“If people in the touring business had been alive 200 years ago, they probably would have been pirates,” says Baz Halpin, who’s responsible for much of what you’ve seen in some of the most spectacular concert outings in recent years, including the past several Taylor Swift and Pink tours. He’s speaking of a maraud-and-run business that attracts itinerants who deal well with stress and high stakes, spending a few hours putting up a stage where a diva can unleash her high C’s before everyone returns to the high seas.
The Burbank complex that houses Silent House, the company Halpin founded 10 years ago, is the navigation bridge for these complex endeavors. Despite his analogy, it’s definitely never “talk like a pirate day” here. Gathered in a conference room, he and his three partners speak as responsible creative executives who are determined to take an unruly business made up primarily of disconnected freelancers and find structure and stability, building a new model for touring that puts a lot of the industry’s formerly independent operators under one roof.
“What we’re trying to do is streamline this concept of producing a tour by having this one-stop shop to produce the event,” says Halpin, a native of Dublin who moved to the U.S. in 2010. “That’s critical, because as everything gets more complicated, with more people, more technology and more vendors, it’s got to be so much more organized than it used to be.”
His brainchild was to bring all the creative and business elements of touring together — something that, as much as it might make intuitive sense to people in other businesses, has never been the way of the live music biz.
Says Halpin: ‘[Silent House is a place] where you can go as an artist and say, ‘I want you to design my tour, and I want you to produce my tour. This is how much money we’ve got. This is the promoter. Go.’ And I do see this becoming the way the business will go in the next 10 years. If I’m a manager, I would rather go to one person and say, ‘Hey, take care of it,’ and be comfortable in the knowledge that all those boxes are going to be ticked. But it’s a new concept. It’s a really new concept.”
Silent House is responsible for the aesthetics, logistics and financials of current or recent tours by the Jonas Brothers, Khalid and Childish Gambino, on top of a long roster of past or present clients that’s included Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Halsey and Bruno Mars. The execs emphasize that they don’t always have to fulfill every role on every tour they take on — just that they can.
“Some people come to us and say, ‘Do the whole thing’ — lighting design, set design, choreography, video content, produce it, everything,” says Halpin. “But some people will say, ‘Hey, I just want production design,’ or choreography or whatever. And sometimes we’ll just produce the show and not do any of the creative.”
Laughs partner Tamlyn Wright: “It sounds like a buffet.” Adds Alex Reardon, another member of the key Silent House quartet: “You can eat it all … or just the roast beef.”
All four of the principals in Silent House have more than two decades of working in the biz under their belts.
“When I started almost 30 years ago, [touring] was a loss leader for album sales and it was a bunch of hairy roadies in a van throwing some lights around,” Reardon says.
Halpin also strains to recall simpler times when he started out as a lighting director. “My first tour was with Jethro Tull. I had two lighting trusses and one truck, one bus, 11 guys on the crew, and that was it. Now we’re doing 60-truck tours with 140 guys on the crew, and you have 20 to 25 guys running the show, operating lifts, confetti cues, inflatables, moving props, moving scenery.
“Pink runs like a Broadway show, with props coming on and off stage every song, and dancer quick-changes. So many shows have robots, drones, inflatables and pyro. And all these things need to be factored into this duck that floats across the top of the water that seems so seamless and effortless, while this giant machine is churning underneath. Even 10 years ago there were just a handful of artists who did theatrical shows. Now everybody wants a spectacle.”
Halpin notes that Silent House never outright says no to an artist’s ideas, but guides them gently toward what’s feasible. Many put on what Halpin refers to as an “arthouse” touring show — visually resplendent but without as many dancers and moving parts.
“In a meeting it can sound like a great idea: ‘I want to fly from there to there.’ But how many trucks is that going to add? How many bodies? What’s it going to do to the overall weight, or the sightlines? Because for that one gag, say it’s $50,000, hypothetically, for you to fly from there to there. But it might add $200,000 in associated costs that you don’t necessarily see on that first piece of paper when you get a quote. For an artist to come off after working for six months and go, ‘I sold out arenas — why didn’t I earn any money?’ that’s not a result anybody wants.”
At Silent House, the four partners are part of a 14-person team incorporating “studio managers, project managers, illustrators, 3D and 2D draftsmen, renderers, communications and office managers” who have the ability to oversee all the aesthetics of a show as well as logistics and finances.
Two years ago, Silent House moved to a Burbank campus where the execs also brought in as fellow renters some of their most frequent collaborators, including Blink TV and Earlybird Visual.
“We have two video-content companies, a costume shop, a design-services facility, a film studio and a dance studio,” Halpin says. (Leading a tour through the facilities, he’s careful to call out and make sure there are no naked dancers undergoing fittings amid the array of desktop jockeys.)
