When independent music distribution platform Venice Music named Dani Oliva VP of business and legal affairs in December, it marked a ceiling-breaking moment for the trans executive, one of the few to hold a senior position at a major music company.
Founded by Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s former manager, Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor, and Suzy Rio, Carter’s colleague at Atom Factory, Venice, the company launched in 2019, providing tools for distribution, streaming performance monitoring and royalty collection.
Toronto-native Oliva, who identifies himself/herself, has worked in the music industry for more than 20 years and has built quite an impressive resume. Among his credits: legal work on Ariana Grande’s “Positions” album, for which his client, JustAcoustic, played the hypnotic guitar loop on the album’s title track. He co-founded the Aboriginal and LGBTQ+-owned Canadian record label Alt Eden, as well as the music management company Mook-Posh.
On February 25, Oliva will bring his Out of Mind Music Festival to The Echo in Los Angeles, where he will spotlight BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists, musicians and vendors.
But while he’s seen the music landscape become more diverse, with queer, trans and non-binary artists stepping to the fore, change hasn’t come fast enough from behind the scenes. In Oliver’s new role at Venice, initiatives include helping independent artists provide legal resources to help them make business decisions.
Congratulations on your new role. What does that mean for your everyday?
I implement new legal systems for the company. I negotiate and draft between Venice, companies and artists. I review and negotiate brand partnerships and agreements between businesses, service providers and others I advise the executive team on business decisions, their legal implications, etc.
What drew you to the business side of the industry?
I play guitar, and I’ve been playing since I was a kid, so I do creatively Participation to some extent. But I actually have pretty bad stage fright. I feel very good at the strategy and logistics of taking a music project, and really understanding how to market it and what to do with it and how to realize an artist’s vision for the project. So I think as a result, naturally, I gravitated towards helping artists build a business infrastructure around the things they wanted to create rather than being a music artist myself.
You have launched Oliva Law Group, PC and Dani Oliva Music Consulting In 2017. Was there an event that inspired you to start your own firm?
Well, I knew I wanted to work in entertainment law, and I had the idea that I wanted to have my own practice for a really long time. It was a person, rather than a case, that really inspired me to go in that direction. Before I went to law school I was working in management, and I had artists who were asking me questions about contracts and legal agreements. And I was like, “Oh, shit, I should get an entertainment lawyer to help me and help them understand these terms.” And so I met an entertainment lawyer who had his own music practice, but one [record] label and at the time, he had a really cool art gallery and I thought, “Well, that’s really cool.” Like, he gets his hands on some of the creative decisions related to music and artists, he’s helping all these wonderful, diverse artists launch their careers, and he’s got this law firm. What I want to do. So initially that’s where the idea came from, where I was like, “Okay, I want to try to have my own entertainment law practice.”
What drew you to Venice?
I was interested in Venice because it is inherently diverse. It was founded by Troy Carter, who is a black man, and Suzy Roo, who is an Asian woman. The whole company is diverse by nature, so that was really interesting to me. I didn’t really feel like I had to explain anything about who I was to everyone and that made the onboarding experience really comfortable.
Can you talk about some of the challenges and roadblocks LGBTQ+ people face within the music industry?
When I started working in music 20 years ago, I presented as a woman and there were very few women in music in the executive. There aren’t that many women in music even when you compare it to the number of men. And many women I knew faced discrimination then and still do. For the few LGBTQ+ people in the industry, most are afraid to come out because they fear losing their jobs. Also there weren’t many transgenders in the media. There was no Elliott Page, no Laverne Cox, and no openly transgender music business executives. I really had to find and create my own way. And that’s all I want to say: I want to be the visible, out, rich transgender, queer person I needed to be when I was growing up and trying to work in this space.
The past year has been really big for queer, trans and non-binary artists. we had Sam Smith and Kim Petrus earn a No. 1 hit. How do you feel about the current landscape of LGBTQ+ people in music? Do you think that is improving?
I feel better about it now than I did in 20 years. Artists from all kinds of backgrounds and a lot of LGBTQ+ artists are being pushed forward And their queerness is not being considered as a negative. It is something that adds an aspect to their identity. We’re also seeing the rise of queer, trans, and non-binary artists at the creator level. I don’t know if I can say the same at the executive level. I don’t think there is a match, unfortunately.
To understand what music creators create, you need to understand where they’re coming from — their background and the community they’re part of. This requires diversity. If we look at transgender artists or non-binary artists like Kim Petrus, they can rightfully be supported by transgender executives. It’s important to have people from all backgrounds on both the creative and executive sides of the music industry. Because that’s who we are as a society.
Venice is one of the main music distribution platforms for independent artists. What would you say is the most pressing issue facing indie artists right now?
I would say learning about the business side of the industry and finding partners to help them do what they do, because it’s a lot to learn. If you think about it, you have to record an album, do your social media posts, go on tour, release something and promote it. Also, you need to learn the business aspects. It’s too much.
I think the second major issue I see artists face now is that there is a lot of pressure to create content and constantly promote it, and I think it affects mental health. Artists may not get the best advice from the people around them, in the sense that they are not encouraged to relax or set boundaries.
In your career, what is the most important thing you have learned?
Having healthy boundaries and sticking to your own beliefs and really taking the time to figure out who you are as a person and what your principles are.