Thilo “Baby“ Goos outfits bands for their world tours. In this interview, the boss of Black Box Music talks about international stars, such as 50 Cent, who rehearse their shows with him in Berlin. A story about the American Way of Life – East German style.
It all started in a garage in Prenzlauer Berg. Then came the second, the third and the fourth garage. This was the way Thilo “Baby” Goos, together with two colleagues, founded Black Box Music (BBM) in 1992 – a technical rental firm which steadily grew.
Today, stars like Cher are traveling the world with his sound equipment. At the beginning, he was a technician for the band No 13, and later The Inchtabokatables, Bobo in White Wooden Houses and, finally, Rammstein. It all sounds like an effortless success story, but with Rammstein, the success momentarily stopped dead in its tracks – the band became too big too fast for BBM.
But Goos didn’t remain sitting idle. He worked twelve hours, seven days a week, and took to the challenge. He didn’t want to operate only in Berlin, the melting pot of the music scene. Goos soon understood that also in the rock’n roll business, virtues such as discipline, professionalism, reliability and creativity were paramount. And obviously, his bet paid off. BBM long represents quality technology on the high end range, and it’s booked by domestic and international artists alike, such as Silbermond, Seeed and Sade. His colleagues say, “Baby isn’t just ambitious, he’s crazy.“ They mean that he takes to the “American Way of Life – East German style“. Indeed, this man is fearless, tests a lot of things and dares even more – there’s only one thing he won’t do: fulfil other people’s expectations. A conversation with the Berliner entrepreneur, Thilo “Baby” Goos.
“Baby“ – how did that nickname come about?
When I came to Berlin in 1988 and didn’t know anyone, someone once took me to a party. He was asked what kind of a giant baby he’d dragged along. I was just big and came across as somewhat awkward. I have since then tried to call myself Thilo Goos. That was very bewildering since people insisted on simply calling me, “Baby”. So, now I’m Thilo “Baby” Goos.
BLACK BOX FACTS
- Thilo “Baby“ Goos is the boss of Black Box Music (BBM), the company he founded in 1992. He was born on the 27th of May, 1970, in Leinefelde (Thüringen) and came to Berlin in 1988 as a roadie. He is married with two children.
- The Berliner company is one of the biggest service providers for event technology in Germany. Besides the technical equipment, BBM offers associated consultation and organizing for big concerts, festivals and tours. BBM also have two rehearsal halls, one at 500 square meters, and one at 900 square meters (9 and 14 meter high, respectively).
- The complete-carefree-package for shows is made possible by additional services, such as stage technics, set-, fair- and case building, light, sound and video technology, rigging, hauling and rental warehouse. Training programs occur regularly.
- BBM gathers crafts such as wood workshop, carpentry, metal- and electronics workshop, tailoring and paint shop under one roof. This way, the company can produce complete show equipment and custom tour cases.
- As an official education enterprise for event technicians as well as event administrators, the company earned the Pankower Education Prize in 2012, and was appointed, “Berlin’s Best Education Enterprise” by the IHK Berlin and the Chamber of Crafts in 2013.
- The spectrum of clientele spans, among others, such bands as The Boss Hoss, Herbert Grönemeyer, Die Ärtze, Die Toten Hosen, Rosenstolz, Silbermond, Cro and Seeed, and international artists such as Linkin Park, Gossip, Marilyn Manson, Iggy, Kelly Rowland and Nelly Furtado to the Berliner Philharmonics and the festival for the German Bundes-President, Joachim Gauck.
- The legendary Club Knaack, with which Thilo Goos is involved, was closed on the 31st of December, 2010, but is expected to open again at the end of 2016, at a 2300-square meter site at Eberswalder Straße (near Mauerpark) – in accordance to the original plan and will include a concert hall, a café, side rooms and offices.
You’re in demand by, among others, the managers of world famous artists. Who have you already brought home to Pankow? Which artists are preparing their tours here at the moment?
Many, really many. International bands such as Linkin Park, Destiny’s Child and 50 Cent have booked themselves into our halls to organize their shows. And sometimes, that’s all there is. I’m very upright about that. No one has to book their tour with us just because they rehearse here. As a technical service provider, we’re serving, for example, the Beatsteaks, The Boss Hoss, Grönemeyer too at times, In Extremo, Silbermond, Flying Steps, Seeed and many others.
