It is my firm belief that Tyler Ward never stops smiling. He cleans his kitchen with a smile, dunks guitars into basketball hoops with a smile, stands on top of his car and smiles. It was a wonder women passing by didn’t start swooning at the sight of those sweet pearly whites while we photographed him smashing guitars up and down Sunset Blvd. And while for most of us our facial muscles would start to spasm after that much genuine happiness, for Tyler Ward there is just no way he can contain his genuine excitement about life.
And who can blame the guy? Since his start on YouTube five years ago, Tyler has opened for the likes of The Fray and The Jonas Brothers, gone on numerous European and American tours of his own and started his own production company. But in his biggest news, Tyler recently signed with Sony Germany and will now be juggling his online content in the U.S. while recording tracks in Germany.
But for now, Tyler is just enjoying the chance to finally set up his condo — he has been on tour 8 out of the last 14 months — and immersing himself in the talented YouTube community in L.A. Tyler shared with NMR his misadventures at the Air Force Academy, his musical inspirations and his true passion for helping other musicians.
How did you originally get into music?
Tyler Ward: [sighs] My mom made me play bass in our church. She was like, “Son, you’re going to play bass,” and I was like, “Alright,” and I did. And after that I started really liking music, and I picked up the guitar and learned the guitar and been doing it ever since.
How old were you when you started playing?
I was probably a freshmen in high school. It was kind of later, but I was doing sports before that, a lot of athletics, football.
You originally went to play football in college for the Air Force Academy? That’s a huge change.
Yeah, for the Air Force Academy. It was one of those things. I think everyone was like a senior in high school and is making that decision — I don’t know what to do! I saw everybody, especially in my school because it was really academic, and all these kids were going to like Yale and Harvard, and you’d hear around campus and they’d be like, “Yeah, I’m going to Harvard,” and I’d be like, “Oh my god.” And so I had this offer to play football at the Air Force Academy, and some of my really smart friends were going to the Air Force Academy, and I was like, “Maybe I can get into the Air Force Academy.” I accepted the deal to play football just as a way to tell people I could like go to the Air Force Academy; it was like one of those self confidence things [laughs]. And then I went, and I was like, “Okay this is tough,” and I was always on weekend duty like scrubbing toilets and stuff because I just laughed and smiled too much, and there was too much personality coming out at a time when you were just supposed to be super serious and focused. God bless all those folks, but it wasn’t for me. Got out of that and went to play football at the University of Northern Colorado: Once a bear, always a bear.
When did you start pursuing music?
There is always an itch for me to be able to be a part of music someway, somehow, and when I was actually doing sports and doing that full time — all the time, my gosh — there was always an emptiness. I was like, “I love doing this music thing, but there is something about it that I need to be doing.” I would always like sneak out of football practice and go write a song. I was that guy who joined the choir in college and sang operas in college, and so like some of my football teammates would come and just laugh at me ‘cause I’d have tights on stage. There was something about me where I just needed to do music and follow that wherever it went, and I just made those decisions just to be like, “I’m going to commit. I’m going to do this!” And I’m now working in L.A., and it’s crazy!
When did you decide to go on tour and then jump into the YouTube scene?
I started on YouTube February of 2010, so it’s been just over 2 and a half years. There is a song that was being remade that was called “We Are The World,” and a bunch of celebrities were getting together. That was a really cool idea, and a friend of mine was like, “We should totally do that,” ‘cause I was working with a few different people. Brought all my friends together, we made a remake, put it out the day before this one dropped in February of 2010 with celebrities, and it was like the most searched for video in YouTube history at the time, and mine was like number 2 underneath it, and I was like, “Oh my gosh! That’s interesting.” So I started to just cover a bunch of popular songs thinking as a way to market me as a brand and about a year and a half later started integrating with a lot of original music, and now that’s kind of my focus. When the original stuff came out I was like, “I’m going to tour with this and play some covers here and there,” and kind of went full steam ahead and it worked! I now do music full time. That’s crazy! I still wake up every morning like, “This is real?” Very, very thankful.
How do you describe your musical style?
