×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sofar Sounds Will Hire Paid Crews to Assist Unpaid Volunteers; Dept. of Labor Investigation Continues

Sofar Sounds has made a name and a business for itself by staging “secret gigs and intimate concerts” featuring emerging artists for an invited, engaged audience — but as detailed in an article in the Talkhouse and a subsequent report in Variety, its model is problematic because it has generated millions in funding yet relies largely on unpaid volunteers, dubbed “ambassadors,” to work its events, and pays artists just $100.

The company is being investigated by the Department of Labor regarding these practices, and it confirmed today that it has embarked upon a long-term program to hire part-time crews to work with its ambassadors on shows, CEO Jim Lucchese tells Variety.

“We are rolling out Sofar Crew: paid, part-time event staff in all owned, operated and ticketed markets. Sofar Crew will work with and be directed by Sofar full-time employees in those markets.”

He added that the plan to hire the paid part-timers was launched nearly a year ago. “Planning for Sofar Crew was underway when I got here in February,” he says. “The team anticipated the need for Sofar Crew as an extension of full-time teams based on Sofar’s growth.

“It’s one thing when you have a two-person team in a town supporting a handful of shows,” he continues. “But over time, show volume has increased substantially. Wanting to ensure the quality of the experience for everyone, the team was mapping out Crew as a way to support continued growth while also improving the shows.”

The hiring moved closer to reality after the company closed its most recent financing round, which brought in some $25 million round from investors including Richard Branson and Union Square Ventures, in May.

“With the financing in place, Sofar then ramped up people operations, evaluated and brought on HR systems needed to administer Sofar Crew and spent a lot of time discussing and refining the approach with the local teams,” he says.

While sources at the Dept. of Labor say that Sofar’s model is “completely unlawful,” the situation is not black-and-white, either legally or, for lack of a more accurate term, morally — several artists said that they do better financially and especially in terms of fan engagement and merchandise sales at Sofar shows than they do at many regular gigs.

Lucchese declined to discuss the investigation, but the company’s move seems to confirm what a source close to the company told Variety earlier this month: that Sofar is working with the Department of Labor in an effort to “resolve the situation.”

Attorney James Sammataro of Pryor Cashman LLP, who works extensively in the live-entertainment space, told Variety earlier this month he suspected that Sofar may be quietly attempting to reach a behind-the-scenes arrangement with the Department of Labor, whereby volunteers can work a certain number of hours without the company being deemed to have run afoul of labor provisions in New York and other states.

“There’s sufficient precedent in distinguishing between the type of activities that are permissible for ‘non-profits,’ but impermissible as to ‘for profit’ corporations,” Sammataro said.

Lucchese deferred to Sofar’s official comment on the investigation: “The New York State Department of Labor has requested information about the Sofar Ambassador program and we’re fully complying with their request. The New York State Department of Labor hasn’t made any findings or assertions of non-compliance against Sofar. We look forward to answering any questions they have and resolving this matter.”

Asked what’s next for the company, he said, “Our two biggest focus areas are supporting our community’s continued growth and delivering more value to artists.  We’re totally committed to those areas. We’ll have more to share later on this year.” Variety will share that information as well, as it develops.

 

More Music

  • Timbaland

    Hipgnosis Songs Acquires Timbaland Catalog

    The fast-rising Hipgnosis Songs Fund Limited continues its aggressive growth surge, acquiring a catalog from songwriter-producer-artist Timbaland that comprises 108 albums and songs. Timbaland is one of the most successful songwriter-producers in the hip-hop/R&B realm: The catalog includes hits by Justin Timberlake, Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Jay-Z, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Madonna, 2Pac, Rihanna, Drake and [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Leaders Approve Music Video Agreement for Performers

    SAG-AFTRA’s national board has approved unanimously an agreement with major record labels on a three-year successor contract to their music video agreement. The new agreement is effective retroactively from May 1, 2019, through April 30, 2022. The major labels party to the agreement are Warner Records, Atlantic Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Capitol [...]

  • Obit Obituary Placeholder

    Phillip Kovac, Concert Industry Veteran, Dies at 65

    Phillip Kovac, a veteran concert promoter, transportation executive and music manager, died in Los Angeles following a battle with PSP, a rare form of Parkinson’s. He was 65. The brother of longtime Motley Crue manager and Eleven Seven Music Group CEO Allen Kovac, Phillip was laid to rest at his home in Houston Texas on [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

  • Brandi Carlile Gets Red-Hot and 'Blue'

    Brandi Carlile Gets Red-Hot and 'Blue' Saluting Joni Mitchell at Disney Hall

    If nothing else was established by Brandi Carlile’s live recreation of Joni Mitchell’s 1971 “Blue” album — and plenty else was — it was that the 38-year-old singer has nerves even steelier than her vocal cords are pliable. Mitchell is as impossible to emulate as a ridiculously tricky singer, songwriter and picker as they come, which [...]

  • Rufus Wainwright Signs With BMG for

    Rufus Wainwright Signs With BMG for New Studio Album

    Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright has signed a new global recordings agreement with BMG to release his upcoming studio album. The still-untitled album, Wainwright’s ninth of original material and first since 2012, is described in the announcement as “a return to form and his most accessible album to date.” To that end, it is “the bookend” to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content