Matthew Ohio is a well-established music executive and entrepreneur with over a decade of experience in Nigeria’s entertainment industry. He is renowned for creating Industry Nite, a talent showcase platform. His influence extends further as the CEO of El Carnaval, a media company specialised in production management and artiste booking, and as a director on the board of the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN). In this interview with TheCable Lifestyle’s VICTORY ORIMEMI, Ohio delved into various aspects of his multifaceted career. He also shared insights into the challenges and opportunities within the entertainment sector, and the changing dynamics between artistes and record labels in Nigeria.
TheCable Lifestyle: You juggle different roles as an entrepreneur, a music executive, and a human rights activist. What inspired you to pursue such a diverse and impactful career path?
Matthew Ohio: Well, first of all, as a Nigerian, I do not think anyone has just one source of income or revenue stream. So, I started off more in the entertainment industry, and over the years, through entertainment, we have had the chance to network and encounter different people and opportunities. I began venturing into areas like construction and real estate.
I am from Edo state, and I was seeking a way to give back to my community. I realised that Edo is a major source of human trafficking. Therefore, we decided to use our voices to speak out against human trafficking. That is how I decided to get involved in human rights and advocate for them.
You know, being from Edo, I witnessed many people being taken advantage of, and a lot of them ended up in various parts of Europe. Coincidentally, my wife is Italian, and it is unfortunate that many people from Edo also end up in Italy, where they are subjected to degrading work and human trafficking. This is what truly inspired me to establish our foundation, which we named the Music Assembly Against Human Trafficking.
TheCable Lifestyle: That is really amazing. As you mentioned, you began your journey in the entertainment space as the popular show promoter that we all know. We have also witnessed your foray into talent management through the creation of El Carnaval. What initially drew you to talent management, and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
Matthew Ohio: There is a serious lack of talent managers and proper structures. As a show promoter organising industry events, including Industry Nite as a talent showcase and talent discovery platform, I discovered that many artistes, even up to this day, continue to struggle to find suitable management due to a shortage of experienced professionals in the field. People have always approached us for management and bookings, prompting us to step in and fill that gap.
Currently, numerous prominent artistes still grapple with the challenge of securing local management. Many of them have opted for international management firms or foreigners to handle their affairs. However, the issue with this approach is the inability to connect with the primary market, which is the local market in Nigeria. So, we are working to bridge that gap.
TheCable Lifestyle: How do you discover and select the talents you represent, and who are the artistes currently under your management?
Matthew Ohio: We have done some work in the past with artistes like 2Baba, Seyi Shay, and Dammy Krane. However, currently, our focus has shifted towards discovering and nurturing new talent. We have switched up our digital platform to primarily serve as a talent discovery platform. Most of the artistes we are working with now are newcomers, such as John Dust, Young Incredible, and quite a few others. We are just trying to groom and support upcoming artistes. You might not know them yet, but you will definitely hear about them soon.
TheCable Lifestyle: I am really curious about your selection process. How did you come to choose these up-and-coming artistes? Did they reach out to you, or did you discover them through platforms like Instagram or other social media channels?
Matthew Ohio: What we are mostly known for is Industry Nite, and Industry Nite is renowned for showcasing and discovering talent. We have been doing that for the past 15 years now. Naturally, many upcoming artistes come to our platform. So, we have always had artistes come to us, either directly or indirectly.
What we have done now is we have launched our digital platform, industrynite.xyz, which is designed to help us showcase and discover more talent. We are utilising various tools, including AI (artificial intelligence), to identify artistes from all over Africa. We have activated this feature, allowing artistes to visit our website, industrynite.xyz, and submit their music for registration. We will also evaluate the music, and assess its quality and commercial potential. Afterward, we listen closely and make selections based on that evaluation.
TheCable Lifestyle: I believe that the goal of every talent manager is to see their artistes grow beyond local horizons. What approach are you taking to place these artistes on the international stage or the global platform?
Matthew Ohio: Luckily, as Nigerians, we have a very strong diaspora presence all over the world. We are leveraging this to our advantage. Currently, we are in the process of establishing a network of show promoters and music executives within the diaspora. This network will connect them with emerging and potential artistes from back home, creating a platform for touring and expanding into those markets. We are working closely with diaspora show promoters and music executives to tap into this substantial diaspora market. It is a significant opportunity, and we are taking advantage of that.
TheCable Lifestyle: Do you also work with film stars, or are you only focused on music artistes?
Matthew Ohio: For now, we are just working with music artistes. We are also working with producers and songwriters.
TheCable Lifestyle: You founded Industry Nite in 2008, and since then, you have helped some artistes launch their careers via your platform. Among these artistes, which one would you say you are most proud of today?
Matthew Ohio: Oh, wow, there are so many people, you know. DJ Spinall, he is one of our biggest ambassadors. Yemi Alade, I saw her today at the United Nations General Assembly giving a speech. Sean Tizzle, CDQ, Dammy Krane, just so many people. Wizkid, I mean, we had a Wizkid Industry Nite as far back as 2012, and a Davido Industry Nite in 2011. So most of the people who are currently trending came through us at some point. So, you know, we are proud of them. We can say that through Industry Nite, we have influenced urban music and urban culture worldwide.
