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Ryan Leslie interview caught up with Ryan Leslie to discuss breaking down barriers to create opportunities for his career, his successful use of online media and his parent’s reaction to him asking for a start-up loan for his production company after graduating from Harvard.

Marvin Sparks: What was the inspiration behind filming your studio sessions then distributing online?

Ryan Leslie: I think that necessity breeds innovation. I needed exposure because I thought what I was doing was entertaining, because it was entertaining me and I couldn’t get on television so I used YouTube. I couldn’t get on the radio doing what I was doing so YouTube provided a great outlet and we have since consolidated and concentrated everything on my own distribution channel at, so if you wanna see studio sessions and behind the scenes.. Well really we should be showing more behind the scenes, I only really have one guy doing the editing. It used to be me, but now its one guy, so to have him film and edit to a standard that I’ll approve is very challenging but I’ve been encouraging him really get on his game.

So yeah I did it because I didn’t have any outlet for it. If anyone is out there thinking they should be on TV, there's YouTube, because TV stations are watching to see what everyone is watching.

Marvin Sparks: Is that the plan, to take it to TV?

Ryan Leslie: Well of course I’d like to take it to TV; my music videos, short film projects, maybe reality TV. As a creator I’d like to expose it to the maximum audience potential I can reach.

Marvin Sparks: You’ve done a lot of collaborations in your time. What are the requirements to get Ryan Leslie in the studio? Is it more dependant on who can pay the price or does talent matter?

Ryan Leslie: It’s a mixture of both. I make a living from doing this. All of us as human beings, the only thing we have the same of in a 24-hour period is time, so how much does it really cost if I can’t do something I don’t want to do or something that I prefer doing? As I progress on in life and enjoyed some financial rewards from the work that I’ve done thus far, to get in the studio with me mostly comes down to if I’m going to have a good time in the studio with you. And if I’m not going to have that great a time, how well can you compensate me for my time so I do feel like it’s something worthwhile.

To be very frank with you now I really don’t have any financial reasons to get in the studio with anyone so if you look at my collaborations with Jim Jones, Fabolous, Slim (112), my album, Mary J Blige, Jazmine Sullivan; these are all artists that I clearly respect, I think have something to offer and I believe our collaborations were something of value to the musical landscape, so that’s why I did them.

Marvin Sparks: Earlier this year you finally released the album Ryan Leslie, how would you describe it?

Ryan Leslie: I describe the album as a collection of songs that make up the soundtrack for what I was going through at the time. To be very honest I felt like since I make music what I have to do is make the music which is the best soundtrack for what I’m going through so that everyone else that does something else for a living and has the same experiences can have a soundtrack for it. If I make a really good soundtrack to a break-up, hopefully those who don’t do music can have it as their soundtrack and help them to get through it or just enjoy it, because sometimes you should enjoy the pain and just enjoy the experiences of living.

Marvin Sparks: I’ve always wondered why artists self-title their albums. What was your reason?

Ryan Leslie: [Long pause] It is the first collection of music that was distributed by my record company, so I thought in doing I’ll self-title the album so that I could give an introduction of Ryan Leslie to the world.

Marvin Sparks: I’ve done a lot of interviews with artists who have mentioned your name as either someone they respect or who they’d like to get into the studio with. But do you feel underrated to the mass music public?

Ryan Leslie: Erm, not at all. As you said, people who come across what I do and see the obvious passion that I have for it usually rate it very well. I would say underrated would mean an extraordinary athlete being told he won’t go very far. I don’t think I have that stigma or general impression of my rating per se. I don’t think people say ‘He isn’t going to go far’, they say ‘he has an obvious passion and what he needs to do is create an advertisement - meaning song or record - that is going to expose his talent’. Once people get exposed to it they’ll feel the way my current die-hard audience feels. I don’t consider myself underrated, I feel it’s more about exposure and more universal recognition, and I guess that’s the goal for anyone who makes content.

