Ryan Hanlin, NKCH Plant Operations employee, has rubbed shoulders with some of the most prominent musicians in Nashville, but it’s the little people in his life who mean the most.

As a child, