Sofar is reimagining live music, offering curated, intimate gigs in more than 400 cities around the world - and helping breakthrough artists connect with an audience at the same time. As a global startup, Sofar Sounds needs to make payments to performers all around the world - and relies on TransferWise to provide quick and reliable batch payments.
We talked to Clare Goodwin, Sofar’s finance assistant and music lover, to find out more about Sofar Sounds, and the crew’s plans for bringing the magic back to live music across the globe.
Whatever sort of music you’re into, a good live gig is always something special. With Sofar Sounds, gigs can be anywhere, from someone’s home to a co-working space, to galleries or even a brewery. There’s a cozy, friendly atmosphere, with everyone made to feel at home, and encouraged to make new friends over a bottle of BYO beer.
Lineups typically include 3 artists with no headliner, which are kept a secret until the night. You don’t know who you’re headed to see, but you can guarantee you’ll have a great night, and you might also find a new favourite local artist.
Clare explains how Sofar started, “Sofar started with our founder Rafe Offer and some friends hosting a gig in a London flat. He had come to realise that seeing live music wasn’t what it used to be - the magic had been lost a bit, so he decided to do his own thing, as a hobby. But the idea just spread - Sofar became a big community.”
And things have certainly moved on a bit since that night in 2009 when about 10 people gathered in a small living room. Over time, people started hosting gigs elsewhere, and what had been a local initiative became bigger, reaching more cities around the world.
The founders, Clare explains, wanted to give something back to the artists, to create a platform where breakthrough artists could connect with an audience in an intimate environment, and get paid.
“Our artists are breaking into the scene - we find them, and playing a Sofar means they have an attentive audience and exposure - it’s a platform for artists. It feels really special - the genuine respect of the audience during the gig is something else.”
The Sofar community is growing rapidly, seeing a big leap in events around the world in the last year especially. But, says Clare, although the Sofar community is huge, the team behind it all is still pretty lean.
Like any startup, the team at Sofar need to be flexible to get everything done. Clare goes on, “My role is to pay everyone - amongst other things! I also host gigs, and have had 19 Sofars in my own home, as well as going to lots of gigs elsewhere, too. It’s a great community, like a family, so my next plan is to go to a Sofar abroad, in New York”
Making sure everyone gets paid on time, and without losing money due to excessive bank fees, is no mean feat when you have artists all over the world. “We are a global company and have people everywhere who need to be paid for their performances.
We used to pay in the US with PayPal - that meant a lot of manual payments, over and over again. It’s time consuming and tedious. In the U.K. we used HSBC but artists would wait 3 days for their money and that was also very manual.”
It was clear that traditional payment routes weren’t going to work either for the team at Sofar - who didn’t have the time to manually arrange payments individually - or for the artists who needed to wait too long for payments to arrive. That’s when Clare thought of TransferWise.
“The process was time consuming and didn’t sustain our growth. TransferWise is saving us time and money now.”
She explains, “The idea of TransferWise really caught my interest when I first heard of it. When I moved from Australia to the U.K. I started using TransferWise for personal use - and I told the guys at Sofar about it, because we could see how easy and effective it could be. The batch payment feature made a real difference to how easily we could use the TransferWise system. We tried it out, saw it was effective, and have been moving toward TransferWise for more payment routes ever since.”
Clare says that one of the best things about working in a startup is that many of the partners Sofar works with are also startups, and everyone is growing together.
She has some words of advice for other startup finance folk:
“You often learn the most when you get overloaded and need to find new ways to do things better, to streamline. These are the times you need to find ways to be more productive, new tools and partners.”
And because you’re likely working with flexible, growing companies similar to your own, there is always a solution out there. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need something from a company you’re working with. Many of the partners we work with are growing at the same time as we are, and it’s a journey we are on together.”
Clare goes on, “One of the things that was great about TransferWise is that we could talk to people from the team about what we needed, and ask questions.”
This feedback is then used to come up with new functionality, and to improve the way TransferWise works for businesses. Think developments like multi user borderless account access, roles and permissions, and Xero integration, which are all in the pipeline.
So what’s coming up for Sofar?
Clare tells us, “There’s so much potential for Sofar Sounds. We operate full time in several countries, but still work on a voluntary basis in many more. We are constantly growing - 2 cities every month are added on average. It’s a global community which keeps on growing, and there are no limitations in terms of what we could become.”
If you’ve ever been to a gig which was ruined by poor sound quality, blighted by other guests yelling over the tunes, or viewed through a sea of smart phone screens, you’ll love Sofar Sounds. And with global growth set to continue, no matter where you are in the world, you can make new friends, listen to some great music, and support local artists with a Sofar gig.
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