Marvin Sparks: People say contemporary R&B lacks soul and is more euro-dance/ pop-oriented. You’ve had to overcome not getting played and explored different avenues to get success. What’s your take on that?

Ryan Leslie: I want to clarify because I don’t think I was having trouble getting through per se, it was just about what was relevant to the television and radio audience at the time and I think maybe that’s what you’re referring to.

What’s relevant to the radio and television audience is very much consumer-driven, so if the consumer demand is for light-hearted, less cerebral, fun, easily digestible music then that’s what the media and record companies will promote - that’s why they are in business. There was a time, and you can look back on that time - you know the golden age with like Motown - people always look on that and say that was the golden age but that’s what the people wanted to hear and it was making a lot of money for record companies so of course it was promoted, given more support and encouraged.

Right now, especially with the music industry taking the hit it has taken in terms of sales, it just makes more sense for the record labels to invest in promoting what will be commercially successful. If that’s more the dance/pop driven music then you know that’s what the consumers demand and as a capitalist enterprise you have to supply the demand.

Marvin Sparks: So what would you say you’re bringing to the table?

Ryan Leslie: [Long pause] I’m bringing my A-game to the table, that’s what I bring everyday. What does my A-game consist of? It consists of many things; entrepreneurially pushing the boundaries through social-media and its ability to be woven into an entrepreneurial venture, especially one that is music and content driven. And musically I bring to the table my years of consistent practice doing my best to express through music that which I experience in life.

Marvin Sparks: I read that you graduated from Harvard University at the age of 19 with a degree in Government, concentrating in Political Science and Macroeconomics. What would you have been if you weren’t in the music game?

Ryan Leslie: Well you’ve got to think about; am I just a singer? Am I just doing music? I really think I’m in the content game. It’s so much more than music. Even this interview we are conducting now is content. Me, Ryan Leslie as a person is creating content for your media outlet. I think I would be in that game. Look at Barack Obama, look at Will Smith or even look at your favourite bloggers, look at Perez Hilton...

Marvin Sparks: When I saw Government in Political Science I thought perhaps you’d want to get into politics. I saw an interview of you aged 14 were you were teaching in school trying to help the community.

Ryan Leslie: That’s exactly what I’d be doing and I don’t think it is too late for me to do that. At this stage my focus, my concentration and my passion - and I’ve been very blessed to be doing this - is exactly what I’m doing right now. But there are many folks who start their life doing one thing and end it doing something completely different. I wouldn’t be doing anything else other than what I’m currently doing.

Marvin Sparks: Are there any issues you are passionate about?

Ryan Leslie: Yeah, in the United States there is a huge need for financial literacy and I was a victim of it. I had a credit card really early, [maximised] it out and then fell into the trap of credit card debt and the negative impact that a poor credit rating has on your ability to function in society. As a young entrepreneur you need credit to get approved for loans and access to capital. That’s something that I’m passionate about.

Marvin Sparks: You moved back with your parents after graduating and asked them for a loan to start your production company. What were their reactions to your proposal?

Ryan Leslie: The initial reaction was ‘How is it possible that we sent our young, intellectually gifted son to the best university in the world, he doesn’t have a penny to his name and has decided to pursuit one of the most personally and financially risky careers that exist?’ That’s what they said.

Marvin Sparks: Did they take much convincing?

Ryan Leslie: No, they didn’t take too much convincing because my parents are both musicians. They understood the passion and in addition to that they understood and had witnessed the work ethic. Even in high school, I would wake up 2 or 3 hours before I had to go school then be in the garage writing and arranging songs for my little high school group to perform.

Marvin Sparks: As a follower of you on Twitter I’ve seen you give out tickets to your shows and signed iPod’s for fans. How and why important is it to have that contact with your fans? Many other artists aren’t that personal with their fans.

Ryan Leslie: I personally enjoy it. I have a good time interacting with my audience personally. Most people place a high priority on things they enjoy.

Interview conducted by Marvin Sparks

Ryan Leslie is out now
Transition coming soon


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