Expanding Your Creative Heights - An Interview with Dani Saldo

We spoke with Toronto-based songwriter Dani Saldo about her career goals, international industry experience, sync placements, and some of her learnings along the way!

Let's dig into your music background, how did you get started?

In school, I was always doing music. I was a very active part of the theatre club, I played in the Rockin' Tale of Snow White as the Evil Queen and also I played Anne Boleyn, so I've always been involved in music. I was also involved in a lot of worship bands and then like very randomly in 2015, I decided to go live in the Philippines for six months and then while I was there I did a music workshop with the major TV station there (ABS CBN) and that's when I thought, OK, I seriously want to do music. I also did a workshop at Berklee in LA at Emerson called All In The Song where I met Justin Tranter. He yelled at me for not being confident enough. That stuck in my mind and that's when I thought, OK, I'll be more confident. Since then, I've just been like writing!

What is it that lead you to seeking out these different programs, what lead you to say, you know what, maybe I need to go outside of Canada?

I was having a hard time finding events and ways to connect with people within the GTA Community and just Canada generally, so I just thought to myself, "You know where music happens? in LA! You know where music happens? in the Philippines! Let's go there!" There's a lot more Pop Music in the music scene now (In Canada), but at the time it was a very RnB-heavy scene, and it was very DRAKE, the WEEKND. At the time, this wasn't part of my sound or the goals I was looking to achieve.

What were some of your experiences going headfirst into new international music scenes like you did?

Whenever I know I'm going to be in a new community and networking, I keep a note on my phone saying These are your goals for your trip! This is what I hope to achieve and accomplish! These are the people I want to meet! I need to have a game plan of how to enter that new scene and know what the scene is all about, is it more casual? More formal? And where I fit in all of that. I'm the kind of person who likes to have a plan and have my decisions informed by that. I ask myself "Will this person contribute to my growth positively? Will they help me within my business and also as a person?" and that guides me.

Writing down your tangible goals and how to get there - where did you learn to adopt this process and how does it help you integrate within a new community of musicians?

It helps to know what I'm going into and what I hope to achieve when I go into a new community. It really clarifies the steps I need to take to get to my goal. I kind of learned it in school as well. I went to an alternative education High School called St. John Bosco in Ontario, where I went to school 2 times a week. Teachers took the approach of asking "Ok, so now what do you want to do?" It wasn't like a regular school where you have a strict curriculum. At that time I told my teachers my goals, which was "I want to do music!" and they recognized (which is really cool!) that being a musician is essentially working a small business. So they gave me a lot of courses within writing, communication, English, business planning, and even teaching. Also, while in high school, the parents of my significant other (at the time), were business people and they had a website design company where they did SEO and being together for as long as we were, I was always interacting with their parents and just constantly observing their knowledge "oh, OK, this is how you do small business and translate that into music."

Can you tell us about your experiences in different countries and how they were different from doing music in Canada?

I think there's a significant difference. I'm thinking specifically of my time in the Philippines where I was like doing the Star Magic Workshop by ABS CBN, it felt more linear for getting into the music industry. If you had the money to go to this workshop, then you are given classes directly from players in the industry. If it works out, you do a showcase and if people like you they approach you.  If not, you can do another course and continue to network with people and let them know, "I want to be a writer," or, "I want to go on the show!" It felt like the workshop was the Canadian equivalent of going to college. What was very interesting to me was that in the Philippines, you had the major TV station (ABS CBN) and then everything else was a spin off from that. It was definitely more direct and linear. In Canada, it's very entrepreneurial in my opinion, it's very much like you can make your own path. Compared to Canada, the barriers to access in the Philippines are a lot easier to navigate, if you are in a good place financially where you can afford to do workshops, because if you can't afford to go to this school you have to find the opportunities themselves elsewhere.

Do you prefer the linear experience akin to the Philippines or do you prefer the Canadian approach of finding your own way?

I prefer to be a little bit more nonlinear because when I was starting out, I didn't even know that I wanted to do songwriting. I was just like music, somewhere and wanted to do things that randomly interested me and over time I refined my goals.  I started out in the music industry thinking "I want to be an artist like Taylor Swift" and then I started learning about the realities of what it would be like to be her, and the responsibility of being a figurehead for a whole business... I thought to myself, I just want to write songs and watch someone perform them while I'm in my pyjamas.

What are your goals and ambitions as an artist?

My goal, straight up, is to have a sustainable living by working in the music industry. I have a lot of barriers to access that I face. As I'm a person with disabilities, having a normal 9-to-5 job isn't something that would work for me. Working music would let me schedule my own hours and help me navigate the days where I'm not able to function which is really important. But yeah, having a sustainable living and just being able to live from it whether it's a publishing deal or whether it be writing enough placements that my little heart can just pay rent. I just wanna always be creating music in any capacity. Lately, I've been really getting into the sync world and writing songs for film and TV which is really fun. I want to keep travelling and keep doing music and living the way that I'm living and sustain that.

Can you talk a little bit more about your experiences with syncing and perhaps the role or the importance of having a good team?

