Executive Profile: Adam Voith

Adam Voith says he got into the music business by accident but one could also say it was a right-place, right-time scenario that led him to the job he was meant to do.

Voith told Pollstar that music was always a passion but he had a different plan in mind for his future.

“I came out of college thinking I was going to be a writer. I started out doing mostly fiction and thinly veiled stories based on my travels,” Voith explained. “I wrote of my love of music a lot and a lot of stuff I wrote about took place in the underground punk scene.

“I was writing and running a tiny, independent publishing company but I was also really involved with a bunch of my friends’ bands. I would go on tour with these bands and sell merch for them and sell my books as well.”

It was on one of those tours in around 2000 that the Indiana native met Trey Many, drummer for Pedro The Lion.

Many had his own agency, Aero Booking, in Seattle and was handling those duties for the band and others while on the road.

Voith got hooked on the process of organizing tours by seeing Many in action, which eventually led to a job at Aero Booking.

There he learned the ropes working with clients such as John Vanderslice. 

After two-and-a-half years there, Voith founded his own agency, Decorporated, and built his own roster.

But Voith said that after being the boss for about a year and a half, he realized his skills were better suited to being an agent rather than a business owner, and began looking into other options.

He joined The Billions Corporation in 2006, and in 2008 Many moved his Aero Booking roster to Billions as well.

Voith works alone out of Nashville and handles a roster including Vanderslice, Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver, The Tallest Man on Earth and Vampire Weekend. 

He said that working in Music City has shown him just how much the business has evolved.

“I moved to Nashville about a year and a half ago and this is the first time I’ve lived in a town where there are large agencies and music business schools. It’s been so interesting to watch young kids coming out of Belmont [University School of Music] and then going to do the internship, assistant work and then becoming agents.

“I’m watching that process and realizing I completely skipped it. I didn’t really even know it was out there.

“I’ll meet an 18-year-old kid interning here and he knows everything about the business already. I can’t even believe it!”

See Also: Executive Profiles Archive

What was it that initially grabbed your attention about being an agent?

When I went on that tour with Trey [and Pedro The Lion], I saw what went into making a night of music.

As a fan, you walk away from a show and evaluate what happened and whether it was a memorable experience or not.

I was seeing this guy working on that experience for three to six months in advance and every step was leading to how these nights would play out.

It’s a talent-driven business and what really matters is what happens on stage for the fan, but it was really interesting to me that it was just this one guy with a laptop on the road booking the shows for these acts.

This was back in the [early] days of AOL, so Trey would write emails all day on his laptop, then at night at the hotel, he would plug in and send them all in one batch.

I was fascinated and picked his brain throughout this extensive five- or six-week tour.

What act was Trey booking?

[It was] the first really extensive tour with Death Cab For Cutie. It was right when people were becoming aware of them on a word-of-mouth, pre-Internet level. You had a sense there was this great band that was about to break out and start to find a wider audience.

He was excited and he was challenged to find new contacts and new venues and all of that. All of this was laid out as we rolled to the next club with the band, him on drums, and me selling merch each night. So you saw first-hand the ups and downs of the process. Yes. It was very eye-opening to see the nuts and bolts of it.

And at the same time, we’re showing up at venues and I was meeting promoters for the tour that we were on and realizing these were the people he’s talking to on the phone and emailing all day. Then the band gets there, and there’s the hand-off. Just seeing it from behind the scenes and the architecture of a great show experience was really cool. You were seeing what the fans don’t see – what it takes to get an act to their area. Yes, particularly at that time and in that context. There were small record labels and independent publicists at work but it was still really just a few key people.

Again, it was before the Internet could sort of expose everything. No one understood ticketing; we didn’t care. It was just $6 or $10 at the door. It really was a hidden world and very simple.

What were some of the acts you booked when you were with Aero Booking?

There was a band in Philadelphia called The Trouble With Sweeney that was looking for someone to help them book a tour. I did a small tour for them.

Then John Vanderslice, who I still work with today, was looking for someone to book his first tour. He was on Barsuk Records, the same label that Death Cab was on [at the time].

Death Cab recommended our company and he joined my roster.

How was that experience?

