Waukee singer-songwriter competes in online contests

Musician Ryan Knorr posted his first videos to YouTube in 2007 as a means of sharing his songs with friends and family.

But once online, the Waukee man’s emotive vocals traveled far beyond their original target. Nearly 2 million indie music fans have visited his channel in the past three years.

This fall the burgeoning singer-songwriter extended his online presence even further as a finalist in two Web-based music contests. The 25-year-old is vying for top honors in Subway’s Fresh Artists national competition, which ended Sunday, and Tyler Ward’s USA Live Lounge showdown.

“It’s good exposure, and that’s really all you can ask for right now in terms of the music industry,” said Knorr, who majored in music production at Buena Vista University in Newton. “It’s moving away from labels and more toward individual artists. The Internet – these contests – have allowed me to market myself.”

So far, Knorr’s audience likes what it’s hearing.

The Minnesota native was ranked 65th out of 500 entries in the Fresh Artists competition on Friday. The winner will get a chance to open for the Goo Goo Dolls. Plus, an additional 500 fans subscribed to Knorr’s YouTube channel in the days after he was named a finalist in the Live Lounge contest.

The extra attention can only benefit Knorr as he works to spread his sound, said Tony Bohnenkamp, a local pianist and co-owner of The Sonic Factory in Des Moines.

“Yes, there are cons, but one of the huge pros of being independent is that you get to control your music, and your image and your shows, which is great for a musician,” said Bohnenkamp, who helped record “The Path of Greatest Resistance,” a 14-track album released by Knorr this summer. “Ryan is one of the good ones. He just loves playing his music and wants to get it out to as many people as possible.”

In addition to promoting his new record, Knorr is planning a house show tour this spring and recruiting a back-up band. He continues to post new videos on YouTube and spends an hour each day responding to fan e-mails and online comments.

The artist has performed at metro coffee shops and clubs. Earlier this month, he shared his songs with Kent Peterson’s creative writing class at Waukee High School, where Knorr works as a custodian.

“What I see in Ryan is someone who really tells a story with his music,” said Peterson, who plays Knorr’s tunes for his students while they write in their journals. “It’s not just the same refrain over and over again. When you get done listening, you feel like you know him better, or that you’ve experienced a piece of his life.”

That connection to fans keeps Knorr inspired, the artist said. He has written songs about love and life’s struggles, as well as a tune based on the experiences of an Iraq war veteran who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.

“For a long time, I tried not to do the music thing, because I knew there had to be easier careers,” Knorr said. “But eventually, I came to a place where I decided that easy or hard, this was what I was meant to do.”