Beyond the Stage: Crafting Multi-Dimensional Connections Between Artists & Fans

by Michelle Schrank November 14 2023

What if I could spend a week with my favorite artist? What if there were secret stages to discover? What if I had permission to wander? What if I were part of making history?

Imagine a musical artist is about to debut a new album: she wants to create an unforgettable experience for her fans beyond the extent of a surprise performance or an exclusive interview. She wants to invite them to live on the edge of releasing new content into the world, thus creating the magical connection between artists and fans where they can all say, ‘I was there when…’

TSX is a new kind of venue designed exactly for these aspirations, right in the heart of Times Square at the corner of 47th Street and 7th Avenue. It’s an all-in-one playground where artists and brands can create culture-defining moments that reverberate not only in New York City, but around the world and across multiple platforms. It’s both physical and virtual, intimate and large-scale, a blank slate and an icon – all at the same time. TSX is an infrastructure for potential, where every aspect of the environment and experience can transform to fit the artist’s vision.

TSX Entertainment selected ICRAVE, Journey’s physical studio, to design the core of the 8-floor entertainment complex as we would approach their unique vision with fresh imagination and a similar pioneering mindset. The venue combines a wide variety of spaces, including a retail gallery, an exhibition hall, an intimate supper club, a VVIP lounge, a set of recording studios, and the iconic two-level stage that opens up to Times Square for public performances. Along with the Hilton Tempo hotel and multiple dining venues that make up the rest of the tower, TSX will be an all-encompassing destination in the heart of New York City.

On just a quarter-acre of land, TSX and ICRAVE created a transformative place where fans will interact with the icons they love in entirely new ways. This groundbreaking project points towards the ‘Future of Entertainment’ venues as places where boundaries are blurred – between the physical and the virtual, between one space and another, and most of all – between performers and spectators. At TSX, its about how music is made, promoted, and owned by the artist for the fans.

Traditional Spaces, Unpacked and Reimagined into Immersive Experiences

TSX Entertainment envisioned a revolutionary combination of spaces, so ICRAVE drilled down to the fundamental purpose of each typology and imagined novel ways to bring them to life:

Pictured: Retail Gallery for an album launch

Situated below the TSX stage, the second-floor Retail Gallery goes beyond a traditional store or merch stand to become the insiders’ showroom for what’s next. Rather than coming here to shop, the purpose of this space within TSX is to cultivate a relationship between artists/brands and their audience by giving fans a unique, curated experience. We imagined the retail floor as a stage unto itself that can be configured in multiple ways, where each incoming artist/brand can fully take over the space to build out their own world. It’s an exercise in capturing and holding attention, as well as guiding fans through an augmented- and virtual-enabled experience within a physical setting.

Retail visitors first enter through ‘the Brand Box’ which serves as a diorama-like orientation touchpoint. They then proceed through an immersive catwalk of content dubbed ‘the Portal,’ composed of operable partitions, digital displays, and rigging points to create a flexible field of physical/virtual product. For an album launch, the Retail Gallery might be a museum-style display about the production process, where visitors listen to the music on individual headsets to create a decentralized listening party. A car brand might create a virtual assembly line where visitors build their own model and walk away with a ticket of specs they can submit to their dealership. The ‘Future of Retail’ is an interactive experience that does not necessarily end with a shopping bag. 

Iconic Spaces, Made Intimate

With many elements on the project earmarked as a blank canvas for inbound content, other spaces needed to be unabashedly iconic and instantly recognizable on the New York City scene. The Supper Club, nestled behind the large exterior billboard on the upper floors of TSX, is an intimate venue lined with rows of velveteen loveseats and suede paneling throughout. A headband of lights outlines the proscenium above the shallow curved stage, where performers will quite literally be within arm’s reach of the front row seats. This room is destined to become one of the must-see and must-hear event venues, as live content will also be captured and broadcast across TSX platforms, including their planned digital twin in the metaverse.