Speaking of domestic bands, you are always first and foremost associated with Rammstein…
Yes, I never hear the end of that. Of course, we were along from the beginning. In the meantime, I lost them for a couple of years since the band became too big for us. It was bugging me and somehow, we got in contact again. But we couldn’t just rely on one band. Rammstein won’t do anything in the next three or four years. That’s OK, because we have been busy with Cher this year, if only with the sound, but worldwide. And with Sade. And we are providing Gossip with the complete package.
What is it really like when 50 Cent rehearses his European tour in Pankow?
We don’t talk about it, that’s against our principles. This way, the technicians can’t gossip about what they experience with the artist on the tour bus. In hindsight, all I can say is that when 50 Cent rehearsed here, he got what he needed from us.
You once started out as a roadie…
At the time, I did my electrician apprenticeship at the VEB cotton mill in Leinefelde. Additionally, I was mixing for the band No 13 – they played blues rock and Ton Steine Scherben covers. We got playing permits from the classification committee in 1986, and were allowed to work part time. Me too, as a technician. We made a pretty good living from that, we made 150 Mark per gig, 1200 per month. Somehow they noticed in Leinefelde that we didn’t show up at our day jobs at all anymore, and threatened us with lock-out. The only chance was – East Berlin! We could work there as stokers or garbage men and have insurance.
When did you become aware of your entrepreneurial skills?
We lent out No 13’s equipment and after the Turning, all hell broke loose. It was a bit punk-ish. Suddenly, our manager didn’t have medical insurance for us anymore. So in 1992, three of us made ourselves independent and founded Black Box.
Did you realize all that it entailed?
From the get go. I did my thing the way I wanted and not how other people told me to. I had organized a lot myself anyway, I had set high standards and I wanted to at least be better than the others. The way Black Box operated hadn’t existed before. And to this day, I remain who I am and I only bother with what I want to.
It sounds like you have a strong belief in yourself. You come from the oak fields in Thüringen, the catholic stronghold in the GDR. Are you catholic?
I’m evangelical, but that has nothing to do with the church. I’ve duly left. I simply do not believe in it.
And which philosophy do you have for the company, for example?
I value keeping one’s word. I want all bands, regardless how small or big, to stick with us for the long haul. When everything is running smoothly, you can rest on your elbows and say: Perfect. But situations where problems arise are important because then it is the business relation that decides. I think it’s very important to talk to people before any problem comes up. I’m 44 years old now, I’ll be doing this for another 20 years. So it’s an advantage to be able to get along with people. I believe in that. I absolutely cannot have a bad reputation.
Is there a lot of jealousy in this business?
Jealousy is always dangerous. Some people just can’t come to terms with our accomplishment.
Do you only take on bands that you like?
We’re very honest. We’re a service provider. The biggest battles were really the gigs no one thought we could pull off, such as the Berliner Philharmonics. Or the Berlin Lake Festival, with Katharina Thalbach’s new rendition of Mozart’s, “The Magic Flute”. A lot of people thought, oh well, Black Box, those are rock’n roll guys, tattoos and all black. No one really associated us with The Flying Steps, Howard Carpendale or the Bundes-President’s summer party. Of course there are bands such as Rammstein, the Inchtabokatables and In Extremo that I personally like a lot, but when it comes to work, we’re very professional.
Are there any no-go’s for you?
Die Böhse Onkelz have already inquired, and I would never take on Frei.Wild either. Not in a million years! I renounce everything that doesn’t fit into our theme of Prenzlauer-Berg-Kreuzberg. Parties that I would never attend also don’t stand a chance. We aren’t just thinking commercially here, but we have to remain credible.
How did Black Box Music get so big?
