The Internet Turns Everything To Crap

February 16th, 2020

I’m gonna do a little house concert thingy!

Callum MacKenzie, aka infamous saxaphonist Bix MacMaghan, has a concert series in his living room that’s apparently the new hotness, and he invited li’l ol’ me to join him and a couple other performers whom I’m looking forward to meeting. There’s no cover. It’s in Watertown, and all the deets are in my gig listings way down at the bottom, there.

I love house concerts (as long as there’s no potluck involved – I’ve had enough unrecognizable casserole to last a lifetime). It’s this cozy, intimate thing where the performers and the audience can get to know each other, casual-like, and everybody’s there for the same reason.

A man named Rafe Offer discovered this, in 2009. He

invited some friends over to a London flat for a low-key, intimate gig. Eight people gathered in the living room to listen to live music performed by friend and musician Dave Alexander. They shared a drink, and sat on the floor, attentively listening to the music. The room was so quiet, you could hear the clock ticking in the background.

Quickly, what started as a hobby in London spread into a global community for artists and audiences to come together in unique and welcoming spaces – with an added element of surprise – to share, discover, create and, hopefully make a friend or find their new favorite band along the way.

Sound familiar? Rafe discovered the house concert! And, incidentally, founded an international company, SofarSounds, from whose Web site that description of his amazing discovery was taken, a company which has acquired multiple rounds of Internet investors, and is probably sponsoring concerts in your city. It’s amazing, what you can invent when it’s already been invented.

Here’s how it works. You, the host, apply to host a concert. You, the musician, apply to play. You, the audience, sign up for a lottery for the privilege of paying $10 – $25 for a ticket to a “secret show”, the artists for which are not announced in advance (ooh, adventure!). SofarSounds brings the three together, handles the ticket sales, apparently recruits some eager volunteers to work the show, and incidentally pays almost nobody. The musicians get not a share of the door, but a flat fee. None of the money goes to the host, or to the people who staff the shows; most of the money goes to SofarSounds.

You’ll notice, too, that it’s all set up so that the focus is on SofarSounds, not the musicians. The audience is signing up for the “chance” to attend a SofarSounds show, not to see a particular artist. The hosts aren’t picking the musicians, either, and they’re “applying”, too. And the musicians, well, it’s a secret show, so they can’t advertise it, presumably. There’s a “local team” that puts it all together, and chooses the lucky folks. But, if you read closely, you’ll find that SofarSounds has set this up so it’s not a curator, because, heavens, then it would have some responsibility for Internet content, and we can’t have that. It leaves that to its unpaid “local teams”. Did I mention that they reached a $500,000 settlement with the New York State Department of Labor for violating labor laws, and that they’re now under investigation by the US Department of Labor?

SofarSounds says they’re not profitable yet, but I’m betting the reason is the same as the reason that every Internet company loses money: they’re marketing the hell out of everything, banking on growth at all costs, and, most likely, doing their level best to crowd out the folks who are actually trying to do the right thing, like the Burren or Club Passim, where the artists get a cut of the door after the expenses are paid, and who have to pay for silly things like rent and utilities and bartenders and people who mop up the vomit and beer. SofarSounds argues that they pay musicians better and more reliably than they’re often paid, and it’s hard to dispute that, but that’s because there’s not a lot of money in the retail music business for most people; but somehow, people like Richard Branson think that there is enough money in SofarSounds that it’s worth making a multimillion dollar investment.

This is what we’ve become, folks: a country where mooching is a business model, where being slightly less awful to people who deserve better is marketed as a virtue.

So if you have a chance to go to a SofarSounds show, or perform at one, or host one, or, God forbid, volunteer to be on a “local team”, please, for the sake of everything that’s good in this world, just stay no. Every dollar you spend at a SofarSounds concert is about 90 cents that doesn’t go back into the local music ecosystem, but rather straight into Rafe Offer’s greedy pockets. And every one of the musicians who plays at a SofarSounds show would love to meet you at a house concert, a real one, where Richard Branson isn’t skimming money off the top. So pick your favorite local musician and host a concert for him/her/them. Or go to the Burren, or Club Passim. Go to your local coffeehouse, buy a muffin, tell them how much you appreciate their support for live music. Come to Watertown and tell Callum MacKenzie how much you appreciate his support for live music. I’m not even getting paid, and it still beats the hell of out of getting bled by a faceless Internet leech. See you there.

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