“We started out as designers, which is a very solitary sort of existence. So to be able to build a campus where it’s a collective group of people all pushing through the same goal and being able to share their highs and their lows, it’s good for the spirit.”
What’s the workload? In a given year, Halpin estimates the company “would do 30 tours and 100 unique performances — meaning individual one-offs, like performances on award shows — and maybe 12 to 14 television shows that we would either produce on or act as designers for.”
Many are on the humbler side, despite Silent House’s rep for working on some of pop history’s most monumental tours: “We just did Jordan McGraw [as a one-off] on the Teen Choice Awards, and that’s his first-ever performance.”
Says partner Tamlyn Wright: “It’s all scalable. I’ve got Lauren Daigle out on tour right now, who just hit big, from Christian to crossover artist. Right now she’s got one truck, three buses, but it’s going to get bigger and bigger. So it’s not just the Taylors and the Pinks. Lauren’s entire evening costs as much as one song in Pink’s show.”
TV is a big part of Silent House’s business, and not just single performances on awards shows, but having a hand in the whole program. Halpin himself is a co-executive producer on the American Music Awards, the ACMs and the iHeart Radio Awards.
Wright, a broadcast specialist with three primetime Emmys to her name, recently did both the Radio Disney and Teen Choice awards shows and just got back from two weeks in China doing a music show for Mango TV, its Netflix equivalent, which she laughingly describes as China’s “cross between the VMAs and ‘The Price Is Right,’ with this alien astronaut dance party theme inspired by a VMAs I designed several years ago.”
They’re also moving more into corporate gigs. Says Halpin: “We did the Audi e-tron launch up in San Francisco, where you get to projection map on an iconic building that’s 400 feet long and do a choreographed flight with a thousand Intel drones over a mile-and-a-half stretch over a steamboat that’s coming in, and all this cool stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily get to do in television or touring.”
Those non-music experiences come in handy when it’s time to figure out what’s possible next in the top tiers of touring, he adds.
As for what’s on the horizon, Reardon is just about to blurt something when Halpin admonishes him, “They don’t call us Silent House for nothing.” Will they do the next T-Swift tour? “I hope so, if she’ll have us,” says the founder. “We’ve been with her for a while. I love all the new music.”
Having all four partners together in the same room is a rarity, the last time being a good six months earlier. “You’re getting an eclipse moment here,” says Wright. “Half the time we’re around the world, tapping into a workspace chat room for each show.”
They put in all those hours trying to build transportable housing that reflects the vision of the artists who have to live in it, not their own, as architects.
“Touring has moved to be the major source of most artists’ income; gone are the days that it was a promotion for an album,” says Halpin. “They’re going to go spend eight months, a year, 18 months, maybe two years doing this show. You’re wanting to give a really specific identity to their essence, because they’re out there with what you’ve given them, and they have to do their best work in that space.”
The four partners of Silent House:
BAZ HALPIN, President & CEO
Halpin moved from Ireland to England as he worked his way up in the business before heading to L.A. and founding the Silent House collective in 2010. He’s a go-to guy for Taylor Swift’s tours, and some of his most spectacular recent work has been with Pink. “I go back 14 years with Pink, and I hope there’s another 14, and more. She is constantly, just as a person, pushing me to do better in my life. I think she is the most incredible human being — forget about artist, performer, mother and now vintner.”
TAMLYN WRIGHT, Production Designer & Partner
Wright has four Emmys to her credit for art directing the Oscars, Grammys and VMAs. Although awards shows have clearly been a specialty — she recently turned the Teen Choice Awards into a beachside festival in Hermosa Beach — she’s branched out at Silent House to working on such tours as Lauren
Daigle’s. “Each of us has 20-plus years behind us, with different backgrounds, and we are able to kind of fill in the gaps and learn from each other’s know-how,” she says.
CORY FITZGERALD, Creative Director, Lighting Designer & Partner
Specializing in lighting, Fitzgerald has worked with Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Gwen Stefani and Skrillex, among others. Recent notches in his belt range from designing Childish Gambino’s set at Coachella, to “PY1 Pyramid: Through the Echoes,” a multimedia experience. “Your friend from college can come up with the best flying hoverboard idea you’ve seen, but if you can’t come back with a real budget, you’re an idea generator.”
ALEX REARDON, Creative Director, Designer & Partner
The son of an architect who started out in lighting design before moving into a wider range of creative production, the London-born Reardon is the one who came up with Silent House’s mantra of priorities: aesthetics, logistics and finance. “This year, Khalid was definitely, from an artistic point of view, incredibly rewarding. And then I did a design for Tears for Fears, who I had worked for 25 years ago, and to see them selling out arenas again [in Europe] was so much fun.”