Future Business Models: Ryan Leslie wants to disrupt the music industry

Artists are creators by definition, but should their creativity end when the recording process is over? Harvard graduate and Grammy nominated singer/producer Ryan Leslie believes not! In an interview with mnfsto.com, the somewhat narcissistic yet smart hit maker argues that “for a new artist to ascribe to an antiquated business model, really to me is the antithesis of creativity. If you are truly a creator, then are you looking to extend and push the boundaries of culture and artistic contributions of our generation. Then it is imperative that you adopt a model that empowers future creativity.”

After having his big international break in 2006 with Cassie’s hit single Me & U, which he wrote and produced, Leslie went down the traditional route releasing two relatively successful solo albums with Casablanca Records (Universal). But in 2010, when Universal tried to reshape four-albums contract into a 360-type deal, Leslie decided to break the contract and try a different, independent approach.

In 2012, bypassing the traditional intermediaries, he independently released Les is More on his own music and media company NextSelection Lifestyle Group, partnering with RED Distribution (Sony). It was sold as a audiovisual album on his website and later released on iTunes as well. However, this would be his last affiliation with any major company. Leveraging the web technology, the entreprenartist, decided to adopt a fully direct-to-consumer model from then on.

His last album Black Mozart was released through his #Renegades fan club exclusively in digital form. The first big advantage is that the money goes directly in his pocket, avoiding a 30% fee by iTunes or an even bigger cut from a record label. Fans have to pay a fee to become members of his #Renegades club in order to obtain a free download of the album. This allows Leslie to know the details (including email address and phone number) of every single person who purchased his album. THIS is key to his new business model. The subscription also allows fans to engage directly with Ryan Leslie and his team via email or text message, with the artist claiming to manage his email account himself. The man therefore proudly declares himself to be in the data game, and it seems to be a fruitful approach.

Diminishing the importance of sales numbers, the model focuses on capitalising on the core and faithful fan base by establishing a strong relationship with them. Excessively active on social media, Leslie constantly shares his thoughts and activities with his followers, often encouraging them to come meet him at certain places. By engaging so personally with his fans, he gains their trust and respect which allows him to monetise his activities through more than just album sales. Rather expensive merchandise supposedly strongly contributes to his income, along with priced meet-and-greets, concert tickets (sold directly on his website, with VIP options) and special parties (the artist celebrates New Years in Vienna with his most faithful fans, with tickets options ranging from $220 to $1,700!)

Artists such as 50 Cent, Talib Kweli and Raphael Saadiq followed his advice and have released studios albums through their own music membership clubs and Leslie himself is set to release his new album on new years via his #Renegades club. Now, with his new management platform Disruptive Multimedia, the multi-talented musician aspires transform the industry by sharing his approach with other artists, established or not, educating them on how to earn a living out of music by keeping a strong bond with their audience and thus being able to make them pay for a variety of products, activities and exclusive experiences. Think of it as an ongoing Kickstarter campaign.

So is Leslie a visionary on the brink of revolutionising the industry? Where are the limits and weaknesses of this model? Personally, I’ll be keeping a close eye on it to see how it works on the long run. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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