Woman-Led Olivia Records is Paving a New Path for Country Music
Sometimes, if you want to do it right, you have to do it yourself. It’s no secret that Nashville’s country music scene is stymied by sexism, but Erin Olivia Anderson of Olivia Management has an answer for that: get creative.
Anderson launched the woman-led company in 2012, initially working with artists like Jill Andrews, Smooth Hound Smith, Amanda Shires, The Secret Sisters, Matthew Perryman Jones and Hush Kids. In March 2022, Anderson launched an offshoot record label: Olivia Records.
LGBTQ+ music history fans may have an itch in the back of their brains: the Olivia Records of the ‘70s is famous as the first lesbian-owned record label, featuring artists active in the women’s music movement. The name is a coincidence – Anderson used “Olivia” as a tribute to her grandmother, a businesswoman and landlord in Michigan in the 1930s when it was rare for a woman to have her own property.
“The first Olivia Records comprised a strong group of women who were unafraid to work against the grain and put out unique records. I love the idea of carrying on that tradition of strong, independent women through my own record company," Anderson tells The Boot. “In fact, our first two releases from the new label are both by brilliant queer artists [CJ Temple and Madeleine Kelson], although the choice to lead with their releases was based solely on the quality of their music.”
The pursuit of quality is the heart of Anderson’s mission. She cut her teeth working at a record store in high school, learning from the store’s buyer about why certain records fly off the shelves.
“Even though music moved me and I understood how important it was,” Anderson recalls. “I wasn't particularly musically talented. So working in the music business seemed like the perfect way to stay close to the music while making use of my more business-oriented skills. I think my passion for the business started then, and eventually I found my way to Belmont [University].”
After graduating with a degree in music business, Anderson got a job at UMG Nashville in the mid-2000s, working as an assistant to the CFO. Anderson got a peek into the books of major recording stars – and says she's glad it ain’t the way it used to be.
“Much has been written since then about the pros and cons of the advent of digital and streaming, but from where I sit, digital and streaming have been great for musicians," she explains. "The removal of barriers to entry surrounding physical distribution diverted some of the power away from large labels, creating this amazing middle class of musicians who are able to earn a living making music. My current job managing independent artists wasn't possible in 2005, but it is now. It’s exciting to work in that middle space, helping artists find their way onward and upward.”
Anderson’s positivity towards change helped her roster at Olivia Management adapt to the lockdown of the early pandemic. The team helped their artists launch Patreons, devise creative merch ideas, book socially distanced backyard tours, and helped set up livestreams. Of course, Anderson is thrilled that her clients can begin touring and “do what they do best.” With eight releases coming up this year between Olivia Management and Olivia Records, it’ll be a busy 2022, with no guarantees that touring can continue.
“Despite what happens next, I plan to continue finding new ways to support and uplift independent artists," she says. "And to help them make money— because their work is so valuable to our society and to our sanity.”
Anderson is committed to preserving artists’ sanity in other ways, including by committing to diversity within the Americana world. Olivia Management has offered consulting scholarships to BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students in the past, and is continuing to emphasize leadership by women on either side of the mic.
“I’ve been very intentional about growing and promoting women in the music business since the beginning of Olivia Management, and that won’t change anytime soon," Anderson says. "That being said, I know the music industry, and the folk/Americana genre in particular, have a long way to go. If you’re an artist from a marginalized group making music in this space and want to talk with us about your experience in this industry, please reach out!”
Anderson does have some free advice for everyone:
“Be kind to everyone. I mean it. My mom (and your mom, probably) used to say, ‘You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.’ She’s not wrong at all.”
Passion and instinct, of course, will also take you far.
“I’d like to remind any newbies — both artists and future managers — that you have to be willing to take risks," she notes. "You have to trust yourself, and keep going. It might not work out the way you want it to, at first. That’s part of the whole process. You have to keep going and trust your gut. You’ll get there.”