Ryan Strong is a truly multifaceted Kansas City artist. A successful fashion and advertising photographer, film and TV music composer, cinematographer and graphic designer, Strong describes how every creative project requires him to be "a good internal editor." In this interview, Ryan discusses how he works from "inception to fruition" with collaborators and clients while staying true to his personal artistic vision. We are excited to share some of Ryan Strong's music and video work as well as his recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog.
Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
My name is Ryan Strong and I live and work in Kansas City. I grew up in a small town in Illinois and moved to Missouri for university in Springfield where I studied Communications and Biblical Studies.
By day I handle the creative for local and nationally recognized fashion brand BALDWIN where my photography has been featured in GQ and Vogue. By nights and weekends I am a film composer and have worked on feature films with actors like Michael Madsen (Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs), Richard Riehle (Office Space, Transformers), short films, commercials and music videos. I try to stay busy!
A big part of my day job at BALDWIN is being the brand’s photographer. Whether in Kansas City or New York City I concept out, book/cast models, and then photograph the clothing collection campaigns, look books, and web site imagery. I take the photos, retouch them and then design printed collateral. Inception to fruition. Outside that I design all the branding for the company, so from the labeling and packaging on the product to designing t-shirts it’s really a big playground for an artist and am very blessed to be a part of the brand.
Once work is finished for the day, dinner is had, music begins playing in my head and I have to retreat to my home studio to try and realize what I hear.
Over the past month or two I’ve been working on a suite of music for an upcoming feature film that I will be scoring with a Los Angeles director on titled The Weight. Most directors these days temp their movies with other composers tracks made for other movies during the editing process to get a temporary vibe/feel for a scene then the hired composer is brought in last minute and uses the temp tracks as a guide. The director involved me very early on in the process and we decided we wanted to create the music up front so as to not rely on or be swayed by music that was written for another story. I haven’t read the entire script so I’ve been lead by my imagination which I think can often lead to something more unexpected and authentic then writing directly to picture. Though writing to picture will definitely happen once the film is done edited. The Weight just wrapped shooting in Greenfield, MO and will come out later in 2016.
You are a multifaceted artist, photographer, cinematographer, musician and composer, among other ventures, with many soundtracks to your credit. Have you always been a multidisciplinary artist? What do you see as the common link(s) between everything you do?
I started out as a graphic designer very early on in Jr. High and just slowly from that chased after many other art forms whether through necessity or curiosity. I get that question a lot about the common link and for me it has always been about simply having a good internal editor. Being tasteful.
Technology has made it very easy to pick up a professional camera, or acquire design software, or download the latest synthesizer. So if you have just a decent understanding on how to leverage the technology the differentiator is taste. If I’m working on something and I don’t feel it can sit next to the best artist in it’s respective trade I scrap it, start over, or move on. But I never let that discourage me. My faith has lead me to understand that all things are possible. It’s just up to you to seize it, but so often many people grow up believing the lie of impossibilities.
How do you move beyond creative blocks?
I don’t really believe in creative blocks. Partly because I don’t have time for them which I think is the secret. I know far too many lazy artists that feel they need to be “inspired” to create. I totally get it but it’s just an excuse from the resistance to work.
If I pound on the keys of the piano long enough a melody is bound to come out; or maybe if I snap a handful of photos from a few different angles with the lighting facing the opposite direction there’s bound to be a good one in there. It’s imperative you surround yourself with people who will constantly push you. And when I say push you I don’t mean pats on the back but a kick in the pants.
What or who currently inspires you?
A good film always inspires me. Movies are the ultimate form of art. They incorporate story telling, fashion and wardrobe, music, art and sculptures, people and personalities, lighting, photography etc. So yeah, a good movie goes a long way for me.
What advice do you have for younger artists who want to do what you do?
Get to work. You don’t need a gig or record deal to write and record a tune, or need a client to design or photograph for. Don’t wait for college, or until your out of college, or wait until you land a creative job or project. There is an endless amount of stories to tell with your God given imagination. So get to work. Stop thinking about what you are going to do and do it. There is nothing stopping you but yourself.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books. I’ve been given so many God-given talents and I love to acknowledge the giver of those gifts.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This story is insane, if you were a child of the 80’s as it has all the best references from Star Wars to Back To The Future it combines nostalgia and technology into a dystopian novel.
Daphnis Et Cholé by Maurice Ravel. Probably one of my favorite pieces of classical music to which I had the opportunity of seeing it performed live by the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Performing Arts. Such a beautiful emotive piece. French impressionism has taught me a lot about how to “paint” with music. Instruments being the colors and orchestration being the texture.
There Will Be Blood by Jonny Greenwood. Film music as of late has become rather homogenized and this score breaks things up a bit. Love the dissonance in all the string writing, I took away a lot on writing for divis strings from this score.
Lost In Translation Directed by Sofia Coppola. From the cinematography, the sleepy script, amazing soundtrack, and Bill Murray I put this film on late at night when I want to be inspired. One of my favorite films.