[Vanderslice] was the first artist I booked that went really hard. At the time you could still tour each major market two or three times on an album, so he would tour for two years. It was trial by fire with him, for me, because he put it all in my hands. He was a relatively unknown artist so we were starting from square one. He didn’t really know what was going on with the business and neither did I. [But] with Trey’s guiding hand, his database and his contact list, I jumped in and started working and really wrapped my head around club touring with John. That led to another relationship I still have today with The Mountain Goats.

How did that come about?

John had a relationship with them and [suggested] they go on tour together, so we booked it. The Mountain Goats were very strong on that tour. They didn’t tour extensively and they didn’t have an agent but the tour did surprisingly well. After that, The Mountain Goats decided they wanted to work more on the road and they hired me after that tour.

Those two [acts] became my workhorses and I built out from there.

Were there any problems getting the hang of the job?

At the time, the artists I was working with were new to touring and I was, too, so the difficulty wasn’t what I focused on. It was kind of exhilarating and we were excited. I can recall very clearly when I’d call one of the artists and say we’ve got a hold at the  [in San Francisco] or the  [in Chicago] or some club that their favorite band used to play and now they’re going to play there.

We would be through the roof and we weren’t thinking of guarantees or any of that stuff. If I got a promoter on the telephone and they were excited about the show, it was on. We were going to do it. We weren’t going to fight, negotiate or butt heads. The goal was to just get the dates confirmed and get out there.

And none of my acts had managers looking at the deals or anything. It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach.

So you were handling all areas at that point?

Yes. We did have great partners at the labels and help from their publicity and retail teams but for the most part, it was myself and the artists talking every day, mapping it out and putting in on paper.

Then they would get in the van and do all the hard work.

What lessons did you learn along the way?

As my roster started growing and I started working with bands that had a little more of a profile, they started hiring managers.

The first real lesson for me was learning how to work with this other person in the mix who was now the authority, who was looking over everything and touring was just a piece of this puzzle.

I had to change my way of thinking from 100 percent touring-centric to big-picture thinking with direction from management.

I would have to say I was not very good at working with managers early on. It took me a long time to learn that kind of relationship and how to deal with that kind of communication in a way that still resulted in what’s right for the artist.

I was coming out of the punk scene and this ethos that was very anti-establishment at its core and struggling with having to balance this idea of their art with business and commerce.

The managers, of course, are thinking about the business. That was an adjustment. Now, it’s very rare that a band doesn’t have a manager, and I’m so grateful when that team all works well together.

How did your job with The Billions Corporation come about?

I had my company, Decorporated, for about a year and a half but I realized quickly my strengths weren’t in being the boss.

I love the business of booking acts, finding talent and developing the live side. So I thought I’d take my roster to a larger company with more of an infrastructure and staff.

I wanted to find a place run by someone excited about fostering and growing a company.

I wanted to work with a boutique independent agency and, when I looked around at the choices, it was very obvious that Billions was the one.

Why was Billions the best choice?

I saw eye-to-eye with what [David] Boche [Viecelli] had built there. I loved that it was very artist-focused and music-driven.

Boche’s philosophy, and the way the whole company presented itself, felt very much in the service of the music and that, to me, is the way to build a live career – by keeping the focus on the music and the songs.

When I first read Boche’s manifesto on the website, it struck me as so unique and bold. It’s on our website now and it still holds true.

Boche comes out of the punk scene, too, so culturally we were coming from the same place.

I knew that he allowed his agents and his agency a lot of freedom to be in complete service to the client.

You can find your own style within his philosophy.

How has working at Billions added to your experience as an agent?

I found a mentor in Boche, who has a lot of experience with acts of every size and long-standing relationships with clients and others in the business.

There was – for lack of a better word – corporate knowledge that I suddenly had access to.

And reputation-wise, I was able to get call-backs more often because promoters had come to trust Billions.

They believe that a Billions act and a call from a Billions agent is worth taking seriously and that, to me, was fundamental.

How have you been able to expand artist opportunities working there?

In addition to the corporate knowledge and the high regard for the company in the industry, I would also note having insight into the database at Billions is really healthy with a lot more contacts, venue ideas, promoter ideas, creative deals, and more than I had on my own.

What traits do you look for in an artist?

I like artists that aspire to be great and put on great shows. I want bands that are engaged and not just handing off responsibility to their manager, agent or label and aren’t looking for an easy road.

