
You’ve likely never heard of her, and that’s exactly how Sofar Sounds planned it.
Sofar, or Songs From a Room, hosts unplugged gigs by emerging artists, reports CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti.
It’s like the old days of open mic night at a cafe, but with a modern twist. Concert goers buy their tickets not knowing who’s performing or where the concert is being held – which could be in an office, someone’s living room, or a rooftop. Those attending get the location just days before.
“How did Sofar come to be?” Vigliotti asked.
“So I was at a gig in London with two friends, and there was this moment when the three of us turned to each other and said, ‘Everything here is wrong,’” said Rafe Offer, an American expat who started Sofar from his friend’s apartment in 2009. “People are talking, people are texting, the bar’s open, I can hear the clanging of the beer bottles.”
He quickly found an audience hungry for music without all that background noise, and performers looking for a stage without all the distractions.
It’s a common complaint among artists like Justin Bieber.
“I don’t feel like I’m being heard sometimes and it gets a little frustrating,” Bieber said at a concert.
“I thought it was an issue just in my head, but it’s turned into a global issue,” Offer said.
To address it, Offer created a website where people can volunteer to host, musicians can sign up to play, and concert goers can purchase tickets for just $15. The gigs spread to more than 300 cities around the globe – from San Francisco to Moscow, Sydney to Seoul.
American singer Norma Jean Martine is the latest in a long line of now well-known performers to headline a Sofar event.
“Everyone’s talking about Sofar. It’s like the pinnacle. Like, if you’re in kind of the Indie scene, you just moved to a city and you want to make it or you want people to hear your music, everyone wants to play Sofar,” Martine said.
Hozier played in Manchester, and Bastille performed in a sparse London apartment.
Sofar is expanding to over one dozen new cities in 2017. But with growth, Offer said he will preserve the same atmosphere from that first performance that sparked it all.
“It was magical; you could hear the clock ticking in the background,” Offer said, laughing. “It was so quiet.”
“And focusing on a moment you’ve created a movement?” Vigliotti asked.
“It looks that way,” Offer said.