In 2017, concert startup Sofar Sounds partnered with Amnesty International for “Give a Home,” a one-day benefit concert series with performances around the world by 1,000 artists including The National and Ed Sheeran. Held in volunteers’ living rooms and other intimate settings, the performances not only raised $180,000 for Amnesty International’s work supporting refugees’ rights, but left many attendees eager to become more involved in activism.
“[Amnesty International organizers] were able to get in a room with thousands of new supporters,” says Tom Lovett, a founding member of Sofar Sounds, where he served as head of partnerships and business development. “Like every nonprofit, their events program is pretty much the annual fundraising gala, which prices out 99% of people. But that 99% still cares deeply about those issues, and they are looking for ways to be more involved.”
Four years later, Lovett has left Sofar and is scaling the Give a Home model through his new company, WithOthers, a benefit concert matchmaker that connects non-profit organizations and activists with musicians, crews and hosts. The platform is celebrating its Los Angeles launch with a slate of local concerts from Sept. 24 through Oct. 29, featuring performances from emerging acts like Lee Rodriguez, Ella Rosa and Fiona Grey and benefitting The Trevor Project, ACLU, Amnesty International, Oxfam, RAINN, The Loveland Foundation and Rise Together. The series includes the annual Hollywood Climate Summit’s only live, in-person event on Sept. 25.
“Music is such a great way to give people a reason to be in a room together and give them an emotional experience while they’re there,” says Lovett, who serves as WithOthers founder/CEO. “They can meet people who are working on change in their communities and become meaningful supporters.”
Here’s how it works: Attendees, activists, hosts, artists and crew members sign up for WithOthers online and select the causes they’re most interested in, such as gender equality, homelessness or LGBT rights. Approved artists and activists (meaning both individuals and non-profit organizations) can then request events online. If an artist requests the event, the artist selects a charity from WithOthers’ list of partners. If an activist requests the event, they are matched with artists who have indicated support for the cause at hand. In both cases, the system then matches the event to vetted and trained crew members to work the shows and hosts who have spaces to offer, also based on the causes those people said they are most interested in supporting. Like Sofar Sounds, WithOthers events typically have a capacity of under 200 people, are held in unconventional event spaces (like warehouses, backyards and living rooms) and are bring-your-own alcohol.
WithOthers sells tickets for the event, distributing a minimum of 60% of the ticket revenue across the nonprofit/activist, artist, hosts and crew. WithOthers also takes a percentage to cover the cost of maintaining the platform. Lovett says that exact percentages vary depending on the ticket price and number of people involved, but WithOthers guarantees a minimum payment of $400 per artist and pays crew members between $20 and $25 per hour.
Those payments are an improvement from the $100 per show Sofar typically pays its U.S. performers, regardless of group size, while crew members have often worked as unpaid volunteers. After facing criticism for these business practices, including in a widely-circulated Talkhouse article in 2019, Sofar formed an “artist advisory group” and eventually reached a $460,000 settlement with the New York State Department of Labor following an investigation into its use of unpaid workers.
“It’s important for us that the artists involved feel like they are paid fairly for their time,” Lovett says. “I learned a lot about that over the years with Sofar. This new company is an opportunity to start the model fresh, and make sure that everybody who is in that room is getting recognized fairly.”
Lovett says that WithOthers is also geared towards emerging artists, who don’t always have the tools to mobilize their fans for charitable causes, as much as they might like to. “You know who gets the call to perform at the [gala]? It’s the Ed Sheerans of the world,” Lovett says. “But there is a vast middle class of artists who are still amazingly talented and care deeply about social issues and are looking for more ways to create change through their music.”
Tickets for the upcoming events are available at the WithOthers website. All are open-air, and attendees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test result dated within 72 hours of the event to gain entry.
WithOthers is only operating in Los Angeles right now, but it will expand to other cities in the near future, with New York City likely to be next in line. Lovett is also looking to expand the capabilities for nonprofits and artists to use the fan data accumulated during events to continue engaging attendees long after the event takes place.
“I firmly believe that the emerging artists of today are the movement-builders of tomorrow, if you give them the tools to do that,” he says.