Animated Adventures with Daniel Ingram

The in-demand composer crafts compelling, catchy music for kids and adults alike

Posted in News on May 8, 2023

There are many misperceptions about children’s music — that it’s repetitive, simplistic or easy to create. Or, that it’s only for children. Ask any parent, and they’ll likely admit that good children’s music gets stuck in your head just like a pop song. And, like pop music, writing something that memorable is not as easy as it seems.

Composer Daniel Ingram has built a career writing music for beloved children’s brands like My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake, and one of the tenets of his success is respecting the intelligence of the intended audience. Ingram started his career with an internship with the Screen Composers Guild of Canada, where he learned how to navigate the business. He soon landed writing gigs for animated television shows and films, leveraging his talent of collaborating with directors, producers and writers to bring a script to life through music.

After writing more than 600 songs for television and film — and racking up multiple Emmy nominations, Leo Awards and No. 1 songs on the iTunes Children’s Music chart — Ingram has had no problem keeping busy in the dynamic world of animation. BMI chatted with Ingram about his creative process, the challenges of composing for different genres, and why he’s committed to “listen to everything” to inform his craft.

How did you start composing music for television and animated series, and how did you find your footing in the entertainment industry?

In Canada, where I’m from, we have a collective of composers called the SCGC, or Screen Composers Guild of Canada. After university, I applied for their apprenticeship program and that opened the door to work under a couple of veteran composers doing television and film. Over those years, I could see that animation was really growing in Canada, and there was a need for more media composers. You typically have to compete with several others for jobs — pitching your ideas and your approach — so I learned everything I could about the trade in order to make the most of those opportunities.

You compose music for iconic children’s brands. Can you share a little about how you approach the creative process when collaborating with a director or producer?

Almost every show I’ve been involved with has started with an exploration process to discover what the show’s sound will be. I often hear, “We want the audience to hear the music from the other room and know it’s our show.” This usually involves creating a unique template or “toolbox” of sounds for a specific project in my DAW. The director and producer will usually have an idea in their mind for what the general direction is going to be, so it’s my job to interpret that. One show I’m doing currently is a K-pop/hybrid score, while another is an acoustic/folk orchestral blend, for example. You kind of discover it, and you just have to keep an open mind on each new project and experiment to see what works, and then refine from there.

A theme song sets the entire mood for a show. For the theme songs you’ve composed, like “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” how do you know when you’ve hit the mark?

I love doing theme songs for shows — I’ve done a dozen or so now for various series. It’s an opportunity to encapsulate the whole spirit of the production in a 10- to 30-second soundbite. Ninety percent of the time goes into the initial research. I read the show script and have deep-dive meetings with the producers and directors to understand what the core spirit of the series is. I listen to other themes coming out that work well, and then when I feel like I have a handle on what the project is all about, I start thinking lyrics and trust my gut. You only know you’ve hit the mark when it’s stuck in your head… and the client’s happy!

Some of the projects you’ve worked on have gained a large fanbase beyond children’s audiences. As a composer, do you feel you have to overcome any misperceptions people may have about children’s music?

Yes, I would say so. Personally, I always try to push beyond those expectations and produce songs and scores that respect the intelligence of the audience, no matter what the age demographic is. You see how well it’s worked out for Disney over the decades, who consistently produce music that’s an art form itself. Some clients don’t really understand the possibilities until we get into it. When I started doing My Little Pony, the producers thought, “OK, let’s just throw in a few ditties here and there.” But then we did a few big, more sophisticated songs and they understood the potential for how much they can drive the story forward, and create that emotional connection to the characters.

You get to explore different musical genres depending on the project. How do you shift gears when composing music for different series or films?

In animation, it helps to have a good handle on virtually all musical genres, including some you make up yourself. I’ve been lucky to work on series that go for many episodes or have dozens of songs, so you just get into the flow and mindset for each project. I usually block off consecutive days to start and finish an episode or song on one project before shifting gears to another, so it’s not too chaotic. And I would say a good night’s sleep before shifting gears helps!

What advice would you give to a young composer trying to navigate the entertainment industry?

It’s a complicated balance of relationships and expertise to succeed in this business. You need allies and supporters who love to work with you because you can deliver, but also because you’re a team player. You don’t want to come in with too much of an ego, but you also must be confident and know what you’re doing. I’d say take the time to really learn and experiment with music and current technology and to play music with others and collaborate. Find your unique voice, while also being able to at least fake it in more traditional genres. And you might want to see how a more experienced composer navigates the ins and outs of a given project — or the industry in general — before you hang your banner out there.

Who are some of your musical influences and inspirations?

That’s always a hard one for me. I’ve written over 600 songs now for TV and film, so my influences vary wildly depending on the genre and audience demographic. For example, on a series like the new Strawberry Shortcake, the audience is a bit older, and the style is pop/musical theater, so on that project, I’m influenced by Pasek and Paul and Lin-Manuel Miranda, for example. But on the new LEGO Friends series, the music is more singer-songwriter-y, so it’s more Kacey Musgraves, early Taylor Swift or Sara Bareilles. But then on a really young preschool project, like The Treebees, I’m listening to Raffi and The Wiggles. So you kind of have to listen to everything and see what you like and what works for that demographic.

What are you working on now?

It’s a busy, super exciting time right now. I’m doing a mix of songs and scores on some really great shows. There’s a new series called Bossy Bear on Nickelodeon, based on the book by David Horvath. I’m on season three of the newest Strawberry Shortcake and writing for the CG version coming to Netflix. There’s a new LEGO Friends series and a second season of Luna, Chip and Inkie on the Knowledge Network. I’m also writing these crazy fun songs for a video game called Billie Bust Up, and at the same time launching my own preschool YouTube project entitled The Melobies, which is a four-person children’s music band akin to The Wiggles. So there’s a lot going on right now!

How did you start working with BMI, and how has this relationship impacted your career?

When my music started appearing in TV shows, I needed to find a great PRO to track royalties both locally and internationally. I asked around and BMI has a great reputation. I’ve been able to focus on making music and not worry about what’s happening with my royalties. BMI tracks everything, my rep is super responsive, and the payments are always on time and come with detailed statements about where the royalties are coming from. So, it’s great to not have to stress about that when you want your energy to go into being creative.

SOURCENews TAGS Daniel Ingram


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