Rafe Offer on Carole King, Elliott Smith and Brand/Musician Deals That Last

Our chat with the Sofar Sounds co-founder

Rafe Offer is co-founder and executive chairman of Sofar Sounds. Sofar Sounds reimagines the live-music experience for artists and fans through intimate performances in over 400 cities. Since its founding in 2009, Sofar has grown from a grassroots community movement to (pre Covid-19) nearly a thousand local events per month in cities around the world.

Earlier in his career, Rafe led marketing, product development and innovation teams at major global brands including Coca-Cola, the Walt Disney Company and Diageo.

He also currently chairs the U.K. Advisory Board for Facing History and Ourselves, a global nonprofit founded to use lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate. He also serves on the board of the Live Music Society charity. 

We caught up with Rafe for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.

Rafe, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

Chicago to London.

Your earliest musical memory.

My father, sitting in our living room, intently listening to Beethoven. A 5-year-old me trying to ask him a question and my dad ignoring me until the movement ended, then looking up, smiling and commenting that music demands our entire focus. 

Your first concert.

Harry Chapin. I was very little—my "cool" older cousins brought me. It was a place called the Chicago Stadium. His music was very mellow, and it was past my bedtime. I fell asleep. When we were walking out, I remember looking up at the marquee and seeing that the next concert at the stadium was a band called Led Zeppelin. Wish THAT was my first!

Your favorite bands/musicians.

Carole King, for her timeless, glorious and upbeat songs and near-perfect voice to bring them to life. Elliott Smith, for his pain, the way he brought it to us via his raw chords, simple and enduring melodies and demeanor, and the tragic way his life ended. Queen, for the sheer energy, the steady and magnificent outbursts of creativity, and live magic.

How you get your music these days.

Spotify, YouTube and more specifically my two teenage daughters, and my friends at Sofar.

Your favorite place to see a concert.

My house.

Your favorite music video.

I do not have a favorite, but when I first saw it, was hard not to be riveted by Childish Gambino's "This Is America."

Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.

None. I just like searching around myself and seeing where I get on YouTube/Spotify.

A recent project you're proud of.

Within weeks of lockdown, helping to get a charitable fund launched—100 percent of which goes to Sofar artists who are suffering the impact of Covid.

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

My friend Tom Carnac just published a book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, plus a podcast—he's doing great work trying to tackle arguably the biggest challenge of modern times. 

How musicians should approach working with brands.

Carefully. Make sure the values of the brand are in sync with who you are. Make sure the deal doesn't impact your own reputation. Try to ensure the deal will continue—so you can build towards something—as many brands do deals that don't live long. Finally, do not do it for the "promotion." Ensure you are paid what you are worth, for sharing your reputation, your "cool."

How brands should approach working with musicians.

Be sensitive to who the musician is, what their goals are and how you can help them get there, faster. Appreciate them for the creative humans they are—care about their music and underscore you are there as support, that it's not just about the money. Do what you say—ideally over a decent amount of time, so you can both succeed—and hold to your promises.

What music can do that nothing else can.

Soothe, inspire, educate, fire up and make you feel good. And that's just for starters.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.

Trying to get the world to have better, more inclusive, less divisive conversations.

Liner Notes is our interview series where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please contact Michael Kauffman.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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