Anywhere from like hip hop rap — no I’m kidding. My original stuff is like pop rock music, stuff with good melodies and stuff with organic instrumentation. But because I’m a producer and I like working all types of music, I love hip hop, and I love rap stuff, and I love classical stuff. I feel like YouTube is a cool space because you can throw anything and everything out there, and if it works it sticks, but if it doesn’t work it goes away, so people aren’t like pigeon holing you in something. But for me as a brand and as like Tyler Ward, it’s like pop rock music. Just good old, feel good sing-along-driving-in-the-car-putting-on-a-good-tune type music. If that’s a genre.
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What are your musical inspirations?
Yeah, I love the Goo Goo Dolls. They are just really good, really raw, and I love 2Pac. Kind of an interesting combination, but it’s some old school stuff. The newer stuff now, Bruno Mars kills it. I think he’s incredible, and Katy Perry, Taylor Swift. It’s weird, pop melodies. But it’s okay, you know? We all have our things that we love.
You have a good balance on your channel between original tracks and also covers. What draws you to a certain cover, and how do you work to make it your own?
Well if you look at the charts, it’s almost a marketing tool. It’s like, “I wonder if I could do that with an acoustic vibe, or that with more of an up tempo vibe and just being able to scratch that itch of being a producer and taking a song that is already great and making it different than it is. I can like create and feel like a part of that song a little bit more. That’s where I decide and how I decide on the covers or if it’s just a song I really love, and I’m like “oh my gosh I love that song” and it’s like 5 or 6 years old and I’m like okay let’s do it, it’s a great song.
What is the difference between being a musician and being a producer?
The biggest difference is when you’re being a musician the focus is more like narcissistic I guess you’d say; the focus is on you. You’re performing, you’re entertaining people, and as a producer you’re behind the scenes, you get to create music, create parts and help other artists become better and reach their potential and help them sound better. It’s more the creation process behind the scenes as a producer and then as an artist you’re more upfront and entertaining.
When did you decide to start your own company? Right now you are working on your own stuff but also producing for all these other musicians.
Yes! Literally a couple months after the “We Are The World” video. The summer of 2010, worked with a bunch of different artists, kind of helped grow that and now they’re all sprouting amongst the YouTube community, and it’s been really, really exciting.
I feel like most artists will just focus on their own channel and own music. Why did you decide that you wanted to be involved with so many other people?
I’ve always known that the more people that work on a project that are good, I feel like they can get more done. It just makes sense! When you go back to a channel and you see something different, the same fans are going to appreciate you but they are going to find something new, and it is just going to keep them going back. Like, “Oh that’s cool. That’s different.” It’s not the same thing over and over again. It’s more entertaining for people, and it allows me to help others. When it’s all said and done, I just want to be able to like grab some kids who are talents, help them fulfill what they want to do as a dream. I don’t know if that’s like a motherly instinct I guess you would say, which I’m not a mother, I’ll never be, maybe like a father. Anyways beside the point, I just love working with talented people and helping them.
You’ve been on four tours now?
I don’t even remember. It’s a lot. It’s been a lot. I’ve been touring over the last year so I was gone half the year and probably 8 months over the past 14 months. It’s been a long time. It’s nice to have a break and just sit down and click on stuff.
What has your tour experience been like?
It’s been awesome. Meeting the fans is incredible. Did you see all those views and the people come to life? They come to your shows and you get to meet them and hear their stories. That’s something really special. And just traveling the world. You’re like, “I never thought I’d play a show in Italy. Playing a show, are you kidding me?” Or Amsterdam or London and it’s like these places you get to experience them. Without music I wouldn’t be able to do that. That’s been really special.
Did you have a favorite place?
Favorite place is actually the country of Belgium which you wouldn’t think. But it’s beautiful there! There’s like no trash, and it’s like all their architecture is modern with like a hint of history, so it’s like really, really, really cool. And then I came to L.A., and it was like traffic; took me an hour and a half to get here.
What have you been doing now that you’re back in L.A.?
Working a lot, collabing with a lot of different artists, producing a lot of different tracks. Just in the last seven days I’ve done five songs, which is cool. Trying to do like a song a day … a song a business day. I just love producing so much so it’s like, “What can we write?” I wrote an original, we did four covers, and today I’m working today with some other artists. It’s just so fun. Everyone out here is just so talented, so I can sit in my little chair and take a little break.
