—David Menconi, Down on Copperline
A few years back, Steven Raets was trying to come up with the perfect name for his new venture. A multi-media music facility near Hillsborough, it was to be a high-end recording studio, live performance space with broadcasting capacity, and music-distribution platform. Raets was pondering this while walking around his bucolic 63-acre property in rural Orange County early one morning, watching the morning sun rise seemingly out of the water of a pond.
Contemplating the arc that the sun would follow up into the sky got Raets thinking about the words “sun” and “arc” – and the variants “son,” French for sound, and “ark,” signifying a safe haven. And that finally brought him to “Sonark,” or sonic safe haven. That was the name.
“For me Sonark will always be a sonic haven, a beautiful place where the sun arcs the sky in a rather majestic way, and for artists to be grounded and inspired to create their best work ever.”
The word “multiverse” gets thrown around a lot as a label for different aspects of this increasingly wired virtual online world, and it definitely applies to Sonark Media. A multi-media complex with elements designed to function together, the compound features a topline recording studio with state-of-the-art audio and video gear, including the fancy new “Dolby Atmos” surround-sound format. It also has a 100-capacity live-performance room, comfortably furnished and wired for worldwide broadcast with a goal of someday creating an “Austin City Limits”-style performance program. And it’s all integrated into an online platform called “The Pie”, an app that can give artists far greater control over their own music and revenue streams.
“The recording studio has all the technical gear comparable to Abbey Road Studios, combined with a show venue that’s like a house concert,” says Sonark creative director Josh Collins.
A native of Belgium who made a handsome living for many years in the financial sector, Sonark founder/CEO Raets came to North Carolina initially when his wife went to work for UNC-Chapel Hill. With Sonark, he heads up a team of around a dozen individuals from a wide range of functions in the entertainment industry. The venture has been in shakedown-cruise mode this spring, quietly hosting a series of live-performance events to work out the kinks.
The big grand opening of “Sonark Sessions Live From the Barn” will happen Saturday, April 1, when Raleigh rock band The Connells launch their new live album with two shows that will be broadcast live online. The first, at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, will be beamed across the Atlantic Ocean to European audiences. That will be followed by an 8 p.m. nightcap performance for U.S. audiences.
More shows are in the works featuring prominent North Carolina acts like Chatham County Line, Mipso, Steep Canyon Rangers and Dawn Landes. They’re elaborately catered events with food and drink included in the ticket price.
While live performances will be the most visible public aspect of Sonark, all the principles take pains to point out that it’s not really a “concert venue” that will compete with established nightclubs like Cat’s Cradle, The Cave or Local 506. Instead, Sonark is a place where an artist might play a show to launch a new project, do a crowd-funding event or promote an upcoming tour or cause.
“Our idea supersedes all the different silos and brings us together,” says Raets. “The vision is that it could grow into something like ‘Austin City Limits’ someday. What we offer is an intimate, unplugged-type experience that is very special. We’re not a public ‘venue’ that’s in competition with clubs in the area. This is a studio for private events with an invited audience.”