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Ryan Leslie visits music majors at CCNY, talks life after bankruptcy

2013 NYE LA Ryan Leslie
Grammy-nominated musician Ryan Leslie has been touring the world with his short documentary, Black Mozart, a series of behind-the-scenes clips from the creation of his latest album of the same name. This week, Leslie took his tour to the sonic arts music program at the City College of New York to speak to a group of music majors about the obstacles he faced early in his life and career, which included convincing his parents to support his dreams of pursuing music and his struggle to sustain that musical career financially. He also revealed a new business model that personalizes the music experience between the artist and the consumer.

Leslie said his father believed the aspiring musician could have “won a Nobel peace prize or cured cancer” after obtaining a college degree at 18 rather than doing music. After learning of his career plans, his parents removed all financial support after he graduated from Harvard University. The rapper-singer-songwriter became a nomad, moving to any friend’s place with a spare couch or open room. At one point, he lived in the basement of Harvard University. Alluding to this, Leslie says he’s “really coming from the bottom.”

But he kept pushing and eventually became the mastermind behind radio hits like “Addiction” and Cassie‘s “Me & U.”

However, in 2010, Leslie had to file bankruptcy after not being able to make good on a reward of one million dollars to Armin Augstein, a man who returned his laptop. When the laptop went missing it was filled with seven years worth of Leslie’s unreleased beats. When it was returned, the beats were no longer there. After this incident was spun by the media, Leslie began thinking of new ways to reach his fans.

“How many artists can push a button to send a message to all of their fans?” said Leslie. “Amazon can do it. Jay Z can’t.”

“Artists don’t know the people who [are] supporting us,” he continued. “That has to change.

“Every member is added to my personal address book and is encouraged to reach out to me and my team directly as desired,” reads Leslie’s website. He lists his personal number and email address on his Twitter site and encourages anyone to call or email him.

The new model holds no matter the size of your fan base and Leslie intends to use this model to know each of his millions of fans (collectively dubbed “the Renegades”) by name. For independent artists, Leslie had some inspirational words: “If you find something that makes you wake up excited every morning, pursue it.”

-victoria l johnson