SOFI TUKKER Building A ‘Freak Fam’ With 180 Daily Livestreams And Counting

Sofi Tukker
– Sofi Tukker
on the cover of Pollstar, Sept. 14, 2020
Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, the duo that comprises SOFI TUKKER (no, it’s not one artist), hadn’t really gotten into social media before their touring life was put on pause. But not only have they discovered livestreaming, they’ve been doing it daily since March – now approaching 200 events – finding new fans and setting a new bar for livestreaming. 

“I don’t think we used Instagram Live or anything before that,” Halpern tells Pollstar. “So this was a completely new thing for us. We’ve always been touring, ever since we started out about four or five years ago, and working our butts off to build this thing. And we were a little scared that was not going to be an option anymore. And it turned out that this was the perfect way to sort of keep the ball rolling for us.”

And keep rolling it has. In the time before COVID, SOFI TUKKER was making an impact with a global audience, averaging 1,072 tickets sold and a gross of $28,373 per show. Their single  “Drinkee” from the Soft Animals EP was nominated for a 2017 Grammy for Best Dance Recording, followed by their debut album Treehouse earning a Grammy nomination in 2018 for Best Electronic/Dance Album.

Since the cessation of touring, the duo has moved online and brought a creative and fun daily show to what they lovingly call their “Freak Fam,” a social media-connected community across multiple platforms made possible with the help of Restream, a platform that broadcasts streams and provides tools to create and manage live content. 

The earliest livestream view counts obtained by Pollstar show SOFI TUKKER starting out averaging 12,609 viewers for the chart period of May 5-11. Those numbers have only increased over time. By the week of Aug. 25-31, the daily SOFI TUKKER show was expanded to Twitch, Facebook and Instagram Live and averaged 66,400 views.
The livestreaming success started modestly enough.  “It happened by accident at first,” Hawley-Weld says. ”I was working out, and Tucker was deejaying and our photographer came down and started livestreaming us. And we were like, ‘That was really fun. Let’s do that again tomorrow.’ By the third day I stopped working out because it’s not sustainable for me to work out on camera every day! But Tucker said, ‘Let’s just do this every single day.’”

Halpern adds, laughing, “Until we’re all free and not under house arrest anymore, we’ll do this every single day.”  

Sofi Tukker
– Sofi Tukker
aka Tucker Halpern and Sophie Hawley-Weld, perform a daily livestream show that has not only helped the duo maintain momentum during a touring shutdown, but created a community of devoted fans.
The Miami, Fla.-based pair met at Brown University, where Halpern had taken up music after a promising college basketball and possible pro career was waylaid by a lengthy bout with the Epstein-Barr virus and its aftereffects, including mononucleosis. Hawley-Weld, a musician engrossed with bossa nova and jazz, had returned to school after spending time in Brazil and immersing herself in music.

“I spent my whole life training to be a professional basketball player,” Halpern says. “I went to college in Division 1 basketball. And my goal was always to get paid playing basketball, doing what I love. My identity was as a basketball player, athlete kind of jock. And I got sick my junior year in college.”

He became so ill he was forced to move back home. During that year, he “started watching YouTube tutorials and learning how to make music on my computer. And then I just got obsessed with it.”

Halpern was able to return to Brown, not as a basketball player but as a budding musician and DJ, where he met Hawley-Weld. “I decided I’m going to learn how to DJ. I’m going to try to somehow make music my career. And I just started deejaying every house party on the block. And then every house party around Brown, and then every club around Providence, R.I. And then I met Sophie and she was playing acoustic bossa nova, jazz music. 

“I thought, you know, this would be so cool if it was turned into house music because I was so in love with a lot of European and Latin and African dance music. Long story short, we joined up together and started SOFI TUKKER.” 
Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images
Sofi Tukker performs onstage during the 61st Annual Grammy Awards pre-telecast show on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles.
Hawley-Weld’s story is equally compelling. “I really fell in love with Brazil through music, and I always wanted to sing in Portuguese because I thought it was the most beautiful language,” she says. “So I went and studied abroad in Brazil and ended up just pouring myself into learning the music and how to play the guitar like a Brazilian and how to sing in the style that I really loved. And then I came back to Brown. I thought I was going to stay forever. But then my parents convinced me to come back to school. 

“I just wanted to graduate so that I could return to Brazil,” she continues. “I wrote music in Portuguese just as a way to soothe my missing the country and the culture. I actually had a fellowship to go back, and I was really excited. Then Tucker convinced me to join a band and move to New York instead.”

Punkdafunk managers Neil Harris and Justina Heckard have been with SOFI TUKKER before its first single,“Drinkee” – co-written with Portuguese poet Chacal – was released to streaming services, and believe the pair have found a way to make opportunity from the current shutdown. 

“We’ve been taking this ride together for five years now, and this just feels like another opportunity,” Harris says. “One thing this organization has been really good at is being agile and reacting to opportunities, whether it would be that a record is reacting in this weird country like Turkey that nobody ever goes to. And it’s like, let’s go to Turkey and then all of a sudden, boom – that’s the biggest market they have. Or let’s go to Mexico or let’s go wherever they want. It’s always been very much a collaboration with the world, this SOFI TUKKER band project. [The daily livestream] is just another part of it, so it doesn’t really feel that strange. It just sort of feels like the next phase of what we have always done.” 

