In the 1970s, during that period when women were building businesses including bookstores,garages, women’s clinics, restaurants and the like the was a recording cooperative called Olivia Records. (Ancestor to the Cruise/ Tour Company)
They recorded feminist women making music for politically aware women, mainly lesbian music and predominantly in the genre of folk singer/songwriter.
Cris Williamson is still around but many like Meg Christian have dropped back into obscurity; perhaps performing house concerts and self-producing/self-distributing.
As much as I liked the music of the artists who recorded on Olivia there wasn’t all that great a demand outside the feminist community for lesbian folk singers.
Particularly since their distribution was mainly through Women’s and Gay/Lesbian bookstores.
But their concerts were well attended and many considered Olivia Records to be a shining example of how a woman run cooperative could be ethically operated and promote idealistic feminist ethics.
Being the token post-transsexual at the Lesbian Tide I was given some material issued by Olivia Records after they found themselves under siege by self proclaimed “radical feminists.”
Sandy Stone, a sister I knew back in those days, more friend of friends than an actual personal friend was the sister who was the target of the “radical feminists” wrath.
It is much to my regret that I wasn’t able to hang out with and learn more from Sandy as I have heard she was a generous teacher when it came to sharing recording studio skills.
In those days it was hard for women to find some one to actually show them what the sliders and switches on a mixing board did. Usually when I wound up being invited to recording sessions it was more because of the Nikons around my neck than any willingness to share knowledge.
In those days there was a small women’s bookstore out near UCLA, Sisterhood Books on Westwood, south of Wilshire Blvd. I liked going there, it really felt good to buy books and stuff there, knowing the money wasn’t going into the pockets of some straight men and was instead helping support the women’s community.
I had a bunch of Olivia Records. I don’t think I had even noticed Sandy’s name or if I had it was like, “Oh I know her… cool…”
Then about the time the whole anti-gay, anti-lesbian campaign led by Anita Bryant heated up there was suddenly this huge cry of outrage from a bunch of people who didn’t really seem to be part of an organized group.
They were all outraged that Olivia records had a transsexual Recording Engineer.
They demanded Olivia get rid of her.
They picketed Women’s Bookstores and protested outside of concerts.
Now women were just learning skill sets from Sandy and a few others that would enable someone to take over. Plus Sandy had considerable talent which isn’t an easily teachable quality.
What follows is an information sheet put out by Olivia Records as part of the package defending Sandy Stone:
As women redefine ourselves we are redefining our culture, and we are creating new music that accurately reflects our lives, We are women—we are strong sometimes, in pain sometimes, in love sometimes, angry sometimes, excited-about our growth and learning to share our lives with other women, learning to take financial, emotional, and physical risks, and learning to count on the help and. support of the growing community of woman-identified women who are taking smal1 steps every day to build a world in which we can live with comfort and-trust.
Olivia Records is a national women’s recording company, it was started by a group of women in Washington, DC, in January 1973. It was the result of a decision made by that group to create a business which would serve the needs of women–one in which women could be paid for doing the kind of work we wanted to do.
We decided to produce records because we knew that a feminist enterprise should create a product that women wanted and needed. And we knew that music was a powerful force in helping women change and take control of their lives.
We established Olivia with four goals in mind: 1. to make women’s music (music that speaks honestly and realistically about women’s lives) available to the public; 2. to provide talented-woman-oriented musicians with access to the recording industry and control over their music; 3. to provide training for women in all aspects of the recording industry; 4, to provide jobs for large numbers of women, with reasonable salaries and-in unoppressive situations.
Collective work is important to Olivia Records. We feel that the ideas of any one woman are amplified and elaborated when they are expressed in a group. Since each woman must be a product of her own background, we’ve learned- that group work keeps one woman’s viewpoint–limited as it must be–from providing the sole context for decision-making. 0f course, it also spreads the work around and. Provides a structure for sharing skills. We’ve learned from each other that sharing the same understandings about women and the same goals for ourselves and all women is the basis for political trust that has seen us through a multitude of crises.
