In the music business, bands sometimes employ what is called an "underplay." That's when a popular artist books a venue much smaller than they could reasonably fill to build excitement for a new project or reward longtime fans with an intimate set.
"Underplay" doesn't begin to describe 98.7's (KYSR-FM) ad-hoc concert series on the penthouse roof of the historic Hollywood Tower apartment complex. Entry is limited to residents of the whimsically castle-like building and radio contest winners, but if you do happen to live there you might run into the English pub-folk quartet Mumford & Sons in the elevator — and just down the street from where they sold out the 4,000-capacity Hollywood Palladium. Or maybe you'll crack a beer and gawk at the view with Florence Welch of Florence & the Machine, who sold out three nights at the 2,000-capacity Wiltern on a recent tour.
The Hollywood Tower's penthouse roof has a double-digit capacity. At that point, you're not just at a secret show. You're practically going home with the band.
"We did one hangout with Jimmy Eat World where everyone played board games with them," said Julie Pilat, the program director for 98.7. "The Airborne Toxic Event was only supposed to do five songs but asked if they could keep going and played five more in the rain."
The series is part of an unusual collaboration between businesses that don't seem to have much in common — pop music and real estate.
Earlier this year, the Hollywood Tower's developer, Drew Colquitt, was batting around offbeat ideas to attract tenants to the building, which stands on Franklin Avenue across from the 101 Coffee Shop. A drummer and longtime music fan, he thought he could appeal to those who work in L.A.'s entertainment-industrial complex by offering live sets on the roof — a French-Norman terrace overlooking the sylvan Hollywood Hills and the 101 Freeway. But he did worry that live music might be too intrusive for residents.
"When we renovated to attract the high-end market, we did worry about pleasing those residents," Colquitt admitted. "But it turned out to be an amenity. Most folks in Hollywood are in entertainment, want to be in it or enjoy it."
At the same time, 98.7 was looking for ways to differentiate itself. Megan MacEachern, a marketing executive who worked with Colquitt and was a former promotions director at the radio station, brought the two together.
"So many stations do these huge shows and make so much noise," said Eileen Woodbury, vice president of marketing at 98.7. "But we'd rather have something really private and exclusive."
The sets are as private as a living room show (Colquitt lives in the penthouse next door to the shows). You might see the rising L.A. synth-pop trio Foster the People lounging in the apartment's kitchen waiting to play an acoustic show or TV on the Radio meticulously re-creating its art-rock racket for an audience of a few dozen while dog walkers crane their necks below.
The idea of a platinum-selling favorite band waiting at home could entice almost anyone to move in. Or to befriend someone who already lives there.
"We'll get messages from kids asking, 'Why can't you open up a penthouse in Albuquerque?'" Woodbury said. "We can't even get the bands to leave when they're done."