Pictured: TSX Supper Club

Other notable spaces include the VVIP Lounge, an invitation-only private members’ club which embodies cozy elegance with high-end furnishings and details – the perfect place for select artists and industry executives to pregame or unwind. The home-away-from-home Artist Lounge and Dressing Rooms provide low-key environments for relaxation, collaboration, and celebration for artists and their teams. A pair of Recording Studios feature contrasting design palettes – one dark and moody, the other light and breezy – so artists can match their surroundings to their creative moods.

Pictured: TSX recording studio

Physical and Virtual, Made Inseparable

To fulfill the vision of connecting with fans all over the world, we needed to integrate the physical and virtual worlds from the onset.  TSX aims to connect people virtually through the metaverse platform, and fans will have a fully cashless experience where the virtual and physical platforms are interwoven. While plenty of venues can broadcast their live events, our goal was to leverage technologies such as volumetric capture and LiDAR scanners to create more immersive ways for fans to participate in TSX events – not just by watching passively, but rather interacting with the space as it responds to them.

Throughout our design process, ICRAVE used 3D modeling in the Unreal gaming engine to create a full digital twin of the physical TSX space for client review and consultant collaboration. We collaborated with Fisher Dachs Associates, Isometrix Lighting, and Moment Factory to incorporate advanced digital technology into our physical designs, maximizing the possibilities for both capturing live performances and integrating digital content throughout the TSX venues. “By building out the virtual world as accurate as the real thing, tying the physical and digital worlds together, you get a whole new level of brand/guest experience,” says Andrew Delgado, Visualization Director at ICRAVE.

For one, the wraparound billboard on the building exterior isn’t only for elite advertisers. Through TSX’s PixelStar app, anyone can broadcast a 15-second video on the digital screen for just $40. Instead of being another ubiquitous Times Square billboard, it’s a new social feed for global artists, brands, and fans that democratizes the notion of having one’s 15 minutes of fame. The app has spurred many users to make the pilgrimage to Times Square to see their message larger-than-life on the big screen. A secondary market has even sprung up for the sole purpose of local New Yorkers capturing the screen in Times Square for influencers and vloggers around the world as their content goes live. Cross-world (physical and virtual) partnerships and communities will be one of the hallmarks of the TSX experience, and they’re just getting started.

The Supper Club is another place where the physical and virtual come together. It’s a relatively small room with a limited capacity of 250 seats, but with integrated camera rigging for volumetric capture, an exponential number of fans around the world can immerse themselves in a VR experience of the live performance for that up-close-and-personal feeling.

Beyond the audiovisual, there are other technology platforms at work behind the scenes. Visitors navigate and interact with the venue using a mobile app that is enabled by RFID and geofencing, and devices will allow passage to different areas, depending on their level of access. Fans have permission to wander to discover secret portals and potentially win upgraded experiences, from arrival to afterparty.

Pictured: Artist Dressing Room

An Infrastructure for Potential

The beauty of TSX is that it puts the ‘anything can happen’ feeling of New York City into one building with an extremely limited footprint. Like an all-inclusive resort, artists and fans don’t need to leave campus to have a full itinerary’s worth of entertainment-related experiences. It’s more than an event space – it’s a home base, all driven by artist expression. Knowing that your idols are the hosts, and you’re in their house, is a priceless experience for any fan.

This ‘infrastructure for potential’ can be used in infinite ways: a brand might take over the entire building for a full week to launch their newest product, whereas a musical artist might do a residency, recording in the studio by day and giving performances in the Supper Club by night. They might conclude with a party in the exhibit hall or VVIP lounge, where they welcome their most loyal fans into their world for one unforgettable moment.

On the same site as TSX sits the iconic Palace Theater, which launched the careers of Frank Sinatra and many other famous performers. TSX is that kind of launchpad, for the modern world. It’s a new place to release a song, a film, a fashion line, a video game narrative, or something that hasn’t been dreamt up yet. With its unique mix of spaces, endless flexibility, and native integration of the physical and virtual worlds, it can do more than just showcase or broadcast in one direction; TSX will be a multi-dimensional platform with the power to interact with people and create unique, memorable experiences – which is exactly what it takes to drive and cultivate loyal fandoms today.

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