There’s no such thing. When I’m sitting down with a new artist, I’m always really honest about that. I tell them, “You’re about to make a go of one of the hardest careers you could pick.

If you’re looking to make a lot of money, I could tell you about a lot of other careers that are a lot easier to make money.”

On the flip side, I like artists that are weird, that are outside the box and willing to challenge themselves, their audience and even me!

I don’t necessarily want an artist to be a business person – that would be far too boring and not very rock ’n’ roll – but I do want them to be in touch with reality and have a realistic view of what they’re in for.

What would you say are the most significant changes in how you do your job so far?

I think there are two things. The Internet has changed how the fans think about the live experience. It’s a far more transparent exchange when they’re buying a ticket and thinking about concerts.

Fans understand a little more [about] behind the scenes than I was able to, for instance, back when I was on that first tour.

They know what to look for in terms of service charges, ticket prices and treatment at the venue. I also think the advent of digital recording has changed the marketplace dramatically in that there are more artists on the road looking for those holds.

They don’t necessarily need to have a record label, a high-powered management company or even a high-powered agent.

They can just go out there and do it. It’s a lot more competitive and I think the attention span of the listener is the same.

I don’t think people are able to absorb considerably more music now simply because there’s so much more out there and access is so much easier.

They have more choices, so you have to be a better and smarter artist and, most importantly, really deliver at the shows.

How do you offset those elements when booking tours?

In terms of the competitive calendars out there, I really encourage my artists to continue to develop secondary and tertiary markets and unique places rather than focusing only on major markets because it’s getting harder and harder to get your fans to come [to a show] twice.

They’ve got so much to do with their limited money, and so many other choices pushing for their attention. I think you have to continue to work on other markets and places to go to find the fan that doesn’t always have the opportunity to go to a lot of shows. They could become a very loyal fan for you and you can develop a new market on the second side of your record cycle after you’ve already hit New York or D.C. and want to find someplace else in between.

That’s crucial. When I started booking, we would try to go to major markets three times on a record. Now, more often than not, it’s one time. If you come through the second time, it’s a soft- ticket thing like a festival.

More often than not, it’s not a hard-ticket show. Is it tougher now to set reasonable ticket prices? I think the challenge is to continue to remind myself, my artists and managers that no one has to buy this thing we’re trying to sell. We have to keep it at a price that makes sense for someone to spend their extra money on.

People are being careful with their money [so] you have to kick ass, you have to be a great band to demand that they come to see you at a show. [Fans] have to feel they got something valuable for the high ticket price that they’re paying. We often start our deals with a ticket price instead of a guarantee price and work from that direction. I think you can get into trouble when you have a quote before you understand what the ticket price has to be to reach that quote.

Have incentives like discounts and bundling made pricing a tour more difficult?

I worry that discounting and bundling have gotten in the way. I think discounting is a really bad signal to send to the fans.

You need to know what your value is, stand behind it and deliver on it. [But] if your artist is honestly looking where they’re at and what their value is in the market, it shouldn’t be as complicated as we’ve made it to buy a ticket.

If you look around at what’s selling and look at artists that are pricing their shows correctly, you can see what’s working and what isn’t. It’s our job behind the scenes to keep the focus on providing the right setting for the band and the fan to have that magic moment they’re all looking for. What would you say are the highlights of your agent experience? I really get a lot out of seeing the natural growth of a band and watching bands move in a way that feels like it’s built on the music.

Like I was mentioning, on an early tour, getting a show at the Empty Bottle in Chicago for 300 people was just the greatest thing that could ever happen, and it’s still that way now. Bon Iver just ended the touring cycle for their second record, which has been an incredible run. The shows were really special and just huge steps forward for the act. We ended with a four-night run at Radio City Music Hall and I was sitting there in awe.

Bon Iver got there without compromise.This was a wholly music-driven cycle put together by a tight team around the artist and behind a great album.

To roll into NYC and sell 25,000 tickets is overwhelming.

I love a sold-out show, whether it’s 100 people at a 100-capacity venue or 6,000 people at Radio City Music Hall. Let’s sell all the seats, play the right-sized venue and just blow them away.

When you’ve been working on the show for five or six months and you see it play out, you realize everything was in service of that hour and a half on stage and it worked. You’re standing there watching the fans lose their minds. There’s nothing more rewarding than that.