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Daniel Ingram is the maestro of ’toon tunes

Vancouver composer writes hundreds of songs for hit animated shows
Vancouver composer Daniel Ingram is a musical force in the animation world.
Vancouver composer Daniel Ingram is a musical force in the animation world. He's written hundreds of songs for animated shows.

When Daniel Ingram was a little boy, he would drop the needle on his vinyl recording of Peter, Paul and Mary’s trippy “Puff the Magic Dragon” and jump around on his bed.

Fast-forward a few decades (and replace analog tech with digital), and now Ingram is the one making kids rock out in their bedrooms.

The Vancouver songwriter and composer has crafted hundreds of songs and scores for a long list of top-rated animated shows, including My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (and its spin-off, Equestria Girls), Littlest Pet Shop, Pound Puppies, Kate & Mim Mim, Dr. Dimensionpants, and Martha Speaks.

Since stepping onto the animated series scene in the early 2000s, Ingram has wracked up some impressive stats: more than 300 episodes of animated TV broadcast in 180 countries; five albums on Billboard’s Top 10 chart of Children’s Soundtracks; seven theme songs and 250 commissioned tunes, some of which have logged nearly 100 million views on YouTube.

Part of Ingram’s success might stem from the fact that he’s been crazy about animation since his “Puff the Magic Dragon” days (“I wanted to be a cartoonist growing up,” he tells Reel People during a recent phone interview. “I was more of a visual artist when I was much younger”).

Or it might be because, after Ingram had discovered his passion for songwriting and composition in his teens, he spent a couple of years in Ireland, steeping himself in Irish song traditions until he himself could write a snappy tune.

“I think [my time in Ireland] paved the way for writing what I write now, where hooks, and catchiness, are very important to getting the message across to a presumably younger audience,” says Ingram.

But there’s no doubt that it was Ingram’s songwriting and scoring for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP: FIM) – the wildly popular series about an eclectic group of pony friends which is currently airing its sixth season – that launched him into territory not often tread by a composer: that of the series’ gargantuan fan base.

“The fan community for My Little Pony is startlingly large,” says Ingram. “I think a lot of people hear about it for the first time and they’re kind of confused. Until you go to a convention where there are literally 10,000 fans of all ages in one place, all there to celebrate My Little Pony, it’s hard to imagine.”

MLP fans have edited together hundreds of tribute videos set to Ingram’s music, and have demonstrated their support for his work on social networking sites: he’s got 37,000 followers on Twitter (@dannyimusic), and more than 29,000 on Facebook.

“It’s a very rare privilege as a songwriter – especially working in the medium of children’s television, where the role of the songwriter and the composer tends to be anonymous – where a song will come out on My Little Pony, and I’ll post it on my Facebook fan page, and sometimes there will be a thousand likes and 500 comments, and I read through them, and they’re incredibly supportive,” says Ingram.

“It really encourages you as an artist when you can put work out there and have so many people respond and tell you what they think and be generally very positive.”

Whenever Ingram holes up in his Gastown studio to compose a song or the score for an animated show, he’s got a lot on his mind. “I’m thinking about the audience, what is going to translate, what’s new and fresh, and what makes sense for the characters,” he says.

In 2017, Ingram – who studied composition at Simon Fraser University and entered the industry as an apprentice to legendary composer Hal Beckett – will  venture into theatrical release territory with My Little Pony: The Movie.

The film features the franchise’s regular cast of characters (voiced by, among others, Vancouver’s Ashleigh Ball (Hey Ocean!) and Kazumi Evans), as well as new ones voiced by A-listers Emily Blunt, Liev Schreiber, Taye Diggs, Sia, and Kristin Chenoweth.

Ingram has already composed all of the songs (“I had to challenge myself to push beyond what had been done in the TV show; to write bigger, more epic”) and is currently hard at work on the score, which will ultimately be performed by a live studio orchestra.

“It’s the be-all and end-all for a film composer,” says Ingram. “It’s what you always dream about: to work with a live orchestra, and write on a feature film that’s going to have a big distribution.”

Before then, there’s Ingram’s latest work for the MLP universe: Equestria Girls: Legend of Everfree, which hits Netflix on Oct. 1. Watch the trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCEJv11mF1M

Of the four Equestria Girls films Ingram’s worked on, he says this new one (in which the humanoid versions of the MLP: FIM characters go to camp) is his favourite.

“I really like that Mumford and Sons, folky style, and there’s a really nice range of different styles in that movie,” says Ingram. “I think it’s our best movie yet.”