Within sync, I fell upon it by accident and my team just so happened to be moving in the same direction at the time. I'm still a sync baby, I've had just the one placement,  but we're gonna get more soon. I kind of like grew up with my team in a way, I started at 16 which is pretty young. I met them by accident through Facebook, and we all just happened to know each other in some way. At this time, I was telling myself I really wanted to go to New York, go to LA, do some sessions.

It's kinda funny, however, I'm 22 but I was engaged at that time and I felt like that relationship really limited the things I was able to do. When that relationship ended, I felt more open to do new things and explore.

At the time, I was planning to move to Mexico with my ex, but while planning to move, I went to LA and met my friend, who is one of my go-to producers, asked me to split an AirBnB and we got along really well and wrote a lot of songs there. I started to see that my career needed to go in this direction, doing co-writes with people and simply collaborate, so I got a better idea of what I wanted for myself. We also met other people who are now a part of my team, and we all got to know each other through this experience. Eventually we were 5 people in this AirBnB and it all became somewhat of like a songwriting camp. We had such a good base of friendship at that point. We could bounce ideas off one another and that just makes for a better songs. It's just really important to have people who are supportive of you and your goals and with my team we have the mindset of "If we win, we win together."

However, this directly conflicted with the path I was building with my at the time partner, where I would be a business student & a wife in Mexico with them. Also, I was so stressed out about the distance because I could see myself traveling more, so during that whole trip, I was glued to my phone and tired, not enjoying it like I could have. At the time, I lived in Toronto which was starting to have so many more opportunities in music, and I didn’t feel like I could leave that behind when it was just getting started. We tried to think of other ways to make it work but, we broke up & knew we were growing in two different irreconcilable direction, despite the love that existed in that relationship. So I took the money I saved for that relationship, and talked to some of my friends that I had met in LA, because they were thinking of going to of going to New York and we went on a writing trip to New York fuelled by breakup songs.

Can you tell us what it was like to work with your team? Was there a period where you needed to adapt to other and was everyone equally productive and on the same page?

I think it is really important to say that we have a very good base of just being friends before writing and creating together and we're people who get along and fit well together. Because of this, it was easy to transition into a creative environment and write songs together because we're very similar in ways and able to navigate any differences that we may have. Everyone's pretty open minded [on the team] and easy to work with, so I'm just very lucky that way. Sometimes we do butt heads but the dynamic between me and the team remains civil, like a family. Being the youngest sibling in the group, when we were starting they'd tease for being as young as I was. We never had profound issues though, just the typical way you'd get annoyed with someone by being in close contact with them for so long.

What are you working on now and where we can find your music?

Right now, I'm just working on making my songwriting portfolio as dense as I possibly can. I want to make a cool rap-like song, a cool upbeat song, a cool moody song. I have a wish list of songs I want to write and a bunch of people I want to get in contact with like music supervisors and artist managers, even labels to negotiate more placements. I want my music to land more places and be out in the world because I just have a bunch of songs I'm holding onto so tightly. I'd love to make more collaborations in the Canadian scenes because I realized that throughout these years I haven't expanded much in Canada. When COVID hit, I was like, oh my God, I don't know anyone musically in my country. So I'd like to plant my roots more deeply here.

Can you speak about how you consider your music to be a business, like an entrepreneur?

In my Goggle Docs I have a statement of like how I want to operate as a musician and I work backwards from that to figure out what I want. In this statement, for instance, I wrote down I want to keep my finances in order to have financial stability and afford my medical bills, I want a comfortable space to rest and recharge, to cater to my base needs, and hold onto passion projects and navigate and integrate these in a way that works with my disability and mental health. I want to have enough stability to exist and not just survive.

I'm also a business student at Seneca and so I took a bunch of sales and marketing courses. It was important for me to know how to close deals and find leads, which to me translates to finding people who are interested in my music, promoting myself and my brand.

I also wrote down the names and titles of people I want to reach out to, and who I know will be able to help push my career forward for all the reasons I mentioned.

One of the realities of being a musician or being in business at any point whenever you're trying to network is you meet people who aren't super helpful and then some people are just the opposite. How do you distinguish between the two?

Whenever I approach people I want to think tangibly: what value am I bringing to them and how can I help them?  If they're able to see that and appreciate that then it's a green flag. Similarly, if they're able to communicate with me in that way, also green flag. I know the kind of person that I am, I feel like I'm personable, easy to talk to, and I'm very open. I'm also both rigid in my goals and flexible at the same time, I can adjust to what a person needs while not losing myself.  If I click with someone's sense of humour, odds are we will work well together as well. Obviously, I enjoy when someone is able to respond in a timely manner, someone who is professional when needed and casual when needed. Being able to communicate when things are both good and bad is also super important.

It's also very important, I think, to find people who can navigate the line between being professional and casual because the music industry can require both. In my opinion, if someone knows how to interact and manage the different environments that the music industry comes in, I think it's really important and a really big green flag.

Follow Dani on Instagram, and make sure to check out her music on Spotify.