The livestream project has, as for many other artists during the shutdown, provided a way to keep the creative juices flowing and even find new avenues to take that didn’t exist in the time before COVID.
“Sophie and Tucker have sort of used it as a vehicle to reveal parts of their songwriting process,” Heckard explains. “There’s a lot of improvised sections that Sophie does with vocals and guitar and live samples. They are able to really show that process and do premieres of works in progress [for] the community and get their real-time feedback while living at home, where they have a studio, and are able to create and still feel like they’ve been kind of road-tested. It has been a really cool thing for the creation of their music,” Heckard continues. “But also, I think it encourages people watching artists to learn a little bit more about what deejaying looks like, what kind of equipment there is. I’ve heard from a couple of people in the community that, since watching the live streams, they have purchased their own equipment and are experimenting with it as well.”

SOFI TUKKER has developed an interactive audience over this otherwise cruel summer, using chat functions and with some fans even forming their own channels and doing Zoom dance parties during the livestreams. They communicate with each other, some even going so far as to travel to meet and, in at least one case, raise money to help tide over one of the “Freak Fam” during an emergency. 

im Mosenfelder / Getty Images
Sofi Tukkker perfrom durin the 2018 SnowGlobe Music Festival o nDec. 30, 2018, in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

“People have been sending other people in the Freak Fam stuff like money to help them pay rent and to keep their Wi-Fi going so that they can stay part of the Freak Fam, even though they are going to be out of work for awhile,” Halpern says, with a tone of astonishment. “I mean, it’s an unbelievably supportive and loving community. And we’ve felt really grateful to have played to them, and they created it around what we do. It’s helped us to get along.” That kind of interactivity is made possible by Restream, a service SOFI TUKKER began using in March, according to Alex Khuda, Restream co-founder and CEO.

He says Restream provides streaming services for more than 2.5 million livestreamers that account for more than 750 million worldwide viewers. Lil Jon is among its artist clients but Restream also works on behalf of figures like U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden and author Deepak Chopra as well as organizations including Microsoft and the World Health Organization.

Restream is a “freemium” solution that gives social media creators like SOFI TUKKER access to Facebook, Twitch, YouTube, Twitter and more than 30 other platforms. It provides an all-in-one production studio that enables creators to broadcast directly from their laptops, and Restream Analytics is able to aggregate analytics across platforms so artists and other users can evaluate performances.

SOFI TUKKER has been a success story for Restream, and vice versa.

“For the last 180-plus days straight, the band has been using Restream to broadcast their live DJ sets to Facebook, Twitch, YouTube, and other platforms,” Khuda says. “They have been using a number of Restream tools to grow and engage their fans across all their social media channels, which has, for example, grown their Twitch user base by more than 250%. At a time when concerts and music festivals are cancelled due to COVID, it has been incredible to see SOFI TUKKER unlock the power of live content to engage and grow their following globally.”

Khuda adds that Restream has grown more than 300% this year as creators and organizations have sought solutions to social media management. “SOFI TUKKER is a great example of a band that jumped on live streaming quickly and it is paying off for them as they expand their global footprint,” he says.

Livestreaming has been an important driver for SOFI TUKKER’s promotional efforts during the touring shutdown, and the duo has continued to release music including “House Arrest,” a tune for the times they collaborated on with Gorgon City. “It kind of became an anthem for these livestreams that were happening,” Heckard says. 
The band even created a music video for the song with the help of the Freak Fam.

“The Freak Fam seems to really be invested in the group and the success of that song,” Heckard says. “We were trying to figure out how to do a a socially distant music video without being able to fly in to do one or find a director. 

“So we asked that fan community to submit videos of themselves dancing along to the livestream. We got over 500 submissions from all around the world. 

“I think releasing that video made the fan community really feel a part of SOFI TUKKERs journey and the success story on the recorded music side, as well as with the likes, streams and social following.”
Because there is no capacity on a livestream, as opposed to performing in a specific geographic location, artists are able to make connections with as many people as are able to tune in at one time. SOFI TUKKER has made the most of that by strategically scheduling their shows at 1 p.m. Eastern, which gives them access to the West Coast market at 10 a.m. local time; Europe tunes in later in the afternoon; and Asia and Australia get a late-night dance party.

In the meantime, Halpern and Hawley-Weld are minimizing the effort and maximizing the fun. 

“[Using Restream], we didn’t have to get too caught up with the technology of a stream for several platforms at once,” Halpern explains. “We’re able to continue taking photos for social media and making funny videos or just continuing growth. 
Tucker Halpern and Sophie Hawley-Weld of Sofi Tukker

“With new people coming into our world because of these livestreams, we’re able to constantly have content to get people to know us and show our personalities. And, you know, I think that’s been a big part of these livestreams.”

Another added benefit of building a fan community by way of real time livestreaming, and availing oneself of interactive tools and programs, is getting immediate communication and feedback. 

“When you’re doing one show at a venue, there’s a level of professionalism and distance,” Hawley-Weld says. 

“Even though we’re in our living room, we’re seeing people every single day. We have inside jokes we like and we share the most mundane things with each other. And I think that has fostered a level of intimacy that is really beyond anything we’ve ever experienced.”

Heckard concurs that SOFI TUKKER’s ability to play every day or night to people around the world is growing the fanbase as well as a new community that not only inspires SOFI TUKKER but is inspired by them, to the point of taking up instruments or buying equipment to make their own music.

“There aren’t as many boundaries for what you’re able to accomplish in terms of how you’re able to travel from place to place,” Hawley-Weld says. 

“I think that’s really cool to see people using this time of being at home to learn a new skill and also feel like some of those barriers are kind of breaking down in between.”