Sofar shows are a bit different than others – artists play to an audience that doesn’t know them, the venue is unconventional, and artists usually play almost fully acoustic. This can sound a bit intimidating for artists at first, but our Sofar Long Beach City Leader Christina LaRocca, also an artist herself, has some tips to help artists get Sofar ready and make the most of out of their performance:
Sofar ain’t your average gig
Before I decided to become City Leader for Long Beach, I had played about a dozen Sofar shows in various cities, but I’ll never forget my first. It was in Los Angeles in August 2017, and I was nervous. I had just gotten back into performing live and this was one of my first shows. Even though I rehearsed, and I knew what to expect, I definitely could have done some more preparation. I thought to myself, “only a few songs, this will be quick,” but trust me, four to five songs is plenty of time to win someone over and create a super fan for life.
As the first performer of three, I got up on that stage and found myself in front of a group of concertgoers ready to have their faces melted. No matter how big or small the audience, you never know who is listening, and every potential fan counts towards the bigger picture. So, like every artist should do at every performance, I gave it my all. However, after watching the Sofar veterans who followed, I felt I could have been a bit more prepared for the attentiveness I was receiving. The audience was like a sponge, ready to soak in something new.
No PA? No problem.
The artist who followed was Cameron Calloway – he’s from Las Vegas and had a lot of experience performing Sofars. He had told me earlier that he typically performs with a full band, but it was obvious from his performance that he had rehearsed quite a bit and rearranged some of his songs to fit the no PA system, stripped-down setup. That night he performed as a duo.
Sometimes artists are a bit thrown off that there may or may not be a PA system. Don’t be. If you’re used to cranking up to ten, see this as an opportunity to try something new. For instance, check out Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged set, which became one one of the most famous live performances in rock ‘n’ roll history! Some artists are even shy about their lyrics or their voices, and they hide behind the loudness of the band. You’d be surprised at how your songs will shine through when not being sung over a blasting PA and a room full of chatter. It’s part of this vulnerability that makes Sofar so special to the spectator. You can also use this as an opportunity to practice dynamics, vocal technique and how to project to a room of people.
Take care of your voice
Speaking of technique, singers should always warm up their voices before a show. Find a set of scales you like to do, or I highly suggest finding a voice teacher to give you some lessons on how to warm up, cool down and preserve your voice. Ask them if it’s okay to record a lesson or two and keep it on your phone so you always have it. It’s important to keep training, just like a bodybuilder would, even if you already know how to sing. If you don’t take care of your voice or sing properly, you risk hurting it, or even worse, losing it, which could lead to canceling shows and ruining a career before it starts. If you are a touring artist, this is essential to being able to perform night after night for weeks at a time. I tend to get strange looks while driving around LA and busting out scales in my car, but hey, that’s show biz and better safe than sorry.
Make the audience part of your set
On Cameron’s last song, he taught the audience the chorus and encouraged them to sing along, which they did happily. Not every artist necessarily feels comfortable doing this, but if there’s a line of a song that is just begging to be sung along to, don’t hesitate to ask the audience to join you! It makes them feel like they’re part of the show, and most likely, gives them an easier way to remember you by.
Show a little vulnerability
Earlier this year, I performed at a Sofar in Seattle, and there was an artist named Jake William Capistran on the lineup. He was incredible at setting up his captivating folk songs with the stories he told in between. I could tell he had thought about what he was going to say in advance, but it was sincere and didn’t sound overly rehearsed in any way. The song introductions were just enough to entice you into wanting to hear more, without giving too much away. At one point, I was almost brought to tears. I felt like I was sharing this particular moment with him.
Always pack merch
At my first Sofar in LA, I brought merchandise: some handmade jewelry that I didn’t think would sell, some CDs, stickers, business cards and a notebook. I made sure to be stationed at the merch table in between each set and at the end. I was surprised to find that my jewelry experiment was a hit. I sold about $50 worth of accessories that night. I literally had earrings in little plastic bags strewn around the merch table, not even a real setup at the time. Since then, I’ve sold hundreds of accessories at my shows, around the world. CDs, tapes, and vinyl are great to have as well, but many of today’s younger audiences listen to music on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer. I suggest having something in your merch setup that is different, affordable, easy for them to carry and reflects your brand. Most importantly, you should always have something tangible for them to leave with that has your name on it and where they can find you, like a card or sticker, even if it’s free. Logos are cool but if the logo doesn’t tell me who you are, it might be difficult to find you later on.
No shame in the mailing list game
Whenever I get into a conversation with someone who said they enjoyed my set, I ask them for their name and email and have them jot it in a notebook I have dedicated to my mailing list. I even make notes – perhaps this person lives in a different city, or they write for a blog, or they have some suggestions of where I should play next time I’m in town. An email list is the best way to directly contact your fans after meeting them and letting them know when you will be back in town or you’ve released new music.
Translate real life “likes” to digital ones
Social media platforms are great, but it’s controlled, and promoted posts that are paid for are the ones getting the priority in your fans’ newsfeed. Your fans may not always see what you’re posting, but while performing or after you should encourage them to give you a follow as well. I’ve also started making small promo cards with all of my social media handles, a Spotify scan code and my email address, handing them out to guests as they leave for the night. There have also been times where I’ve asked the audience who is on Spotify, and if they liked what they heard if they could go on and give my profile a follow. I’ve noticed a considerable uptick on my Spotify analytics in cities I’ve done this in.
Have some fun and stay the whole night!
Aside from chatting with new fans, make sure to introduce yourself and speak to the other bands. Although it’s natural to feel some healthy competition, see this as an opportunity to make a new ally or learn something new about the music business. Since respecting the artists on stage is important to our values at Sofar Sounds, we encourage all of the artists to hang for the entire show, so be prepared to stay until the end.
Since that first Sofar performance two years ago, I’ve performed 20 in the US, UK and Europe. Sofar Sounds has become such an integral part of my career, both as an artist and now as a city leader. In November 2019, Long Beach will celebrate our one year anniversary! I’m grateful to be able to give back to a community with such a bright future, love for music and respect for artists.