LIFESTYLE CREATIVE AND MUSIC INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE RYAN FLEMING ON HOW PASSION AND PURPOSE GUIDE ONE'S DIRECTION IN LIFE
As those who work in a creative field can attest, being asked about what they do for a living can all too often require a deep breath and multiple commas to accurately answer. While a jack-of-all-trades approach can be difficult to achieve or find success with, some people find that their different talents and interests are more fluid than others may think. For Ryan Fleming, his areas of expertise relate to one another in both intricate and exciting ways, allowing his versatility and resourcefulness to guide his creative path.
"DropLabs is an example of something that didn't exist before. This was an experience to music, to sound, to feeling, to emotion that did not exist and I'm really happy that now it does."
Ryan, who currently works as marketing director at Warner Records with a focus on the OVO Sound imprint specifically, thrives at the intersection of lifestyle, culture, fashion and music. Throughout his multifaceted career, he has worked with an array of renowned companies across fashion, entertainment and media, including Yeezy, BET, Columbia Records and Beats by Dre, to name a few. Throughout the course of his career, his meditations on purpose and passion have helped him find meaning and intention in every role and every project takes on, allowing the quality of his work to shine and stand out.
With a strong creative foundation in tact, Ryan turns to his diverse experiences and interests to masterfully ideate and execute marketing plans that best amplify the desired messaging and resonate with audiences. Whether he is working to help educate others through his Behind the Sneaker brand--an endeavor focusing on crafting lifestyle narratives centered on sneaker culture--or working to help promote new music from an array of artists on the OVO Sound roster, Ryan can be found having no shortage of creative ideas and continuously working to elevate his skillset. During a recent conversation with DropLabs, Ryan shared a bit more about his personal journey, what inspires him and how creativity seeps into his day-to-day work professionally.
What do you do for a living and what helped you get started?
I am currently a marketing director at Warner Records in Los Angeles and in that role, I basically am a project manager for several different artists here at the label. I am focusing directly on OVO. Prior to being here, I was a marketing director for Yeezy in Calabasas working directly with Kanye West. That opportunity moved me here from New York. I was in New York previously for about five and a half years. While I was in New York, I was working for Columbia Records and BET.
Do you have an early memory from when you first discovered some of your passions?
I'm very culture-based. My family is from the Caribbean; we're all West Indian. I grew up always with a sense of culture and that really blends into music, lifestyle, consumer trends and different things like that. I've always been into music, sports, fashion and ultimately exploring the space where they intersect. For example, seeing Travis Scott, one of the biggest hip-hop artists out right now, having a major Nike deal and seeing how he's causing havoc in the sneaker world. Similar to DropLabs and how the technology has infused music into sneakers and is creating an experience for people. That's really what my job has always been, focusing on the experience around lifestyle, the experience around music, the experience around sneakers and fashion, and again, the space in which they intersect.
In what ways would you say creativity seeps into your day-to-day work?
I would say, I always have an opportunity to share ideas. I'm always brainstorming how we can bring things into the world and have consumers and fans experience those things. On the music side, there's a lot of clutter and a lot of releases being shared so a big question we face is how do you stand out? How do you get people to pay attention for longer than two seconds or one quick song? As tough as that is to navigate, I think it also has opened a lot of new doors that haven't been explored yet in the digital and social world. During my day-to-day here, it's really about bringing new ideas to life, bringing that energy into the room and trying to find the best ways to connect new fans and existing fans to the music. On top of that, I'm also looking to deliver ideas for new opportunities, experiences, physical events, roll-out plans and all of those things. The creative foundation of it is really what allows me to do what I do every day.
What would you say is your favorite project or part of being a creative overall?
I'm going to take that question and gear it towards something that I've always been thinking about. A question I get asked a lot is, 'What exactly is it that you want to do, or even, what exactly do you do?' Again, just growing up with a high-level interest in being influenced by music, sneakers, design, fashion, clothing and all these different things, I could never really pinpoint one path. I've just been doing it all. I've DJed in New York, where I was a resident at major companies such as the W, H&M and a bunch of places. I've worked with Kanye West, where I went from standing in line for sneakers to working directly with the man himself. On the music side, I went from creating and establishing my own independent label to working for a major label. For me, being able to have done all of these things, and to be able to continue to fuse all of these elements together and create a career out of it--that, to date, is my biggest accomplishment.
