Artist TalkSongwriting

Songwriting Secrets from Ryan Inglis!

Ryan Inglis is a successful full-time musician who’s made a name for himself as a singer/songwriter, performer and (online) guitar teacher. Originally from a town near Bristol (Great Britain), he is now located in Munich (Germany) and a regular performer at Kennedy´s Irish pub as well as countless other locations around town and around the world! He has played gigs in over 20 countries in the past 6 years alone and loves to explore new places and faces through his music. Ryan has released two solo albums of original songs so far, and is currently working on his third album, which will be a mix of upbeat and melancholic acoustic pop songs and is set to be released towards the end of 2020. We met with Ryan to ask him about his songwriting process. Enjoy this inspiring interview below. 

Ryan, you are a savvy guitar player, singer and a full time musician. What inspires you when you write songs and do you ever get stuck? 

I am constantly stuck. I’m surprised I have any finished songs at all. The last time I actually did some songwriting was when I was in Fuertaventura in 2018. I was playing some gigs out there for 2 weeks and I really wanted to finish off all these random ideas and bits and pieces I had in my “song ideas” folder. I pushed through and finished 20 new songs. Some good, some were ok, but it felt good to have finished something off. I won’t usually write unless I am really inspired to. I’ve never been good at forcing something if I’m not in the creative mood .

Makes sense! So then, how many songs a year do you write on average and what percentage actually ends up in your repertoire?

On average I would say I’ve probably written 100 songs (either alone or as collaborations) since 2005. So 6 songs per year. I used to be much more active with song writing than I am now though. My current setlist of originals is about 90 minutes before I have to then play songs I’m not as confident about. 

You seem to be very particular about getting things right. I love the devotion you put into your songwriting! It´s either all or nothing, right? In your opinion, what makes a good song?

Good question. It has to have all the elements we like to hear. Regular rhythm, great chord progressions, catchy melodies. Energy and passion. Dynamics are important. Enough repetition to excite you for when it returns but not so much you get sick of it. Meaningful simplicity is better than needless complexity. When I think of a perfect song I imagine Pretender by The Foo Fighters. You start with this little arpeggio at the start and at the end of the song, end up with everything thrown at you. Powerful energy, passionate vocals, counter melodies. Everything the song has to offer whilst still somehow holding back; those silences in the right places that emphasise everything that is there.

Tell us, who are your musical influences (if you have any at all)?

I wouldn’t say I actively try to emulate the sound of any other musicians or bands and honestly I don’t even listen to music for enjoyment anymore. It sounds weird but being a guitar teacher, mostly when I listen to music it is to analyse it, score it and find ways to show others how to play it themselves. When I do hear a song that I like it is just out of the blue and I can’t explain it. The last time I remember it happened was with a song called 1+2 by a band called Rams Pocket Radio. They were playing at Glastonbury Festival some years ago. Also the first album from John Mayer when I was in music college knocked my socks off and influenced a lot of my acoustic guitar playing. Further back I used to listen to a lot of Radiohead and Rage Against The Machine. My rap/rock band called Visions To Kill (aka VTKTM) is heavily influenced by NuMetal style of guitar playing. I love to rock out with a heavy riff once in a while.

Do you have a specific songwriting formula? How do you get started?

When I write a song it is a mixture of an initial idea on the guitar followed by maybe an hour of singing nonsense until something I like pops up then I think about what I want to say next and how I can make the song into something cohesive. One of my favourite parts about the songwriting process is that moment when you realise the overarching theme or message you want to encapsulate which immediately gives you the ideas of how to finish the lyrics and helps you wrap the song up in a nice neat little package.

So  for you, is it usually a chord progression that comes first? Or do you ever start with lyrics or a melody?

Any of them can come first but I would guess it’s more natural to start with a guitar part followed by a melody which the lyrics then work against. I would then experiment with different strumming or finger picking rhythms to find what suits the song most. 

Speaking of which…how do you know when a song is finished?

For me, if I’ve played a song live for around a year and compare it to how it started, there will be subtle changes that have made the difference and give me the confidence to say it’s ready to record. Then when in the recording process the song grows a little more as you add the other instruments, the harmonies, melody lines and other accompaniment. Then when you play that recorded version of the song live and it sounds just like the CD it’s amazing… but maybe you’ll find it can change in more subtle ways as you play it more. I started writing a song called Mr Self Doubt when I was 18. I would say it is finally ready to record. I’m not sure I can call it finished. How it will grow from there I don’t know. Sometimes with songs I wrote years ago I make small changes to the way I sing certain words. A song is only finished when you give up on it I guess. 

What is the best tip you´ve ever gotten with regard to songwriting?

When recording my album The Time Is Now I asked two friends for advice. The first said I should try to fit in with what was currently popular and find a producer to do a different style. The second friend said “Create your music by how it makes you feel, then it will always be timeless”. This is part of the reason I chose the name of the album and I still think that’s the perfect advice. If the music you write doesn’t make you feel something no one else will ever feel it either. 

Interesting! Let´s keep talking about the album making process. When choosing songs for an album, what are the criteria those need to match?

I only have a few b-sides and mostly what they have in common is that I just don’t really play them live. If I play a new song live and it gets a positive response I’ll play it live again. The most requested songs are usually my favourites and by playing them more often they grow into more complete versions of themselves. I’m not the sort of songwriter who writes 100 songs and keeps 20 of them for an album. I’ll write 20 and keep the best 10 or 12. If I love to play it it goes on the album.

Of all the songs you´ve written, what´s your personal all time favorite?

It changes between a few but if I had to choose 1 I guess it would be Fear. I enjoy the technical aspect of playing it, the key changes I spent ages trying to make work, the way it gets peoples attention, the totally freeing feeling I get from the last chorus, singing it with all my heart and knowing that I am facing my own fear every time I perform it to a room full of strangers. 

What about self-doubts?

Self doubts are often given too much of your time and energy. What do you really have to be fearful of? Once you realise some people will like what you do and others won’t and you can’t do anything about it you start to let go a little. Feeling free to do what makes you happy and perform fearlessly is the ultimate goal. I haven’t mastered it of course but once in a while I’ll be singing on stage and I’ll remember what it was like when I started. I feel less fear than I did before and it´s something to be proud of. Whatever doubts are holding you back, they are just a barrier for you to pass through. Where you are in your life right now is directly related to how much fear you’ve been willing to overcome. 

I love that! So, all self-doubts aside, what´s the best part of songwriting? Why do you love it?

Seeing the song take shape in the studio. You add that vocal harmony you’d never thought of until now or a melody jumps in your head to add as a guitar line which takes the song from being good to awesome. Another musician adds something you hadn’t thought of and it gives you goosebumps. You play the song back to yourself and you’re smiling. You created something… and no one can take that from you. 

Thank you, Ryan! 

Watch Ryan´s most recent original song “I don´t wanna be alone”

Also make sure to check out his albums “7 Blank Tiles” and “The Time Is Now” on Spotify, itunes or any other major streaming platform, or buy his music directly from him at:

Credits: Title Image: Nils Schwartz

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