TheCable Lifestyle: You mentioned Sean Tizzle, and it is noticeable that his career has not thrived as it did in the past. Could you explain why some artistes reach the peak of their careers, experience a decline, and find it hard to climb back up?
Matthew Ohio: It is hard to climb back up, that is for sure. However, I would not say they go down. Sometimes, it is intentional, as in the case of Sean Tizzle. I believe he took some time off to focus on family life and started a family, but now he is making a comeback, performing at the SOB’s in New York on October 1. So, sometimes, to outsiders, it might seem like an artiste has fallen off, but in reality, they may just be taking a break or exploring other interests or they cannot deal with the hectic lifestyle.
Also, some artistes cannot keep up with the trends because music is always changing, the trends are always changing with new talents emerging all the time. It is not easy to maintain a top position for five or ten years. This is not unique to Nigeria; it is a common phenomenon in markets worldwide, including the United States and Europe. Only a few artistes manage to sustain their success over extended periods.
TheCable Lifestyle: I recently learned that Industry Nite is actually a free event and has maintained a free admission policy for over 10 years.
Matthew Ohio: Yes, it was free for a long time, but now we have started charging. We started charging after our 10th anniversary.
TheCable Lifestyle: How did you effectively sustain it during the period when you were not charging a fee?
Matthew Ohio: It has been a struggle; it has not been easy. We have received support from artistes who have been very generous, with some not charging too much or even performing for free. We have also had sponsorship from various companies who have looked after us over the years.
TheCable Lifestyle: What strategies do you use to attract and retain sponsors for every event?
Matthew Ohio: The main strategy for sponsors is to consider the event from their perspective. It is essential to focus on what they want, not just what you want. You must think about what you can offer them and how they can derive the most value from their participation. Always place yourself in their shoes and find ways to provide them with maximum value.
Make sure that the sponsors get value from your event. If they sell products, ensure that they are selling. If they want people to feel their products, make sure as many people have a feel of their products. If they are more interested in branding and exposure, make sure they are properly branded and their brand is seen. Always ask, “what is in it for the sponsor?” When you approach sponsorship with this mindset, you will establish successful partnerships.
Many people assume sponsors will support solely because they are a big company or have financial resources, but you have to always think about what they stand to gain and deliver on those promises.
TheCable Lifestyle: In recent times, some artistes have spoken about how music promotion has become increasingly expensive. What would you say are the factors contributing to this rising cost in the industry?
Matthew Ohio: That is a good question. The thing is, the music industry has matured into a real industry. It has become highly commercialised, with people making money from it, and there is a well-defined structure. You see the rise of streaming companies and international labels entering the country. Like any other industry, whether it is oil and gas or banking, entering the music business now requires capital and financial investment. It is a natural progression for a business.
The reason people may talk about Nigeria in particular is that, back in the day, when the music scene began to flourish around 10 to 15 years ago, much of it was driven by passion. But now, the industry has matured, and people are seeking a return on their investment. Everything has become more structured and business-oriented. Everyone has noticed that artistes are getting paid, so now everyone wants to be compensated, pretty much.
TheCable Lifestyle: I am glad you mentioned streaming because some artistes have voiced concerns about not being fairly compensated when their songs are streamed on platforms. In your opinion, how can we ensure that artistes are paid fairly for their music on these streaming platforms, especially considering that streaming has made distribution more accessible to everyone?
Matthew Ohio: It is a global problem. It is not just a Nigerian issue. There is a viral video clip of Snoop Dogg complaining about how he does not understand the way streaming companies calculate their payouts. I think it is a global problem. It is up to technology companies to find more transparent ways to compensate artistes and creators. So it is really in the hands of technology companies. Also, labels can play a role because they can influence these companies to do the right thing. So it is not a problem unique to Nigeria; it is a global issue.
TheCable Lifestyle: The entertainment industry is often described as male-dominated, and many female artistes have expressed the need to work twice as hard to succeed. In your opinion, what are some of the obstacles faced by these women, and what steps are you taking to support them and create a level playing field?
Matthew Ohio: To start with, I believe it is a cultural problem, and it is not unique to the music industry in Nigeria. Even in politics, you can observe that many politicians are now striving to include more women in their cabinets. I would say it is a socio-cultural issue. We live in a somewhat chauvinistic society where it is generally more challenging for women to pursue their aspirations. This challenge extends beyond the entertainment business.
For us, we make efforts to address this by ensuring a balanced lineup at our shows. When we organise events, we aim to have at least three or four women among the eight artistes performing. These are the small steps we are experimenting with to create a more equitable environment. Also, we are collaborating with various foundations, human rights organisations, and gender-based organisations. We are partnering with Change.org to raise awareness and encourage artistes and people in the entertainment industry to use their voices for social impact, addressing important societal issues.