In the 90s, all seams were split right open in Berlin. Everywhere, people built a bar counter, put speakers in a corner and called it a club. That called for someone to operate the equipment. First of all, I didn’t know anything else. I absolutely did not want to work as an employed electrician somewhere. But taking care of the technology, that I did want. And that I did. When we earned some money, we only took out what we really needed – the rest was reinvested into a new project. And that way, we grew. Those who only act with caution are not entrepreneurs but bureaucrats. And the garages became more and the warehouse grew fuller. We hardly even noticed the first ten years. We took the really big step once we said: Let’s build! We didn’t have a single leasing or finance backing in the beginning. It was not until Rosenstolz when the bank said, OK, we’re gonna give you the money.
You were also a partner in Club Knaack…
I took over the management in 1996, invested 50,000 D-Mark and was with my 10% a silent partner. In 2001, the acting manager had a motorcycle accident in Costa Rica and lies in a coma ever since. I had to practically take over the staff then. But I continue to regard us as a team. I’m one of the last GbR-members (a kind of firm, joint-venture – ed).
The Club Knaack should reopen in 2016, at Eberswalder Straße. Do you really have interest in such a small club?
We are currently doing construction- and lease negotiations, so we haven’t gotten all that far yet. The opening should, in any case, be in 2016. We’ve just filed a floor plan concept: a concert hall for 400 people, offices, side spaces and an Open Air area. It will be something of a Knaack Cultural House. But that calls for cookery, seven days a week, with breakfast, restaurant and a Biergarten. I can’t run the club on my own, so I need a team of cooperative agencies. It will be exciting to see how we will do with the volume. (The original Club Knaack was closed due to complaints about the noise – ed.)
Do you ever become tired of “genuine noise“? Saturated by the rock’n roll venture? Since you’ve lived it all already?
No, never. I love it, I have made my hobby into my profession. We are an awesome bunch, we have built ourselves a world of our own in Wilhelmsruh and new impressions keep coming. We now have a photographer with a studio and we keep mixing art and rock’n roll. Soon, we’ll have a Building 6.
So rock’n roll keeps expanding in Wilhelmsruh, what will there be in Building 6?
A colleague, who has contacts with the film industry, is going to build a production studio. And we want to make rehearsal spaces available for orchestra and dance companies, studios of 2000 square meters with natural light. Since we’re also offering test stages, special effects and animations, it could seem like a jumble at first glance. But what’s really important, despite this diversity, is that we are all professionals.
Can you tell the dimensions apart, from Knaack and from Black Box Music?
In Knaack we only had an area of 1200 square meters whereas Building 6 alone will have 10,000. Once, we drenched 400 people with noise, today it’s 100,000 at Rock am Ring and Rock im Park. The turnover was about a million D-Mark, and with BBM it’s 14 million Euro. The Knaack used to have eight employees, today we have 60 fulltime staff, including 21 in training, and 150 freelancers.
And you have a trucking fleet…
Yes, 32 vehicles, 12 of which are tractor trailers and three are 12-tonners. And a couple of cars.
All BBM vehicles are black, and so are the team’s t-shirts. The company sports a really gloomy style; your logo is a skull with two crossed microphones. Is that a mindset or a message?
A mindset, since it’s our brand.
What did the Bundes–President think of it?
At the presidential summer party in the garden of Schloss Bellevue, we worked only with the written logo, of course, without the skull.
What is BBM booked for now?
For concerts, theater, fairs and events, industry happenings, shows, galas and Public Viewing – such as just recently at the Alten Försterei (soccer stadium in Berlin – ed). We also make videos, host movie premieres, presentations, and theater rehearsals. The Stage Entertainment has rehearsed the musical “Gefährten” here. Or TV-productions, Westernhagen and Sido are going to give a concert together here in October, for Radio Bremen. But you only need Black Box when you play in the first, second or third league. Anything below that isn’t worth it. Then you simply rent a Sprinter and head off with your crew.
What is the logistical difference between a one-off concert and a tour?
A tour needs a lot of special solutions, what with packing and compatibility. You sometimes plan for months for a tour and for a concert, a week.
In what way has the music scene changed?
With the decline in CD sales, the bands are focusing more on the live acts, that’s their most important segment. Some bands, like the Toten Hosen, don’t play at festivals anymore, but rather make their own: they rent a stadium and invite their bands. Merchandising is also very important. But that’s only true for the big bands, the smaller, which attracts an audience of about 1000 people, often have to skimp.
But you aren’t an agency, nor a management – what effect does that have on your company?
