We had the good fortune of connecting with Elaine Ryan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elaine, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I’ve had kind of a contrarian relationship with risk my whole life. On the one hand I’m a perfectionist and as a kid I was very into doing everything right. Ok, maybe I still am… But at the same time I had a non-conformist streak and refused to go along with trends or ideas just because they were the done thing. As a young adult I was miserable in my office job and in academia and I think I felt that the biggest risk would be to not follow my inner voice, which was yelling pretty loudly that I wanted to be an artist. So I took a chance on not having all the trappings of a secure job and committed to being a musician. It was a pretty privileged position to be able to choose that and I feel lucky that I did get to go to university before I made that choice. I think as you get older you get more of a feel for which risks are worth taking. If something lights a fire under you and makes you want to work really hard for it, it’s a good risk to take because whether or not it pans out you’ll have learned a bunch and added to your network.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a singer-songwriter! I spent many years writing songs on my own, releasing albums and touring and then finally got to a place where I felt burned out. It just seemed so hard to gain the kind of traction I needed to be a touring musician while balancing the rest of my life. I shifted my creative focus for a while to work on a website to help people find live music, going so far as to learn how to code and after a couple of years at that I ended up donating the website to a radio station on Maui (where I lived for a time) that now uses it as their community calendar. All through this time I was making my living as a performing musician, playing at hotels, weddings and events. For a minute I considered writing a book about how to earn a living as a musician but the songwriting kept calling to me. I just really love writing songs. I’m good enough at it to want to work at it, and challenged enough that I can always see where there’s space to improve, so it puts me in my flow zone. I ended up taking a course around music licensing and they placed a heavy emphasis on co-writing, so I started doing that and it helped make writing so much more fulfilling. Writing with another person does a lot to take your ego out of the process. You get immediate feedback and you become less precious about your ideas. For me it ends up being much more soulful than the self-criticism and protectionism of solo writing. Writing with music licensing in mind has given me even more energy to write because I feel like I’m writing for other people as well as myself, rather than just writing for catharsis and hoping someone out there can relate to my very specific experience. I’m most excited about the last 5 or 6 songs I’ve recorded, a couple of which I’ve just released, “Imagine” and “Beautiful” (available on all streaming platforms). I’ve been able to work with some excellent producers and that’s really upped my game. I’m most proud of my persistence and courage. I’ve also found a lot of peace in the last few years and that’s made me happy. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m happy when I do what I love. I’m a musician, I’ve always wanted to be a musician and I’ve realized that it’s ok for me to not be someone big in the eyes of the world as long as I get to write songs and be the person I want to be for myself. I’m very grateful that I get to create and I hope I can help improve some corner of the world with my music.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
Hmmm, I actually live in the Bay Area right now but if I was looking for food in L.A. I would want delicious vegetarian food somewhere with a cozy ambiance. I’m originally from Vancouver, BC and there’s an amazing restaurant there called the Naam. Looking for the L.A. equivalent. Shout out to that place.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to give a shoutout to Cathy Heller and John Clinebell at Catch the Moon for teaching me about music licensing. Also, shoutout to Ivan Lafever in Nashville, who’s produced a few of my latest songs and just kills it every time. Shout out to producers Carter Vail, Kurt Gellersted, Jesse Thom and John Navarette and to my 2019/2020 co-writers Justina Shandler, Vaughn Faison, Kelsey Kovar, Britney Davis, Danielle Preyar, Jennifer Mandel and Rachel McGoye. And the biggest shoutout goes to my husband Alec Stewart. He’s an entrepreneur so he gets the whole risk-taking part of things and he has my back with every single crazy idea that I’ve had.
Image in red jacket and black and white photo: Dezirae Webster
Image of playing guitar in field and of holding guitar on beach: Anna Kim