When Jessica Resler and Ruthie Schulder were looking to open Basecamp, their haven for touring musicians, Jersey City just made sense. It was close enough to New York for quick access to major music venues but far enough to offer breathing room and a stake in the renaissance of Jersey’s second-biggest city.
“This is where a lot of arts and culture and rebels are … where people are willing to break some of the rules,” Schulder said. “It’s a fun place to be, where you can see the writing on the wall, and you can help shape what the story ends up becoming.”
The duo, who together run experiential marketing firm The Participation Agency, uses the concept of “placemaking,” which takes advantage of a local community’s assets to create public spaces for promotional opportunities.
“Placemaking to me means anywhere you go there can be a confluence of factors that can potentially lead to something popping, but it’s only when you put intention behind that confluence that it becomes the thing that you know it could be,” Schulder said.
Their intentions with Basecamp and its sister location Outpost in Asbury Park are manifold. For artists, they want to soothe the financial and physical stresses of touring with a place to sleep (Basecamp only) and access to amenities like a fully equipped music studio and free grub.
The toll the artists pay for such comfort? A social media post or two tagging #outpostcity with a shout-out about the various brands they engage with during their stopovers.
Since Outpost opened last July, 109 touring musicians have passed through. And since Basecamp opened in December, 25 have stayed over. #Outpostcity has been tagged on Instagram over a thousand times, promoting the two locations along with brand partners such as Justin’s Peanut Butter, Califia Farms Cold Brew and the hardwood game Jenga Giant.
“[Musicians’] followers are very engaged and loyal,” Schulder said. “From a marketing perspective being able to tap into a musician’s following is incredibly valuable.”
This gives brands direct exposure to influencers they ordinarily would have to pay for promotion. Think of it as real-life product placement.
“Brands love to work with influencer groups and so many do it in ways that seem a little forced and not meaningful,” Schulder said. “Our approach was, How do we create a program that ladders up to something meaningful for these bands and brands?”
Schulder and Resler also wanted to give their real estate partners, KRE and iStar, the opportunity to offer something new in their respective communities. For Jersey City and Asbury Park, they wanted to build upon burgeoning art scenes.
The Basecamp home is situated in Journal Squared, a luxury apartment building owned by developer KRE. It has a common area and bedroom that sleeps six; music studio; full kitchen; laundry facilities; a parking spot; and complimentary products to use and promote. Bands can stay anywhere from two to four days.
When The Participation Agency reached out to KRE to pitch Basecamp, they offered Journal Squared residents monthly free shows from visiting artists. According to KRE Director of Marketing Amanda Vittitoe, that kind of amenity made it a unique value-add for residents.
“We wanted to do something that set us apart from anywhere in the area. Downtown Jersey City has nothing like this,” she said. “The people that are here have been so receptive to it.”
Since Basecamp accepted its first artist six months ago, she said, every residents-only show has been at max capacity. The shows give residents opportunity to bond with their neighbors over wine and music, and offer something in the amenities arms race that no one else in Jersey City can match.
“Journal Squared is always full, and if this helps us stay full, great. This kind of asset can help people choose one building over another,” Vittitoe said.
Outpost is billed as a “sophisticated rest stop” with laundry facilities, studio space and a general store – also free for the musicians to use in exchange for their promotional prowess. Developer iStar saw it as a way to connect the local music scene.
“It has this synergy. You’ll see bands play at Asbury Lanes and then come back to Outpost, and those partnerships create a fun and vibrant city,” said Brian Cheripka, senior vice president of iStar. “What Outpost does for us, it’s not really about the bottom line. It’s about building the community.”
Outpost is managed by Monmouth County native Victoria Taylor Romano, who knows firsthand the importance of community — and creature comforts — as a touring musician herself.
“Being on tour as a musician and being a musician myself, it’s rough on the road. But we do it because we love music,” she said. “Being on the other side, I know what I would want from a place like this. They can come hang out, play Jenga [Giant], get some food. We have a studio so if they have a little melody in their head from the road, they can record it. This place and our brand partners give back to them.”
For Robert Grebler, whose company Art’s Ideas owns the trademark to Jenga Giant, Outpost and Basecamp represent a “feel-good” business opportunity.
“We’re trying to build our brand, so we’re doing different partnerships. With [Basecamp and Outpost], it’s something that feels good. Many musicians are on a very tight budget traveling the country, so what a treat it is to have a place to go besides their friend’s couch,” Grebler said.