Four years ago I heard a song called “Diamond Girl,” and instantly became hooked on a singer/songwriter named Ryan Leslie. I bought his self-titled debut album and loved it, and that same year I bought his second album, Transition, which was even better. I waited patiently as Leslie walked away from a major record deal and dedicated himself to releasing independent music. Eventually, Les Is More was released in 2012, and I included it in my year-end list of top albums.
A few months ago, Ryan Leslie announced the formation of an online fan club known as #RENEGADES, which requires a $12.00 fee to join. Perhaps prematurely, I became quite upset at the concept of such a fan club and the fact that I was being asked to pay $12.00 to be a “true” fan, when I considered myself to be one already. Furthermore, the album that was originally to be released in April, Black Mozart, still did not have a set release date. Essentially, I was under the impression that Ryan Leslie was asking me to give him $12.00 for nothing.
Like any rational person, I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations. Here’s where things got interesting.
After tweeting at Ryan Leslie and voicing my irritation, I received a twitter message from Leslie himself telling me that I had misunderstood the point of #RENEGADES and that I should give him a call (he provided a phone number). The number I dialed directed me to a google voicemail. Not expecting anything to come of it, I left a voice message telling Ryan Leslie that I was disappointed in the #RENEGADES fan club and that I felt somewhat betrayed. Then Leslie called back….
His unique articulation was immediately identifiable, and I could tell whom I was speaking with before he announced that he was Ryan Leslie. He had called to explain what the #RENEGADES fan club was all about, and that he designed it to better identify true fans like myself. Staying as calm as I could, I voiced my concern with the $12.00 price tag. He seemed to understand my frustration, but promised that his next album, Black Mozart, would be released in mid-August, and that I wouldn’t even have to ask for it. “We’re just going to send it to you when it’s ready,” he explained.
We talked for about 15 minutes, discussing various topics of the industry; iTunes contracts, Prince, Jay-Z, the changing state of music. What struck me the most was that this wasn’t some quick courtesy call. It wasn’t an automated voice message. It wasn’t a brief, “Hey, I called you, now you have to go back to liking me.” He genuinely wanted to talk to me. He wasn’t in any rush to get off the phone. He didn’t have better things to do. The guy wanted to chat with me and make sure that I knew he appreciated my support.
Why would Ryan Leslie do this?
I’ve got 21 twitter followers. Ryan Leslie has half a million. I have no influence over other Ryan Leslie fans. I can occasionally send out a tweet if I want, but it’s doubtful anyone sees it or cares about it. Why would Ryan Leslie care so much about whether or not I’m upset with him? Why does one fan matter so much? To Leslie, one fan matters a great deal. As I quickly learned, Ryan Leslie cares more about his fan base than any artist I’ve ever been exposed to. That’s why he set up #RENEGADES in the first place. He wants to catalog his fans. He wants to know who is buying albums so he can thank them. He wants to know where his fans are located so he can know where to take his tour. He wants to interact with us, whether it be a phone call or an email. He wants feedback. He wants to know what he’s doing right and what he could improve on.
At first, I was a little upset about $12.00 fee. If it buys me an album in a month and unprecedented access to one of my favorite musicians, I would say it has already been worth it.