How do you balance all of this? Right now it seems you are going a thousand miles a minute?
Good food and sleep. Fruit, vegetables and I try and do a weekday vegan thing. I swear by it, I swear by it: The better you eat the better you feel. It allows you to have more energy. It’s crazy! A little bit of working out too. Some jumping jacks. Go to the park and play some basketball.
Who are you collaborating with right now? Any dream collaborations?
Oh my gosh I’m collaborating with a lot of YouTuber artists right now. I’m working with Kurt Hugo Schneider, I’m working with Chester See, Tiffany Albert, Megan Nicole, and I just did something with Lindsey Stirling and that’s all just this week, which is cool, and that’s so great. I am very fortunate to be able to work with such talented people and in a sense change up their sound a little bit with the little production that I can do. So that’s been really fun, and there’s a lot more to come.
What inspires you as a musician and as a person?
On tour this is what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately in the back of my van where I kind of lay down and just hope to get to the next city safety. On tour there are a lot of kids who come to you who are like, “Yo, your song really, really helped me through this part of my life,” and they would tell me a story. Oh my gosh, this girl, it’s incredible. So a year and a half ago she came to a show, I hugged her, I saw her, and we took a picture together. A year later in Chicago just about two months ago she came to a show, and I hugged her and was like, “Hey, what’s going on?” and I didn’t recognize her at all. I would have recognized her, I promise you. She is like, “You know, we know each other,” and I was like, “No we don’t know each other. I’ve never seen you before.” And she’s like, “No, no, we know each other. I’ve lost 100 pounds since the last time you saw me, and it’s because of you working as hard as you do and doing what you love to do that I felt like if you can do it, then I can do it.” It was absolutely incredible, and she showed me a picture of us, and I was like, “I didn’t even recognize this girl!” Stories like that are incredibly, incredibly inspiring, and it’s motivating, and it’s like what I’m doing is affecting people whether it’s like a super small scale or something like that, we’re reaching and touching people with some positivity and hope and inspiration. That’s what inspires me is being able to connect with people that you don’t normally do, and it’s awesome.
What advice would you have for young musicians trying to follow their dream?
Working hard and taking every opportunity you can especially if you are just starting out. Meet people, even do the crappy gigs like you’re going to play at the nursing home for five people, and you do it, and you’re like, “Wait a second. That’s cool,” and you see their response. Eventually you’ll be able to pick and choose what you want to do, but do everything you can until you’re either burned out. If you’re burned out I don’t know if you’re ever going to make it, because you have to be passionate about what you do and sometimes it takes a long time, sometimes it takes a short time, but working hard, taking every opportunity is what I would say to start out with.
What have you learned along the way with YouTube?
That you can’t necessarily rely on YouTube all the time, because there is so much change all the time. YouTube is such a big company, and I remember posting videos a year and a half ago when the format was a certain way, so it’s like you would get so many views because it’s like everybody would see it. Now it’s almost like Facebook where you post something and maybe a tenth of your fans get to see it. Having it, I think I’ve learned to not necessarily rely on YouTube, and that is why tour was so important for me to meet my friends.
Are there advantages to using YouTube as opposed to going the original route of signing with a record label?
Yes, that kind of model, the old school model to me it would be foolish to not have some online content or create content for YouTube, because it’s so easy to share with other people. YouTube has been a huge platform for a lot of different people and created careers for a lot of musicians that have never had opportunities. It’s absolutely important, and I think it’s a lot more efficient now than it used to be, and I think it’s smart to do videos on YouTube. And if you don’t have any videos on YouTube, you should put some out especially if you are a musician.
If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
I’d be a teacher! Or a football coach. My dad is a good example of what I kind of just grew up around: he is a teacher and football coach, and he’s now a principal at a high school, just recently retired. I was going to go back to school to be a teacher, and I just love working with kids, so that’s what I will probably end up doing when I move out of L.A. I’ll be like, “You know what? It’s time to be done.”
Are you planning on staying in L.A. for a while?
Actually I really like it out here right now because everybody is really talented and there is this cool vibe where everyone is working hard and they want the same thing, and it’s cool to connect with people who are kind of on the same level with you. All you want to do is music, I want to do music, and you can connect.
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