Splash House founder Tyler McLean on the challenges of building a boutique desert festival
With June’s arrival, the summer festival season has officially begun. But before anyone has the chance to venture into Las Vegas and beyond, Splash House is preparing the West Coast for an official reintroduction into hot weather musical escapades.
Photo courtesy of Splash House
Kicking off the first of its two summer showcases, Splash Returns to Palm Springs this weekend. Out of all of Southern California’s festivals, Splash House is outstandingly unique to its style, location, and history. All three of these ideologies came together thanks to its founder Tyler McLean: a Palm Springs native who wanted to gift his hometown with a tradition for all to enjoy.
Tell us about the beginnings of Splash House.
We started this project in 2013 as a homegrown concept and was lucky enough to partner with Goldenvoice after my very first year. I wanted to throw a good party and was lucky enough to meet the right people in the industry to book a music festival right out of the gate. Since then, we’ve done the event several times and have just continued growing it. Now, I work for Goldenvoice where I run music projects in Palm Springs.
How did growing up in Palm Springs influence the making of Splash House?
That’s the background that motivated me to do this. Not many people are willing to risk a lot to throw a music festival in Palm Springs, especially in summertime. But for me, there was emotional attachment. My family is in the hospitality industry [in Palm Springs], so that was the background that I grew up around. I was in my senior year of college when a Palm Springs tour took up a whole ad in my college newspaper that said “Spring break is back on! Come out!” I remember thinking, “You know, if they want young people, someone needs to throw a good show and do it right.” That’s the motivation behind throwing these in Palm Springs.
Are there any partnerships or expansions that Splash House plans to explore in the future?
Splash House is a boutique festival, so there’s not much strain on us to make big partnerships. We’re making a lot of success with what we’re doing now – just being a really cool experience and organically growing. I think if we did partner some corporate entity, it would take away from what makes Splash House cool. It’s a truly laidback, organic festival experience. It’s different than what you get at normal music festival. I think that’s what has allowed us to keep doing this, along with the people who come every year and bring more friends. I love the direction we’re at. Not that I’m saying no to anything we might do in the future, but we’re not Vegas, we’re trying really hard to stay true to Palm Springs and keep true to that.
How do you curate the talent for the lineups?
It all starts with budget – what you’re able to afford. During the first year, we were a small niche festival. We brought in three different subpromoters – LED, Pacific Fest, and GHM – and we gave them each a stage and said “Take over a stage, here is a budget, have fun, and book talent you think is going to be a good party in Palm Springs.” We were lucky enough to have three different people that really knew Palm Springs and knew the destination. They booked talent that fit really well, so since then we’ve found that it continues to work well.
Speaking of talent, Splash House debuted Kygo just prior to his rise to superstardom. This year, he is absent from the line up, despite being a sound that meshes perfectly for the show. What are the thoughts behind this decision?
The fact that we booked someone like Kygo before he became major festival circuit headliner is an awesome notch in our belt. We’ve had a lot of other artists at our festival who have gone on to have success like Gorgon City, Oliver Heldens, Kaytranada, and Tycho. We had these people last June, before they were headlining Coachella. We’re not staying away from anyone that is mainstream, but we’re constantly looking for what’s next. We’re looking for what works well in Palm Springs and also looking forward. Also, at the end of the day, we’re a 5,000 person capacity festival. We can’t book every major headliner that is playing right now – we have constraints we’re working in.
Splash House is unique in that it has two separate editions throughout the summer with completely different line ups. How has this structuring affected the growth of the show?
We did the same [June and August] weekends last year. Last August is when we started making a lot of waves – no pun intended. We had Flume, A-Trak, Cut Copy and people started turning their heads and saying, “What is this festival?” The reason for doing it twice is that it’s a replicable model – all of these venues are existing, we just come in and bring them a line up with great music. At the same time, we’re never going to grow into a festival where we host 20 to 30 thousand people at one time, but we can do 10,000 people a few times. Doing it a few times gives people more of a chance to see a line up they like and prefer.
Why choose to have different venues with music ongoing all at once?
I knew I wanted to bring music to Palm Springs to make an amazing party, but really the only way to find a place large enough to book big artists was to do it at different venues. One of the greatest assets of Palm Springs is the resort pool – there’s an endless number of amazing unique resort pools here within a tight radius. It gives us flexibility to add more venues.
What are some growing pains you’ve seen Splash House experience?
The more you do it, the better you get at operating the festival. There’s a lot of moving parts that go into it, from the artist booking side to the production side to general operations. We operate at multiple venues. One of the things I am constantly trying to improve is our shuttle system. Because we’re at venues that are miles apart from each other, making it seamless to get from one place to another is one of the most important parts. If it’s not enjoyable, then the whole festival isn’t enjoyable because it’s not easy to see your artist at Venue A and then the other at Venue B. Fine tuning it every time we’ve done it has been a definite task, but we’ve done a pretty good job at it. People were surprised at how efficient it was last year. At the end of the day, my goal is to make it easier to get from the Saguro to the Hilton than it is to get from one stage to the other at a music festival.
If you can figure that out, I think you’ll be sitting on a very valuable piece of the puzzle for event producers all over.
Ha, well the fact that it is Palm Springs and the roads are empty in summertime, and really we’re working in a one mile square radius makes it more achievable.
What is your favorite way that Splash House has evolved?
The more we do it, the more culture begins to surround unique parts of it. The buses got creative last year – this year they’ll each have their own vibe. One might be 70s disco, they’ll be totally themed out. It’ll be like standing into a crazy car that’s all decked out. Last year we also thought it would be a cool idea if people decorated their balconies. We pushed out the announcement 48 hours before, walked in to the festival and everyone’s balconies were decked out in lights and signs and floaties. Everyone went all out! It’s those kind of things that make it a unique venue to do that kind of thing.