In this series, WeWork’s director of digital community selects a WeWork member to get to know better, sharing her fun findings with the rest of the community.
Sofar Sounds holds unexpected music performances in nontraditional venues all over the world. So it’s no surprise that Matt Brooks, the director of Sofar’s Chicago branch, has a huge passion for supporting musical artists and their fans. Read on to learn all about how this WeWork Fulton Market member got his start in the music industry, how Sofar puts its own spin on house shows, and more.
What inspired you to join Sofar Sounds?
I started Sofar Sounds Indianapolis when I was in college. When I was studying advertising, PR, and marketing, it’s an enticing company because it’s so new. The idea of doing a house show isn’t necessarily new, but the way that Sofar does it is very new. And from discovering it randomly online, then going to my first show in Chicago, I felt—not unlike many attendees—connected to it immediately. You walk out feeling like you discovered this secret community around the world that you just joined.
For me, it was a no-brainer to do anything I could to help Sofar grow. So when I graduated school, I was given the opportunity to work for them. It’s the inspiration that also brings you back as an attendee; we all share this goal of supporting music, discovering new music, and really being there for those genuine musicians that deserve the ears that maybe they don’t get at other venues. For me, as a millennial, seeing how technology changes how we live and takes away so much time from us every day, the idea of taking a few hours away from it is a dream for me.
What is so unique about the idea of bringing music lovers together to listen to live performances in unusual settings?
I think it’s unique because, first off, you’re consuming the music in a way that’s not like most venues—you’re not talking, or using your phone, or getting too drunk and knocking into people. You take away these distractions that have become the norm and are encouraged at other venues. And beyond that, it allows you to be exposed to (1) styles of music that you’re into and you like and (2) styles of music you don’t feel comfortable with yet or that you haven’t been exposed to yet.
For example, you may not know where to go to find a touring Colombian band, or you might not feel comfortable going to a hip-hop show, or you don’t have anyone to go with, or you might just be okay with listening to your styles of music and your preferences. But if you’re put in a position where you can be exposed to these new artists, we get a lot of feedback from attendees that the discovery of music—both genre-wise and artist-wise—is what brings them back.
We like to say we have the most genuine music lovers in the world because they are showing up without knowing what it’s going to be. You can show up and see a band with 50 Facebook likes that we think is going to be huge, or see Steve from Stranger Things, the actor (he’s in a psych-rock band), or Jon Foreman from Switchfoot, or Saba—there’s such a wide range of artists and styles you can see at a Sofar show. That level of secrecy and surprise is one of those aspects that makes people see it as something new. In Chicago, New York, L.A.—and those other cities that have at least one full-timer—we want to make Sofar accessible to people, so you can see a show near your neighborhood or down your street.
With 500 shows happening just this November by Sofar Sounds, what are you most excited about?
It’s been really exciting. I started this January, and at that time, we were just formulating the idea of how much we could grow in one year. The idea of doing 30 shows in Chicago, 100 shows in London or New York—that sounded ludicrous even to us. But with the power of the volunteers we have, over 2,000 in more than 280 cities, it felt so amazing to reach that large goal. So what excites me is to see what the next goal is, how quickly we can achieve it, and what 2017 will bring after 2016 brought such rapid growth.
What are some of your favorite concerts you’ve attended?
One of my favorites must’ve been at a recording studio in London—it was a Scandinavian artist named Ida Wenøe. There were artists form so many cities and countries mixed in, and for me, visiting a Sofar outside of my country was representative of the global community. Within Chicago, we’ve sort of had two flagship gigs in 2016. We did one in the Willis Tower Skydeck in September, which is the most iconic space in the city, and we presented four amazing bands, some of which we’ve been hoping to get for years. We also did a show on a rooftop with Saba right before he released his newest collection of songs. The idea of presenting someone like him who’s so established is really exciting.
My favorite shows tend to be the smallest ones—maybe in a high-rise, or an apartment that isn’t all that special. But the intimacy—these small living room shows make you feel how special it is that these musicians are playing for these 30 people that didn’t know each other, who can listen to music together, and who can join or enhance the community.
Anything else we should know about you?
What’s special about Sofar is that we have the ability to be global as well as hyper-local at the same time. I feel this in Chicago every day when I talk to artists. We are doing something really special for them and for the community that wants to take in music and join in that way. What I would want people to know is that ideally, any Sofar city, while staying aligned with this global culture is best representing whatever city it’s in. And we can only do that with the people that want to see these shows, and who tell us who they want to perform at our shows. That’s how we can do what we do best: by being collaborative.
Photos: Jim Vondruska