Look out Simon Cowell - Ont’ Sofa team have the ‘S’ factor!

Beth McCarthy recording a session for Ont' Sofa.
Beth McCarthy recording a session for Ont' Sofa.
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By Graham Chalmers

It’s a slightly tatty piece of old furniture which young Harrogate music entrepreneurs Jason Odle and Ben Davis got for free but it’s proved a comfortable platform from which to build a growing musical empire.

The multi-talented Ont’ Sofa founders came across the vintage leather settee in a prop store in Starbeck three years and saw its potential straight away.

It’s a skill you could say they’ve employed in a broader fashion since first launching their online music sessions three years ago, writes Graham Chalmers.

“We came up with the name by accident when we came across the sofa, “ says Ben,”it was a bit knackered but it felt the right idea. We started the whole thing for fun.”

From a humble office in Harrogate, this hands-on duo’s music video channel and production company now shoots and broadcasts 28 live sessions every single month.

As a result, Ont’ Sofa, whose tagline is “standing up for real music”, boasts a total of 85,000 subscribers and a million views each month.

Incredibly, a recent session they recorded with one of their favourite discoveries, local singer Lucy Spraggan, received three and a half million views.

Such is the company’s success, twenty-something Jason and Ben are now threatening to give Simon Cowell a run for his money – without the aid of all his money.

Ben said: From the start we’ve wanted to get away from the way X Factor does things. We like to be seen to be doing something more ethical, not just for the money.

“It has to be live and it has to be honest. We’re already recognised as a place to go for development and visibility for new acts.”

These two long-time friends have a high profile in Harrogate, thanks in part to their regular Ont’ Sofa live gigs at the likes of Yorkshire Meatball Company, Lure Bar and Jakes.

There was also one famous Ont’ Sofa night in town with Made in Chelsea star Caggie Dunlop where the screaming voices of 700 teenage fans rang out across the Crown Hotel.

But a better indication of this dynamic, versatile duo’s success is the fact Ont’ Sofa’s reputation is even bigger within the wider music industry.

Ben said: “We’ve sat in the offices of major record companies in London who are already using Ont’ Sofa as a scouting tool. It’s totally taken over our lives but it’s worth it. ”

Originally, the Ont’ Sofa shoots were done in their hometown itself on the famous bit of furniture but, as demand for their services grew from home and abroad, they switched production to studios in Leeds and London.

Jason may be a musican himself; you might remember him from Harrogate rock band Kasiuss, and Ben may be an audio and lighting engineer but their ethos is as much Dragon’s Den as Top of the Pops.

Ben said: “We’ve always been full time since the beginning but we came close to going under at one point. We’ve never had other jobs to lean on. We’ve had to work out a way to make money from it.”

A limited company, Ont’ Sofa now benefits from investment from private investors and support in its background functions.

And this versatile pair are not just video producers. They also act as A&R men, live promoters, marketing men and, for a select few such as Billie Martin who they helped sign to RCA, personal managers.

To give themselves enough time to handle the whole range of their interests, sessions are now filmed in intensive two day splurges in Leeds and London, the acts having been selected via an automated online application process.

But unlike Simon Cowell, Jason and Ben don’t try to slot unsigned talent into tick boxes. And plenty of local acts are involved, from Yo Preston and Rob Reynolds to the Pete Oliver Band and The Birdman Rallies.

Next week will see the Ont’ Sofa team at work in Harrogate’s Blues Bar, shooting a new video for rock band the UK Foo Fighters, a Harrogate-based set of musicians who have quietly become one of the biggest tribute acts in Britain.

As for the future, there will be no sitting back at Ont’ Sofa.

Jason and Ben are now working on two new ventures – creating their own imprint record label and producing a new studio-based music TV show mixing the spirit of Jools Holland’s Later with the style of Top Gear and TFI Friday.

Jason said: “It’s been a bit of a balancing act, moving the company forward in an ethical fashion. It started as a bit of hobby but it’s turned into a passion.”

More information at www.ontsofa.co.uk