Q’s With The Billions Corporation’s David ‘Boche’ Viecelli On Artist Development

 David “Boche” Viecelli – David “Boche” Viecelli

David “Boche” Viecelli has developed artist careers since at least the founding of The Billions Corporation, a Chicago-based independent talent agency he says has “existed in one form or another since 1989.” Artists his agency has represented include Arcade Fire, Pavement, Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver, Mumford & Sons, and Death Cab for Cutie among many others (the vicissitudes of agent comings and goings not withstanding). Here, the veteran agent explains his approach to developing artists with a special emphasis on something we could all stand more of: “Patience.” 
Pollstar: How do you find the artists you work with?
David “Boche” Viecelli: It’s always been about finding artists we want to invest in artistically. That we value personally, we think are doing something important and meaningful and want to support. We’ve always been about a long-term commitment to artists who we think merit that kind of investment. It’s never been about, “Let’s find artists that can make us a bunch of money.” More often than not if you’re going to get into a long-term relationship with an artist, things are going to have ups and downs and you need more of a commitment than just money.
If you have a young band with a few hundred followers, what’s your first course of action?
The one thing you know that can affect their success, whether it increases your audience by one percent or by five hundred thousand percent, is a great live show. It can’t be duplicated. It can’t be digitally shared. It’s an experience and it’s a social event. And it can still be very compelling. A great live act stands out more than ever before. The trick is just how do you get a brand-new act to stand out live while not being in the spotlight so early.
Do you ever tell bands to woodshed?
Do you route them in secondary or tertiary markets while they hone their live chops? 
You can pretty much play any size market you want, if you’re not getting any real national attention. It’s a matter of patience and it can be a tough sell with young bands. An 18-month career driven by one track that vanishes is kind of the norm. They think there’s money to be made, but it’s there to be made quickly and not sustainably. A lot of times with younger bands and in a management capacity, patience has become the thing to sell them on.
Does data help?
There’s so much more information available. Unfortunately, it can be as destructive to patient career development as it can be helpful. In general, it’s great to have more data points, more ways to look at how you can fine tune your efforts but it tends to convince people that you can turn this business into mathematics. It’s never going to be that simple. It’s still unpredictable, it still isn’t a science.
Is the so-called “festival glut” helping up and coming bands?
There are a lot of smaller, regional events and more tightly programmed events that can be of great use that are undervalued. Major festivals can be overvalued. Young bands love to get on festivals, so agents and managers love to deliver that. A festival slot can be useful, in the right context. Sometimes you have a young band just dying to play Coachella. You say, “Look, I can get you on Coachella this year if you want. I can make it a priority. I can convince [Goldenvoice’s] Paul [Tollett] to book it. But the problem is, do you want to play Coachella this year? The fact is you’re only going to play Coachella once every maybe four years at best – figure more like five or six. So do you want this year to be your one and only shot for the next five or six years?”
Do radius clauses hurt developing acts?  
Sure it hurts. I will say that a lot of festival buyers will be reasonable. They may put those radius clauses in offers, but will often be very rational and reasonable when approached by the agent saying, ‘Do you care if I do this?’ As long as you have the conversation, they’re probably not going to be ridiculous. That said, in general clauses are too aggressive and damaging.
How important is it to serve a young artist’s vision for a tour?
I’m a big believer in bands executing a vision and in going out of our way to do that. I have a long history of working with various artists with particular needs and ideas. They’re not always good. Sometimes you want to talk people out of stuff and say, “Listen, I get why you want to do this, but here’s the reality. Based on the availability of the rooms you’d need, the kind of money that’s going to be required for the production, this can’t be done.”
Is it worth losing money to create long-term fans?
People definitely do that. The Arcade Fire always focus on making their shows unique, memorable events. Generally, as a major touring band, you don’t want to take home less than 20 to 30 percent of the gross. But there are bands who take far less or even lose money to mount shows true to their vision and were memorable for fans. Bjork is a good example of that.
Are there growing pains when artists start moving up the chain to theaters?
There’s a pain point when a band goes from large clubs into theaters that some deal with better than others. Going from 1,000-capacity clubs to 2,500-capacity theaters, ticket prices are probably going to go up to keep them earning about the same because overhead in those buildings is much higher.
A big theme here is “patience.” Could there be another Arcade Fire now?
I believe there is still plenty of room for a band like that to break through. Now, the challenge is how do you sustain it?  More than ever before it’s easier to get attention. It’s not that hard to engineer, but to make it meaningful, and sustainable, that’s a lot harder. But still the best asset you can possibly have is to be that fucking good. That’s still the best thing you can have going for you.