Last September, two weeks before joining Annie Lennox on a sixteen-date tour, Carina Round unpacked her acoustic guitar and sang in front of an audience of 150. As gigs went, it was unusual, happening neither in a dive bar nor a theater but on the rooftop of the Atlas, a luxe rental on West 38th Street. No one in the audience shelled out money to see her—she wasn’t paid, either—and some of them had never heard of her before that night. And yet “it was actually mind-blowing,” Round says.
That developers draw from creative fields to generate buzz for their buildings is nothing new. John Legend and Seal headlined dueling concerts last year to launch two different condos; Vera Wang is creating an artwork for the lobby of a Chelsea project; and the Wooster Collective documented a two-month-long graffiti-fest that gave taggers free rein over 11 Spring Street’s walls before its owners converted it into condos. Next month, Oro, a new condo on Gold Street in Brooklyn, will exhibit the work of three local artists at its sales center.
But what’s in it for artists? A lot, it turns out. Experts say they’re partnering with developers to tap into a wider—and moneyed—audience. That’s no small feat in a music scene where, says Nithya Rajendran, digital and mobile marketing manager for EMI Music, “it’s harder and harder” to capture people’s attention. Round explains that “it’s a really good way for people like me”—indie artists not pushed by the labels—“to reach out.” The same is true for visual artists. “It’s great exposure,” says Danny Simmons, owner of the Corridor Gallery, who recently hung a show by his artists at the Forté condominiums in Fort Greene. “You have people with enough money to buy million-dollar condos. Maybe they can buy art too.”
Besides, condo lobbies and rooftops can be refreshing places to play. Rajendran says the Atlas concert, which offered free drinks against the backdrop of the Empire State Building to tenants and industry watchers invited by Round’s management, was “definitely more interesting” than “Carina Round at Pianos.” Plus, the audience functions like a focus group. “They’re a good barometer as to how a musician will be received in the marketplace,” she says. John Hwang, who lives at the Atlas, is intrigued. “I’d never heard of her before, and since then, I’ve checked out her Website,” he says. “I might download some songs from iTunes.”