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“I love the sound of an acoustic guitar. When I need to clear my head, I sit on my bed with the lights off, singing for only myself. It’s my escape from the busyness of life.” 

Music is everything to Ryann Werner.

It is her past.  

“I’ve been writing songs since I was little. I’ve been playing guitar since sixth grade, and singing even longer. I would write songs for fun, parodies and things like that.” 

It is her present.  

“I am working on balance right now. I know that to do what I want to do, I have to plan time to create and put out music. I can have the life I want if I work at it” 

It is in her every plan for her future. 

At 17 years old, Ryann is looking ahead, but still approaching her journey with a focus on each step that will best set her up for the next one. She’s had the dream of a career in music since she was ten, when she went into a studio for the first time with her father, a music producer and musician himself. His time in the industry provided a foundation of reality for Ryann as she set her sights on her goals.  

“You can’t just ask for it. Nobody is going to hand it to you. You have to work for it,” he told her years ago. Ryann took it to heart, mapping out the next few years, setting goals as checkpoints along the way to indicate that she is moving in the right direction. Presently, she is focused on balancing her passion for music and development as an artist with the other things that are inherently important to any high school student – getting good grades and maintaining a social life. 

“Not too long ago there was a party coming up, and all of my friends were going. It was this huge event, and I had been looking forward to it for a long time. My dad reminded me that we set a goal of releasing a song within a few weeks, and if we were going to keep that plan, I had to work on my song instead of attending. So I had to miss it. We knew there would be some sacrifices, but they will pay off in the long run”. 

Ryann was able to enjoy the payoff for her focus. She finished her song, which she titled “15,” a song about trying to be free in her own space and discovering herself as an artist. Soon after, she finished “Heart vs. Mind,” a five song EP that she released in September of last year. The EP showcases each of Ryann’s many musical talents. Of course, she sings. She wrote the lyrics and played the guitar. She also added other digital instruments and produced the EP herself, with some help from her father. Through this process and the elation from putting her art into the world, Ryann learned that sticking to her goals in the short run helps her plan for the long run. 

And planning for the long run is all part of the plan.  

“I went to USC last summer for an intensive program focused on the music industry. It was such an amazing experience, I knew this was the school for me. I want to be a successful artist, and I know that means knowing how to have a strategy in the music industry. Getting into USC is the first step”. 

For all of her plans and ambitions, Ryann is determined to be herself, to stay true to herself, and to promote her authentic self. 

Her first experience performing solo solidified this for her. Her school’s poetry club was hosting an open mic and it was open to the whole school. The day before, she still hadn’t decided if she was going to do it.  

“I’ve performed before. I sang in the school choir and I’ve sang a lot of solos. But singing other people’s music, you feel like you have to match the vibe to do it well. Unless you really know yourself as an artist, it’s hard to make it your own”. 

Ultimately she decided to do the open mic, and that she was going to perform an original song.  

“I said to myself, the sooner you get out there the better. But I needed to be authentic. Be myself. I was still trying to get comfortable, gain confidence in my own art. I was very nervous, and I didn’t have a lot of time to prep. But something about the pressure of having to perform the next day sparked my creativity, and I performed my own song for the first time.” 

From there, Ryann continued her focus on creating music and gaining confidence putting it out into the world. A senior at Whitney High School on the west side of Chicago, Ryann started to get more opportunities to perform in front of crowds. First, an open mic to 100 people. Then a solo performance for a Black History Month event, which led to pep rallies in front of a school of 2,500 hundred people.  

As she got more comfortable performing to her peers and teachers, Ryann and her parents started looking outside of Whitney High for chances to perform to new audiences in new environments.  

Looking for chances led them to Chance the Rapper. Specifically, it led them to his organization, Social Works, and its Open Mike initiative, which Ryann attended and performed this past April. Open Mike provides a stage, a microphone, and most importantly, a community of like-minded artists, many of whom with the same goals as Ryann – a life rich in music and performance as authentic and unique as the artists themselves.  

“Walking into Open Mike was different from performing at my school. I walked into the room and felt all of the other talent. I was very nervous at first. But I knew I could handle myself if I was true to myself. I wanted them to see me for who I am. I told myself, “be cool, they will love it. Go do you!”.  

Ryann recalls her experience after her performance, which she considered a success. “People came up to me to congratulate me and asked about collaborating. I felt really good about it, and I am looking forward to the next one.” 

She mentioned the importance of programs like Open Mike for young artists looking to follow their own dreams. 

“It’s the opportunity to showcase who I am and connect with other artists doing the same. We have to recognize and support each other’s talents. The community has to have your back.” 

Ryann plans on attending and performing at more Open Mikes and anywhere else she can. She knows the experience is essential for realizing her long term dream. But for now, the focus is on the next step to achieving this. 

“My dream right now is USC. Half of my summer was dedicated to scholarship applications for schools. I made a plan to be done with all college submissions by October. Then I want to enjoy her senior year, spending time with friends.”  

Even as Ryann enjoys her senior year, she is still very much in a period of reflection of who she is not just as an artist, but as a person; clarity that comes in the moments where it’s just her, sitting on her bed in her dark room, playing her acoustic guitar, free in her own space, away from the busyness of life.