Every band wants to stand out with their show. That is only possible through light, video, pyrotechnics and whatnot. They get all that from us in one fell swoop. And Berlin has become the metropolis for musicians in Germany as well as Europe. They all gravitate here. From Westernhagen via Silbermond to Kraftklub. The city is ideal for preparing a tour. There’s very good infrastructure here for managements, record companies and video productions – and companies such as ours.
You don’t just employ technicians, but you also have other employees. You’ve trained cooks for a long time now – how did that come about?
When the bands were here with us, I always noticed what they ate – Döner, French fries, Currywurst. So, why not employ a cook, set up our own canteen and eat well myself?
What does it take to begin working at Black Box? Downright passion?
We throw everyone into the deep end. First of all, they are on placement for one or two months, and then the respective team decide who will fit with us. They have to be not only passionate, but also punctual and good team players. It’s much like in a relationship.
How many applicants are there?
For event technicians, there are 200 applicants for four positions. As administrators, there are less. And at the moment, we cannot even find a warehouse logistician.
You are commended as the best education enterprise. What are you offering your apprentices?
During the training, we ask the productions if it’s possible for them to have an apprentice along. And that means abroad, too. This way, one of them completed a pyrotechnic certificate in the UK.
Are you working around the clock?
We are working seven days a week. The normal working hours are from 8 AM to 11 PM, and from 9 AM to 6 PM on the weekends. In the festival season, it can happen that we work three or four days around the clock. I don’t understand why almost no one else does. Most people start their weekend at 4 o’clock on Fridays.
The summer is tough. When is it a bit calmer?
It’s the quietest in January, February and also the beginning of March. The first festival days are the most stressful, end of May, beginning of June. Those are the peak-times when even the largest lenders don’t have enough equipment and have to appoint others. Such as the three-day festivals like Hurricane and Southside. At the end of June, all hell breaks loose. We had eight or nine bands here then, all preparing at the same time.
How many tours are on the road at the same time?
We can handle four of the largest acts, and with mixed tours, we could have seven or eight at the same time.
What has changed in the preparations for tours? What gets most refined?
Everything: costumes, stage screens, order of songs, dramaturgy. Earlier, the tours often kicked off in the countryside before performing in a big city. These days, even the first impression is uploaded on YouTube, so the band has to be perfect from the first gig. That’s why everything is so meticulously rehearsed – first musically, then the set and the artistic procedures such as pyrotechnics, video recordings, light- and laser deployments. The preparations are getting longer and longer. At first, they were just two or three days. Recently, Max Herre practiced his concert here for eight or nine days. Rammstein and Westernhagen sometimes rehearse for months.
Which are the show trends these days?
The video- and LED technology develops really fast. Mobile trusses or stage kinetics, that is mechanical stage elements, have become almost standard – so that something moves under the ceiling or on the stage, something comes in from the left or comes up from below. And many use pyrotechnics now.
Is that what makes the concert tickets so expensive?
Certainly. Creating a good show is much like a well-produced Hollywood movie. And when you want to offer shows like that, the tickets can’t get any cheaper. Not to forget that the pre-sale fees strike pretty hard, that’s why Robbie Williams and Rammstein sell their tickets themselves. But smaller bands need the pre-sale since they can’t survive on CD sales. Everyone puts their faith in the live concerts.
How did the international artists become aware of you? Through hard acquisition?
Worldwide, the Americans and the English dominate. Commendations are more important than hard acquisition in our business.
A lot of companies crash because of fast growth. Are you concerned?
Yes. I really don’t want to get bigger, then the flair we’ve got going on here will be lost. There would be more bureaucracy and we would need a middle management. It also gets harder to find good people. Our challenge is to keep our niche. We want to be the best company, not the biggest. We want to be specialists and tend to our long-running projects – such as Cher’s US tour, spanning from April to December, or the world tour that we did with Sade.
Is there yet another unfulfilled dream?
I have already fulfilled my dream with Black Box. One unfulfilled dream is though, if we could provide for even more international artists. But we are well on the way there – we just have to be patient.
Original Source: Berliner Zeitung
BY ABINI ZÖLLNER
Translated by Murray