People always try to box you in or put you into one lane or one category. I feel like I've successfully been able to fuse all of my interests together and become an asset in that way. Not so many people can say that because they are only focused on one area, which is fine, that's their expertise. However, I like to have a little splash of everything.
How would you explain the DropLabs experience to your friends?
For me, it's been very unique because I was able to see the very first prototypes, where it was more about feeling and understanding the technology and getting that across than it was about design or full functionality. So starting from that point and seeing the team continue to build and bring it to life, I'm ecstatic to see them reach this point of being able to bring it to the market and share what this experience is.
For me, as far as creating goes, I tell my friends, let's find a void. Let's find something that doesn't exist. Let's solve a problem; let's answer a question. DropLabs is an example of something that didn't exist before. This was an experience to music, to sound, to feeling, to emotion that did not exist and I'm really happy that now it does. It's functional and you can use it in so many different ways. All of those exciting elements are how I communicate this product to my friends, just letting them know this is a whole new way of doing things. My elevator pitch to my friends is that it's something you don't want to miss out on and it's something you want to experience for yourself. There's also so much room for it to evolve, so it's basically like get on it now before it's too late and then you're a hypebeast instead of a pioneer [Laughs].
What would be your approach to utilizing DropLabs (music, meditation, gaming, etc.)?
There are so many different ways to experience the shoe that I haven't yet, such as while I'm at the office at my desk. I want to just sit there with the shoes on while I'm working and listening to music, walking around the office, walking around outside, going out for lunch. Wearing the DropLabs EP 01 shoe makes me feel like I have an advantage on people [Laughs]. You're doing something that no one else really knows that you're doing or even what's going on, but you're experiencing something that they don't even know anything about yet.
I really want to experience all of those different facets to really understand the shoe more and find out what really works for me specifically and how it helps me, as well as how I can communicate that to everyone else. A chef brings out a dish a particular way, you know, and wants you to try it and experience it a certain way. I want to be able to message the shoe in a similar way. We are working on doing an experience session here with the entire Warner team, which is going to be amazing. I just feel like A&Rs are going to eat this up in a whole different way. I also really want to experience the shoes while at home in my living room watching a movie. I watch a lot of movies and a lot of documentaries so I'm excited to really do that on a normal basis. I feel like it keeps you more in-tune and more focused.
Do you have any mantras that you live by or words of wisdom you'd like to share?
Some key words that I like to live by are Inspire, Innovate and Motivate. I push innovation because, again, it's centered on creating something new. You're motivating others while you're doing that, and above all, you're inspiring people.
Once you find a point of purpose, which comes from passion, it's important to really drive that through. It's hard to find what you're passionate about, but as soon as you do, you start to understand what your purpose is. Here at Warner Records, I see very passionate people, especially artists, all day long. Artists are passionate about their music and they're passionate about music in general. Their passion has delivered a point of purpose for them and what they do all day, from feeding their families to influencing and inspiring the world. Once you find that purpose, it becomes your duty to fulfill that and to really innovate from there. I think those two words, passion and purpose, all play into one another.
What are some of your goals for the year ahead?
I have music goals, I have clothing design goals and I also have creative project goals and in all three areas, it's really just about bringing them to life and bringing new things into the world. Workwise, I'm really excited for Party Next Door to make his return to music. On the marketing side, for the first two singles he dropped, "The News" and "Loyal" featuring Drake, we launched newsstands in New York, LA and Toronto on the same day of the release. We were able to re-skin existing newsstands and turned them into PND stands where we gave away merchandise and had the songs playing. I'm excited for the roll out surrounding his album to continue and am excited to bring some really cool marketing initiatives to the culture.
I'm also working to continue building Behind the Sneaker, which is what I call a lifestyle narrative. Behind The Sneaker highlights creative design and other elements shifting sneaker culture. It's a space where I'm able to talk about designers on a high level, such as Virgil Abloh and Jerry Lorenzo, and also about up-and-coming designers who are doing different collaborations and things like that. It's my take on all of that through short narrative form. So that's something I'm really excited about and have been working really hard on. I'm looking forward to partnering with some bigger brands to really make some plays with it this year.
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