Interview: Daniel Ingram, Songwriter for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
Season 3 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic begins this Saturday, November 10 at 7 a.m. PT on The Hub, followed by the series premiere of Littlest Pet Shop. Both shows feature songs written by Daniel Ingram, who was kind enough to speak to me on the phone about his process, the differences between writing for differing levels of reality in cartoons, his feelings about the many, many remixes of his work on YouTube, and things to look forward to this season.
Compared to My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, is there a difference in your approach when you're writing for a show like Littlest Pet Shop which -- talking animals and cartoon physics notwithstanding -- is set in the real world?
I definitely consider all of these factors while coming up with the musical sound for a show. Because Littlest Pet Shop is grounded in a real-world setting, it makes more sense (particularly because it's an urban setting) to use a modern style of music, or have more pop influences, and have more cultural influences come into the musical style. You can hear that in the theme song. Whereas on My Little Pony, which is set in a fantasy world, Will Anderson has created this beautiful sonic world with his orchestral score, and I'm trying to bridge the songs into that world so they don't stand out. I think the songs in My Little Pony would sound out of place in Littlest Pet Shop and vice versa.
Absolutely. I picked up on a Gwen Stefani vibe in the Littlest Pet Shop songs, which worked perfectly for that environment, but as you say, wouldn't quite fit so much in the Pony world.
Yeah, it would feel strange, since they're in such a unique, fantasy setting.
Littlest Pet Shop features a singing character who gets a long, expository number in the pilot episode, but it wasn't until about halfway through the first season of Friendship Is Magic that the show started doing more complex songs, the kind that advanced the story and weren't just manifestations of Pinkie Pie's manic nature. When you started on Friendship Is Magic, did you know that things like "Winter Wrap Up" or "The Art of the Dress" were going to be coming down the pike?
Absolutely not! I don't think anybody really did. I think we discovered the potential as we went along. In my songwriting career up to that point I'd sort of dabbled in more ambitious songs, but generally for children's cartoons the songs are quite incidental. So, as we started to move through the series and go "Hey, we can push this a little further this time, go a little further," Hasbro was able to communicate that I was really keen to try to bring in a choir and work with these bigger forms, and they jumped right on board and offered the support to really try to do something groundbreaking for daytime television.
How involved are you with the scriptwriting process? Are you handed a completed script with gaps for you to fill with songs, or do you work with the writers while they're breaking the stories?
That's a good question. I don't work directly with the writers. They're the first out of the gate in terms of structuring the show. So, we'll have a locked script before it comes to me. When I get that locked script, they'll have the choice of either including lyrics or not including lyrics. Obviously, if they don't include lyrics I have to read the script and write the lyrics contextually, and I'll discuss this with the creative team. When they do include lyrics, I try my best to honor those lyrics, but I don't really have a lot of communication with the writers directly.
Out of the thousands of remixes and covers of your songs on YouTube, do you have any particular favorites, or that you return to now and again?
Y'know, I really love the opportunity to hear all of the covers the fans do, and just to see all the ways in which they've taken these songs and personalized them and made them their own. The range of creativity is so great. I don't really wanna pick favorites, there's so much good stuff out there.
Sure. They're all your children.
Yeah, sort of! I feel kind of protective of them. It's one of the best payoffs for my job -- at the end of the day, I like to pop on YouTube and do a search for the latest My Little Pony covers. I always hear as many as I can, and I try to leave comments and [be encouraging].
(This remix was not suggested by Mr. Ingram. It's just a favorite of mine.)
Are there any songs coming up on either Friendship Is Magic or Littlest Pet Shop that you're particularly proud of, the ones that you really want us to pay attention to?
Yes! I can't spoil anything, so I'm not going to talk specifically about any songs, but there definitely are some really long-awaited numbers that I think people are going to be excited about, and I'm particularly proud of the season finales for both series.
So you've already done the whole run of episodes for both shows?
It's all done, yeah. The songs I write are very early in the process, they come right up at the locked-script stage, so I will generally have written and recorded a song a year or a year and a half before it airs on television. So, a lot of what people will be hearing on November 10 will be songs that I was working on in 2011. [Laughs.]
Well, they'll be new to us! I'm sure we'll enjoy them, and we'll all be looking forward to those season finales you teased about.
Stay tuned! It's going to be a wild ride on both shows.
Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer who has greatly enjoyed covering My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic for The Exhibitionist, and she thanks for you reading it. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.