As Africans, we cannot afford to be oblivious to the challenges around us, given our platform’s popularity. We have to leverage our music as a weapon to combat various societal problems, including gender issues, gender-based violence, human trafficking, and human rights violations. We use our platforms to advocate for change.
Last year, we participated in the 16 Days of Activism, a global campaign, in partnership with Change.org. This year, we are doing it again, using the 16 Days of Activism to address a range of issues, from gender equality to climate change and human rights advocacy.
TheCable Lifestyle: You are the director of the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN). What are some of the challenges that MCSN encounters in safeguarding the rights of Nigerian artistes and composers?
Matthew Ohio: I believe the major problem is royalty collection. Many businesses, such as TV stations, radio stations, hotels, and public spaces, are required to pay royalties to MCSN for artistes’ rights. However, these businesses are not accustomed to paying these fees, so persuading them to do so is always a long process. While we do have laws in place, some of them are outdated and require restructuring. Enforcement is also a major problem but I think the MCSN is actively addressing these issues through legal means, involving organisations like the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC) and various companies. We are working to establish a system where musicians receive their royalties as they should.
TheCable Lifestyle: With your extensive experience spanning over a decade in the entertainment industry, what areas do you believe need rapid intervention?
Matthew Ohio: That is a good question. We definitely need more infrastructure including studios and venues. From my side of things, venues are a major problem. On the policy side, we need the government to review and update many of our laws concerning copyrights and publishing, as most of them are very outdated. Also, we need more investors – business people, and technocrats – to come together and invest in the sector. I do not know how much more they need to see to believe. Nigerian music is arguably doing more for Nigeria’s PR than anything else at the moment. I think our musicians are our biggest ambassadors, I think our musicians have done more positive PR than any other thing right now. Since the days of Super Eagles in the ’90s, I do not think we have had as much urban cultural influence in the world as we do now. What we truly need is more investment, more business people, technocrats, venture capitalists, and investors to focus on the industry. We are just scratching the surface, there are still a lot more opportunities and money to be made and there is still a lot of money to be made even within the country, even the potential for entertainment within Nigeria is still heavily untapped, not to talk of all the export potential. So, we need these individuals to concentrate more on the sector and create more opportunities.
TheCable Lifestyle: We recently witnessed a loss in the music industry with the passing of Mohbad. There have been allegations directed at his former record label. What are your thoughts on this?
Matthew Ohio: It is a very sensitive topic, so I need to be careful about what I say. But I will just say that artistes should get lawyers before they get managers. I will use this opportunity to express my condolences to the family. For other upcoming artistes, the first thing you should think about is getting a lawyer. Most of these things start from people just signing contracts when they do not really know the full implications of their contracts. This can lead to animosity, controversy and rivalry. So I think artistes should get a lawyer before even getting a manager. Even if it is a friend or a family member who is a lawyer, you need to have someone who can read all these things from a legal perspective so you know what you are getting into. I think my advice would be to have legal representation from the very beginning.
I am surely 100% against bullying. It is just very unfortunate what happened to the guy and what is very sad is that people have been talking about it, people knew about it. A few months ago, there were actually reports about the guy being attacked once or twice, and he even wrote a petition. There was even an interview where Bella Shmurda months ago said that the guy was suicidal. You know, and the fact that all that happened and the guy actually passed on. I mean, a 27-year-old boy, it is just so sad. So artistes should just try and see how to always have legal representation, a lawyer is more important than a manager, to be honest, it is just a very unfortunate event.
TheCable Lifestyle: What would you say is the current state of artiste-label dynamics in Nigeria?
Matthew Ohio: To be honest, we do not really have many well-established record labels in Nigeria. Anyone can go and register a record label, but when it comes to functional labels, I can mention Mavin, YBNL, Chocolate City, and Davido’s DMW. If a label has only one artiste and no history or structure, I would not rate it very highly.
In terms of artist-label relationships, I believe everyone should be guided by legal contracts. It is crucial for everyone involved to carefully read and understand their contracts. Artistes should avoid rushing into contracts out of desperation because they want to buy cars, and own homes. Given the challenging economic conditions, artistes are often eager to sign contracts.
On the label’s side, they are spending money, investing in artistes, and taking risks. They could have used that money for other purposes, but they chose to invest in you. Artistes should understand that labels are not charity organisations; they are in the business to make money and recoup their investments. Nigerian artistes sometimes mistakenly think that labels are just giving away money for free, but that is not the case. Labels are making an investment, and they expect returns.
Like you said earlier, it is very expensive these days to promote and sign artistes. So, do not expect someone who spent N100 million on you to forget about it or turn his back. The person needs to recoup their investment; it is not a charity. Artistes need to know that, and they need to have that in mind.
TheCable Lifestyle: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs and music executives who are looking to be like you?
Matthew Ohio: It is a long-term game; there are no short wins. Take your time to build your brand, and be diligent and resilient. That is the key. Take your time; it is not a six-month game, so that is what I feel.
Copyright 2023 TheCable. All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from TheCable.
Follow us on twitter @Thecablestyle