We are a collective in the process of expansion. Five of us have been involved with Olivia since its beginnings. Now several other women are joining us because there is a lot more work to do and because we’ve always planned for Olivia’s decision makers to include more women of varied” class and race backgrounds. We are involved as a group in ongoing discussion of Olivia Record-s and. feminism. We are concerned with integrating feminist principles into a money generating enterprise. We are concerned with the building of a mass movement dedicated to the eradication of oppression rooted in sexism, racism, and classism. We are concerned with woman identification and the commonality of women’s struggles everywhere.
We envision an economic institution in which women work cooperatively. We feel that in a really creative structure, the collective can be the vehicle for a woman to have a real voice in determining her own working conditions, acquisition of skills’ and salary.
As we expand and start to include more women we will involve them in decision making. Every department (e.g. engineering, promotion, graphic arts) will make the decisions that affect its work.
All employees will be able to participate in general company decision-making. All financial books will be open to any member of the company.
We will have an apprentice program in each department so that women can learn new skills receiving a salary.
We want to pay women on the basis of need, instead of on the basis of the value the society places on the work. Society says that a musician is more valuable than a bookkeeper; those of us who keep the hooks know that’s not true.
Olivia Record’s does not “own” its recording artists’ Musicians have one-record’ contracts. Beyond that, the relationship of each artist to Olivia is up to the artist. Some may want to work with the company on a regular basis; some nay prefer to work with us only once or only occasionally.
The recording artist participates in budget discussions and decisions concerning her record. In the studio, she always has final control of how her music goes onto the record, The only limitation placed on the kind of music recorded is that it not be sexist, racist, classist, or ageist. We want to produce a, variety of records reflecting all different kinds of women’s music and musicians.
Olivia’s goals would not be served-by plugging our records into established distribution systems. We distribute the records ourselves. Women in cities across the country are settling up an independent distribution system for Olivia Records. They manage retail and wholesale sales and. promotion in their own communities. They are also our lifeline–keeping Olivia Record s in communication with the women’s movement all across the country. Olivia also distributes high-quality woman-produced music that is not on our label. We are committed to getting out fine women’s music.
Olivia is accountable to women for the use of money. Financial statements w1ll be published yearly through the women’s press. Almost all the money that Olivia has comes from women’s pockets-*either in the form of donations or record sales. Hundreds of women have sent gifts from 20 cents, to $10,000. Al1 donations are no-strings-attached; the women who control Olivia are the women who work for it.
We are currently seeking donations to help us buy our own studio. A studio will enable us to produce records at a lower cost than renting commercial studio time, and it wilI give us a place to train technical people. It will also free the musicians from the time-is-money feeling that makes them want to get into and out of the studio as fast as they can. We hope to have our studio in operation in 1977-78. Until that time, and probably for awhile thereafter, we will-be unable to produce as many records as we would like. Our hiring program will not begin in earnest until then, because we won’t be generating enough income,
At the point when Olivia has more money than it needs for its own healthful sustenance, that money will be used- to help other feminist businesses get started-, This organization is not for personal profit.
We are eager to help other women who want to start feminist businesses in any ways we can, We want to do business with other feminist companies whenever we can. Eventually, we would like women to have control over the entire recording process. This means we envision woman-owned pressing plants, processors, masterers.
We have a tape library of women’s music which consists of tapes sent to us by many women musicians, Tapes are included by permission of the musician. Any woman can have her music made a part of the library. We strongly suggest that it be copyrighted. And any woman who wants a sample of this music can send us a blank cassette, indicating the kind of music she is interested in. In this way woman musicians can get their music out to other musicians who might perform it, and to women1n general. The tape library also provides another service to musicians. Musicians call us, asking for new material and for the names of other musicians they can make music with.
Women who want their music to be included in our library should write us asking the guidelines and questionnaire we use so that each woman can define her own music.
We hope to publish songbooks of the music we record so that many women can learn to play it and sing it.
We want Olivia to be responsive to women’s needs reflective of women’s lives. We invite suggestions, criticisms, and reactions to our products.
Olivia Records. PO Box 70237, Los Angeles CA 90070.
Olivia was then and still could be an alternative model to build a profit sharing cooperative business model on.
Who benefited from the radical Feminist’s attacks upon the Olivia Collective.
Not the women of the collective.
Not women’s music.
Not women’s bookstores.