The Story & the Audience

In the early 2000s, Ryan Leslie was the #1 voice in RnB. He produced. He sang. He rapped. And he lifted other artists to the top. His albums sold tens of thousands of copies, and he was even nominated for a Grammy. Then, he disappeared from the music scene.

Over a decade later, Leslie gave an update on his life in an interview, dropping plenty of wisdom along the way, like his analogy about the audience and the story: “You could be sitting in a movie, and you could say, ‘Oh man, I really don’t want that person to die.’ If the scriptwriter makes it so that that person’s gonna die, you will be sitting in that movie, and you might have to shed a tear — because that person’s gonna die.”

Leslie’s point is that the audience does not decide where the story goes, no matter how much they would like to. “The fans, sometimes being sort of just an audience, they’re spectators, and they have an idea of how they would like the story to play out for their own entertainment, or enjoyment, etc.”

Meanwhile, the actual course of the story is decided by someone else: “Your life is the aggregate of the choices you make. The story is always gonna be based on the choices that are made by the actual player.”

In Leslie’s case, he saw the limits of what he could achieve with and in music at the time, and he decided to take his eggs and put them in a new basket: technology. He learned how to code; he went to Silicon Valley; and he built Superphone, a company that allows businesses and creators to reach their fans in one of the most direct and personal ways possible — via text.

Ryan Leslie decided that he was the scriptwriter of his own movie, and he was not liable to the audience. He did not owe it to them to take the story where they wanted it to go. He could choose his own direction, and even if the audience shed a tear over it, that would be okay.

“Your life is the aggregate of the choices you make.” Even if those choices don’t get you the fame, the girl, or the money, they can still give you meaning, happiness, and contentment — and all the audience can do is watch.