Ryan David Orr

The art and hazards of impressionist storytelling

I am often told by other songwriters, many of whom are industry professionals that work with big names on big songs, that I put too much in my songs. Not that the songs are bad or the music needs to change, not that I am not a good writer, just that there is too much. One songwriter I received a critique from noted that within the one song I had asked his opinion on, I had inserted verses that could have been their own songs. To paraphrase him, I was giving the listener too much to think about.

I can understand this point of view. Even John Lennon, decades before I picked up an instrument, made the assertion that simple music is what the masses want. People don't want to have to think about what is being said, and they want to latch on to a catchy hook that is easy to sing. It's fun; I get it. I'm sure that many songwriters shoot themselves in the foot, at least in a commercial sense, by writing "too much".

Another bit of advice I have gotten from industry pros over the years is that my songs are too personal to me, often not universal enough to be grabbed by your average bear. I tend to write from my experience, to be inspired by people and places I have been in contact with, and therefore sometimes a bit obscure in the information I am presenting. People want to relate; I get it.

I have thought about this a lot in the years I have been honing my craft. I have pored over the many criticisms and theories of writing music and engaging lyrics, and I have come to a decided conclusion: I am an impressionist storyteller.

My best description of this is that I pay attention to the world, my surroundings, other people, then I am inspired to write. Maybe about them, maybe not, but certainly about the thoughts and feelings I was inspired to have as a result of my experiences. My art lies in giving enough information to elicit a response without clearly giving away the subject matter or even what the listener is "supposed" to feel. It is a collaborative art form. I present the building blocks for an impactful, authentic, relatable story, and the audience puts them together how they will, maybe how they need to, and I stand back and let them do that. It is not the type of art that you find on top 40 radio stations; it does not hold itself to rules about time, structure, or marketability. It is raw, pure, perhaps a bit unapproachable at times, but it is authentic.

I know how this sounds. It sounds like I am saying "Yay, me, for not selling out!" or some angst-y, juvenile blah blah blah about how I hate money and I meant to not be popular. But really, my goal in stating this is that others (and yes, probably me, too) understand that writing and song crafting really are meaningful art forms, that one can feel accomplishment by creating the art they are truly inspired to create, and that marketability is not the true measure of success.

So I am grateful to those who have given me input over the years. It has given me insight into all realms of my own art and the art of the world, as well as how people perceive it. Know this: if I listened to everyone who has ever given me advice, and followed their advice, I would literally have to stop writing, singing, and performing altogether. There is always more advice to contradict the brilliant advice you are given.

That said, I am going to go write too much.


Love it! Knowing who we are is a very very hard thing to do (for me anyway). Miss you my friend.
Just keep doing what your doing! Your music is awesome, your lyrics are intriguing, and your work reflects the incredible person that you are. Hoping that another album is in the works soon!
You inspired me at an early age to put more meaning into my lyrics, and to think about the story behind the words that come out of my mouth, that aren't just notes. Also, you're just handsome.

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