Ryan Leslie: A Brand In Transition


It’s not often that you come across a truly inspiring individual that makes you believe not only in their dreams, but also reaffirm yours. That person for me has been R&B artist, producer, songwriter and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Ryan Leslie.

What this guy has done, and continues to do, is what most artists lay back and expect their labels to do for them: Establish a brand name, a brand look and a brand identity, using a brand new bag of tricks to catapult his career.

As a Harvard University graduate, at the age of 19, his degree in Political Science and Macroeconomics, could have easily landed him a career in government. Instead, Ryan Leslie chose to pursue his dream of making it big in the music industry.

He started off as an intern, established an online presence that generated more than 5 million YouTube views, and went on to become an internationally known producer for the likes of Cassie, Beyonce, Fabolous, Usher, Kid Cudi and more. His remarkable rise to stardom can be attributed to his musical gift, relentless work ethic, and intense focus on building his brand.

When talking to Ryan, you wouldn’t expect such a humbling attitude from a man who has thus far, inspired a legion of online clones looking to capture his buzz and fan following as their own. Yet, there he was this past Monday, even in the midst of a big press push for his album “Transition” apologizing for the few delays in hooking up that day.

He discussed his philosophy on branding, the secret to his success, and his future plans for the Ryan Leslie brand.

In your own words, how would you define the Ryan Leslie brand?

I would have to say my “philosophy” would be just staying true to myself and true to what I believe. Since I started in this, I’ve kind of known what it was that I wanted from this, and just continued to pursue that. If you know who you are, then pushing your brand shouldn’t be work.

You are relentless about showcasing your brand, tell us about some of the things you do to stay connected and relevant to your audience?

Obviously my Internet presence has allowed me to keep in touch with my fan base. It’s been the best way and at first, the only way in which I could distribute my content. It’s an inexpensive and global distribution channel. It allows me to always be in touch with my audience, and I think that’s what has kept me here. I think that’s the future.

Do you feel the relationship between record labels and artists has changed in the way that talent is branded and marketed to the consumer?

I believe it hasn’t changed in the sense that you have as much control over your product as you allow yourself to have. Whether you’re a songwriter, producer or artist, you’re just not going to allow another person to dilute the control you have, unless you have that fear of failing or destructive point of view. But that hasn’t changed any from 5 years ago, 10 years ago or 20 years ago…no. If you’re still looking for help finding your perspective, that’s when you might rely on say, a record label or film company. But, then it’s up to them to make adjustments in areas, which they feel are more commercially viable to them as a company and not necessarily to you as a brand or artist. So in that way, it still hasn’t changed how artists and labels interact.

It takes a village to raise a brand, who helps you keep your brand on point?

It’s truly a team effort of talented interns whom I’ve hired, groomed, trained and indoctrinated to establish my brand identity, and my footprint, if you will. And, even more recently, I’ve extended my team to include some fine developers and designers at Keystone Design Union, to act as a sort of companionship to my Next Selection family.

Are there any goals that you have for your brand that you feel you haven’t yet achieved or capitalized on?

I feel as though in the short amount of time I’ve been doing this, I’ve accomplished a lot of what I set out to accomplish. So, in that regard, I think we, me as a brand, have achieved the goals we set out to. I’ve done what I feel I’m supposed to have done. I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be at this time.

When asked who or what influenced the way he marketed and branded himself, he laughed and said, “Truthfully I’d have to say, I consider myself a pioneer.”

What’s been refreshing about getting to know and experience a talent of Ryan Leslie’s caliber is that it makes you more aware of how a simple adage about staying true to yourself can become your brands rallying cry. Ryan Leslie’s new album Transition is in stores now. Maybe your brand’s transition to marketability can come to fruition now.


  1. Posted July 28, 2010 at 1:35 PM | Permalink

    I think the issue with branding is I was always so used to reading about Mr Leslie in regards to Cassie Ventura. If anything I see his professional persona a result of co-branding rather than stand alone.

    Kagem Tibaijuka

    • Posted July 28, 2010 at 5:21 PM | Permalink

      Hmmm. Interesting thought Kagem, but while Cassie immediately comes to mind, you can’t deny how he was able build and mobilize his fan-base online. He’s definitely the blueprint for aspiring artists looking to build a base on the internet.

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