Ryan Ahlwardt is a singer, songwriter, arranger and alumnus of the world-renowned ten-man A capella singing group Straight No Chaser.
So far over his musical career Ryan has collaborated with artists such as The Beach Boys, Barry Manilow, Shania Twain, The Temptations and many, many more.
He has appeared on the Macys Thanksgiving day parade, The Today Show and Late Night with Jimmy Falon.
Ryan got started in music in the 7th grade when he began playing his mom's guitar. He learned how to play from an early mentor, in his church youth group.
Turns out relying on mentors for advice and guidance would become a common theme for Ryan throughout his music career.
Ryan's singing career however really got started as an innocent joke, when he and some friends decided to try out for the choir.
Turns out the joke was on him because the choir teacher needed all the male voices she could find. They all made the choir.
This turned out to be a pivotal decision for Ryan because it was in choir where he was able to find his niche.
He ended up staying in choir and on stage throughout high school but it was the guitar that really kept him going and peeked his artistic talents.
TURNING POINT FOR RYAN AHLWARDT
While Ryan enjoyed playing and performing in the choir he never really considered it as a possible profession.
But there was one moment in his choir days Ryan and I talk about when he started to think maybe, just maybe there might be something to this music thing.
During high school, Ryan was a football player or, at least, he was on the team. While he enjoyed the Friday night lights, he started to realize that he was having much more fun in the choir.
So he decided to tell his parent and coaches he was going to hang up the cleats. What happened next would have a profound impact on Ryan's mindset.
In his first performance after giving up his jersey, there in the front two rows sat his former football teammates. His coaches had arranged for them to attend as a show of support.
From that point, Ryan started to come into his own and over the next few years he really pushed himself more and more into singing and performing.
INTRODUCTION TO STRAIGHT NO CHASER
With every performance, Ryan's confidence and skill continued to grow but he still hadn't completely turned the corner on music as a profession, in fact, he went to college to study marketing.
Ryan's introduction to the group Straight No Chaser (SNC) came after his mom brought home a CD of the group after watching them perform at Indiana University.
Ryan was immediately hooked.
A few months later while planning to sing with the choir at the Valentines day dance, he reached out to SNC to ask for permission to sing some of their songs for the dance.
Included with the songs was a note telling Ryan when and where auditions for the group would be held. And so it was that in the 2nd semester of his senior year Ryan auditioned for SNC and made the group.
Ryan sang for SNC throughout college and he graduated with a marketing degree. Still not looking at singing as a profession, his path at that time was to find a job in marketing.
As fate would have it, networking played a part in the next season of Ryan's career. While still in college, one of Ryan's former bandmates had been working as a singer on a cruise ship. On a whim, he deiced to talk to the director of entertainment on the ship and offered a suggestion about potential entertainment.
As it happens the director was looking to book some bands that had been playing together for awhile and told Ryan's former bandmate to put together a group.
So he contacted Ryan and a few other alumni of SNC and asked them if they would like to sing on cruise ships for the first 6 months out of college.
Of course, they said yes, and after a few weeks of training, Ryan and crew were on their way to the cruise ship.
Becuase it all happened so fast the group didn't have a formal name until they actually were on the ship.
Only then did the engineer ask about the name of their band. As it happens, they were watching a basketball game for their former school and decided to name the band after one of the star players.
The Coverdales then proceeded to perform on cruise ships for the next year and a half.
A VIDEO AND STRAIGHT NO CHASER
Towards what would become the end of his time with The Coverdales, although he didn't know it at the time, one of Ryan's ex-bandmates released a video on YouTube to celebrate the groups 10th anniversary.
The video was of Straight No Chaser (SNC) signing the 12 days of Christmas. It went viral.
In one of those weird twists of fate, the video was seen by a music industry blogger who wrote an article about it.
The article was read by the wife of the president of Atlantic records and the rest is, as they say, is history.
Before Ryan knew it, he was back in SNC this time with a record deal from Atlantic records.
Ryan toured with SNC from 2008 to 2012. It was during this time Ryan met and performed with artists such as Barry Manilow, and Shania Twain.
Ryan and I talk about the life lessons he learned during his time touring, especially the counseling he received fromBarry Manilow.
KNOWING WHEN ITS TIME TO MOVE ON
After nearly five years with the band, Ryan started to feel the weight of touring taking it's toll on him.
At first, he dismissed the thought thinking instead, “what else would I do anyway?” After all, the number of transferable skills that a singer can take into another profession are apparently pretty slim. Even with this realization, he still had this nagging feeling that wouldn't leave.
It took a full eleven months, from the time the feelings started to when he finally said goodbye. During that time Ryan went back to his counselors and mentors for advice and guidance.
Then one day while getting a haircut, Ryan overheard something at the barbershop that would change his course.
Young Life was making a comeback in his home time and they needed someone to lead.
Ryan spoke with his wife and they decided it was time to make the change. So on October 14, 2012, Ryan told his band mates he was leaving the group to join Young Life.
Young Life is a Christian ministry based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was started in Dallas, Texas in 1941 by minister Jim Rayburn. It offered Ryan the perfect combination for his faith, his marriage, and even his music.
THE MUSIC AND JOURNEY CONTINUES
While no longer in a group, Ryan continues to write and produce music. His last album, You Are With Me, was released in 2014.
Incidentally, all of the music played in this episode is from Ryan's album.
He graciously agreed to allow me to use his music in the show. You can find all of Ryan's music from both his time with SNC and his solo albums on iTunes or on his website ryansongs.com
THE BEST WAYS TO REACH RYAN AHLWARDT
Ryan is also very passionate about youth mental health issues. If you know someone who suffers with youth mental health issues, Ryan encourages you to reach out and talk to him. Let him be your mentor.