Here's How SoFar Sounds Waterloo Organizes Their Secret Concerts

Imagine getting an invite to a concert but not being told who is performing, or even where the event is taking place.

Now imagine finding out two days before the concert that it is taking place in a local jewellery store or a church. 

Finally, imagine walking into the venue nervous about not knowing anyone and then leaving, having made new friends and discovered new music to enjoy.

Now stop imagining, because this unique experience is available right here in our backyard.

 Photo: SoFar Sounds Waterloo

Photo: SoFar Sounds Waterloo

SoFar Sounds is an organization that operates in cities all around the world, and Waterloo is one of the lucky cities that the company calls home. It runs entirely based on ticket sales and a staff of only volunteers, and yet they plan on putting together two events per month for the foreseeable future.

The whole operation is complex. Keeping the venue and artists a secret while also getting enough people out to the shows to be able to pay for the event is a task that would be near impossible for one person to accomplish.

As a result, there are a few different teams that make up the group that organizes the events. And while they all have a variety of roles, all are equally important, according to SoFar Sounds Waterloo City Lead Amit Mehta.

“We have an artist team, we have a venue team, operations which encompasses venue, marketing and audio, and then video as well,” he says.

Every show starts with finding the artists who will be performing, while simultaneously keeping them a secret from the public until the day of the show.

“Our goal is to bring arts and tech together and to do that we have to be showcasing artists in a way that they really shine, which means building the event around them,” he says. “Basically, we choose them, we book them, we make sure the date works and then we start to build the show around that.”

 Photo: SoFar Sounds Waterloo

Photo: SoFar Sounds Waterloo

An important part of every show, according to Mehta, is that there is a diverse range of musical performances throughout the night so there isn’t a big chance that an audience member will walk away unsatisfied.

“We want to make sure that at the end of the night you’ve at least enjoyed one act,” he says.

SoFar Sounds Waterloo hopes to create a sense of community using the two things the region is most know for: Arts and technology.

“Basically, for that first hour people come in there wondering what is going on, what is this space, they look at the instruments on stage because the artist isn’t there yet and they’re trying to guess what’s going on. And that’s usually where we see the most networking and relationship building,” says Mehta.

While the first hour of every show is where a lot of conversing between unfamiliar people happens, between acts, that's where you can really feel the community building," says Mehta. 

“Typically, we’ll start up with a very soft, mellow act just to get people into it," he says. "After that one, once we’re doing the turnaround for the next set, that’s when you really see people start to understand what SoFar is all about, understand the secrecy, feel comfortable walking around, talking to everyone else there because you’re all sharing that same experience.”

 Photo: SoFar Sounds Waterloo

Photo: SoFar Sounds Waterloo

Building community isn’t easy though. The problem with putting together a secret concert is the unpredictability of income for the shows.  People who receive invites don’t pay for the tickets in advance. Instead, they pay cover at the door.

“Our only source of revenue is door cover,” says Mehta. “If people are going to cancel then we need to know. I need a few more days so I can get those people back in because the whole show is budgeted based on how many people are going to be there, and because they're not buying tickets beforehand they're paying at the door."

"If people don't show up then we're going to run a deficit.”

If you don’t cancel your invitation before the event so the company can give your spot to someone else in order to stay on budget, they keep track and may not send you an invite to future events.

“It's invite only and people know that, so if you get an invite on the guest list it means you're getting a spot that somebody else didn’t,” says Mehta. “If you don't show up without letting us know, then you're on the naughty list so we keep track.”

If you’re interested in checking out what SoFar Sounds is all about go to their website and sign up for a chance to receive an invitation to their next event.