After a brief hiatus in 2018, the OVO Summit is back in full swing. Complete with new corporate sponsor, RBC (Royal Bank of Canada), a new venue and a new program, it was nice to see the summit stay true to its original purpose - to inspire Canadian creatives to hone their skills and stay the course. This year’s summit took place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, adding a new level of prestige to the already coveted event. As usual recording artists, fashion designers, producers, entertainment managers, etc were drawn to hear words from the surprise speaker list - you only find out who they are once you get there. An interesting change that not too many people were fond of was that you could now purchase a ticket to attend instead of having to be directly tied to an arts organization. Some artists may feel that the event is specifically for them and their development, but who’s to say that an aspiring civil engineer or business person can’t gain anything from the talks? The summit lineup tends to have a variety of speakers and knowledgeable interviewers that not only provide industry insight, but motivational anecdotes about what they had to sacrifice and the skills they had to learn to get themselves to where they are today.
Without further adieu, the speaker line up for this year’s OVO Summit was:
Ethiopia Habtemariam of Motown Records, interviewed by Mr. Morgan of OVO Sound
Jessie Reyez, interviewed by Alicia “Ace” West of Flow 935
Noah “40” Shebib of OVO Sound and Paul “Nineteen85” Jeffries of dvsn in conversation
Oliver El-Khatib of OVO, interviewed by Drex Jancar of OVO
Hosted by Tyrone Edwards of etalk, it was definitely a star studded affair worth the wait. The fact that they chose to showcase Canadian successes (with the exception of Ethiopia Habtemariam) created a feeling of tangibility and realness, making attendees feel that if they worked hard enough then perhaps they too could reach the status of the individuals on stage.
Speaking of working hard, Ethiopia’s talk was definitely the most gratifying. Interning at LaFace Records from high school age to securing a position upon graduation allowed for her to be instrumental in the signing of Usher, TLC and later on Keri Hilson and Justin Bieber. Ethiopia is a hard worker and an advocate for artists’ success, citing times she fought for performers to get what they deserved out of labels or speaking up when women were in situations in studio that could have lead to dangerous results. It was nice knowing that her rigor paid off and to hear from her ‘spread the wealth’ mindset. Recording artist, Jessie Reyez spoke to the abundance of free arts programs in Toronto that can really help you out with your career. Jessie made sure to mention that the programs may be there but you only get out of them what you put in, if you’re halfway through a program have and nothing to show for it, it’s on you.
The crowd got to learn more about song creation with Noah “40” Shebib and Paul “Nineteen85” Jeffries, taking a deeper look into song splits and the concept of producer vs. musician vs. songwriter and more parties who could be involved in the song making process. It was nice to hear 40 speak as although he is integral to the OVO team, he is often behind the scenes leading through action as opposed to words. The duo spoke more about the creative process and the importance of being honest with yourself as well as having an honest group of friends around you who will tell you if you’ve made a banger or if you’re overproducing. Last but not least, the day concluded with a conversation between Drex Jancar and Oliver El-Khatib. Dex Jancar is an artist manager, co-founder of The Remix Project (the very same program Jessie Reyez took part in) and wears dozens of other hats. As many know, Oliver El-Khatib is Drake’s creative director and part of his management. Drake and Oliver met back in 2008 while working retail. It’s not clear how Drex met Drake, but it can be speculated that music brought them together. Either way, the message from their talk was very clear: they only promote from within.
Keeping it in the family most likely wasn’t the central message of their talk, but it’s definitely what stood out. Apparently, even the models they use for OVO clothing are all a friend of a friend. The crowd got to really understand how far back the OVO family goes and how they’ve managed to create success by sticking together. With that information in mind, it seems like budding entertainment professionals can do one of two things, either try to climb their way into the OVO bucket or embark on their own journey forming their own unique bonds elsewhere. None of these paths are easy; it took about a decade of work for OVO to get where they are now. No matter what path creatives choose, make sure to keep supportive and forward thinking and innovative people in your life because the only sure thing is that hard work beats talent when talent fails to work.