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Sofar Sounds to pay $460,000 to unpaid workers

Sofar Sounds will distribute more than US$460,000 among people who worked its concerts for free between 2016 and 2019, after agreeing a settlement with New York state’s Department of Labor.

The department opened an investigation into Sofar – which promotes ‘secret gigs’ in living rooms and other intimate, non-traditional concert venues – last September, amid concerns it violated local laws by using volunteers to staff its events.

New York labour standards dictate that a person may generally only do unpaid work only for non-profit organisations, with exemptions for certain “short-term recreational or amusement event[s]”. Virgin-backed Sofar is a for-profit company, and raised a further $25 million last May.

Sofar Sounds raises $25m…but are artists being short-changed?

A Department of Labor spokesperson tells Variety that Sofar now uses only paid employees, or ‘ambassadors’ for its shows. “The settlement came in the wake of a Department of Labor investigation which revealed that 654 Sofar Sounds ‘ambassadors’ were never compensated for work performed at SoFar events between 2016 and 2019,” they say.

“When the Department of Labor opened its investigation, Sofar cooperated fully and immediately changed its business model. Sofar now staffs all its events with paid employees. The company also agreed to immediately compensate ambassadors who provided any unpaid work.”

“Sofar now staffs all its events with paid employees”

Founded in London in 2009, Sofar Sounds is active in some 450 cities worldwide, including London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Seoul. It has hosted over 20,000 shows over the past decade, including early performances by Billie Eilish, Bastille, Leon Bridges and Hozier.

“Today’s agreement with the New York State Department of Labor stipulates no admission of guilt or wrongdoing and confirms our operating model is fully compliant with New York state law,” reads a statement from Sofar Sounds. “We thank them for working collaboratively with us in New York, Sofar’s biggest US market.

“We are excited about resolving these issues and moving forward in 2020, with a continued focus on connecting local and independent musicians with passionate music fans.”


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