Mike Ligon is director of partnerships at Sofar Sounds.

What is Sofar Sounds?

It’s a global music community which connects artists and fans through live music. We create intimate connections in non-traditional spaces across more than 400 cities. Each show is different – we might have hip-hop, acoustic and flamenco sets all in the same night.

What’s your role?

I’m director of partnerships. Brands come to us because they want to tap into our diverse network of over 30,000 artists when they launch a new product, for example. Each campaign is bespoke and we film the live music shows then create media for socials and other content too.

Can you give us an example?

Outdoor clothing brand Arc’teryx put on outdoor shows, and attendees were given the brand’s new jacket to stay warm. We also did a show called Parallels with Lexus, where chef Ludo Lefebvre created small bites of food which paired with the Sofar artist’s vibe. 

Has demand grown recently?

On the partnerships side, our demand for brands is record-breaking. We’re seeing so much interest. We have such a cult following on the public side too.

How has Sofar changed since its launch in 2019?

A lot of our partnerships were born out of digital experiences during the pandemic. Brands came to us because they wanted to stay active in music but couldn’t get people together.

For instance, we did a live stream for a brand during Covid with a great band named Sylvan Esso from Durham, North Carolina. We rented out the Bulls Stadium and put on a show with no fans, but people could tune into digitally. Now we can have a mix of digital and experiential content. 

How often are you on the road?

Around three to four trips a month. Campaigns are sometimes across six cities, so I’m on tour with the musicians.

How do you source musicians?

We have an application process. We support artists through almost every arc of their career. If you’re a new artist, the first question a venue will ask is “how many tickets can you sell?” Sofar provides that opportunity to introduce audiences to new music and connect artists to a community. We also stay connected to artists as they grow from playing in a 50-person venue to an arena.

What’s the criteria for a venue to host a gig?

The stranger, the better. We want something unexpected. Our typical capacities are 50-150 people so they’re intimate. Each venue has a checklist of things they need to walk through with the team e.g. entry and exit, can we create a stage etc. Our local teams are great at knowing how to put on a show.

We have an entire established host network across the globe. We might also take it upon ourselves to find a suitable venue for a partner. For example, we’re doing a campaign with a rideshare partner who wants a lot of pink in the venues.

Have you discovered new musicians on your travels? 

There are so many great artists in our network. We recently worked with Australian singer-songwriter Hayley Warner for our Sony Electronics partnership. Her band were incredible and moved everyone to tears.

What’s your favourite genre of music?

My go-to is indie-folk, singer-songwriter, but Sofar has really opened my eyes to new music. My playlists are all over the place.

Which Sofar Sounds concert has left a lasting impression?

An outdoor show in Telluride, Colorado – a seven and a half drive from Denver. It was in this historic old warehouse – basically two stone walls held up by metal beams with an open roof. We had 250 people huddled around fire pits in -1 degrees, looking up at the stars. It was incredible. 

And most difficult?

We did an event with Arc’teryx in Chicago in the winter. It was -9 degrees and we had to keep artists and equipment warm. There was this moment of connection because everyone put on their Arc’teryx jackets and we were all in it together. It was awesome but challenging from a production standpoint.

What has been your most rewarding travel experience?

We did a Sofar event with the longest running jazz band in New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, which fits around 50 people. It was a bucket-list event.

And most challenging?

In New York I ran to catch an Uber in the rain, slipped and fell on a subway grate. I fractured four ribs, spent the day in ER and still went to the show the next night. The following day I had to fly from New York to Denver. Sitting upright for four and a half hours was painful.   

What’s your dream destination?

Croatia. I would love to put on an intimate Sofar event at one of those amazing castles overlooking the sea.

What’s your inflight entertainment pick?

Music is my go-to. I used to create mixed tapes for people. Now, I create different playlists for each trip, and usually listen to the artist we’re about to work with.

What’s your indispensable travel gadget?

Bose noise-cancelling headphones.

What’s next?

We’re working with a hotel brand to tour its penthouse spaces around the world with wraparound views. On the public side, people want a little bit more information so we’ll maintain that level of secrecy but give more information about the genres at the show. We’re also experimenting with more high-energy formats – there may be a DJ and you’re getting up and dancing compared to sitting on the floor. We’ll still have the traditional shows, but some new ones too.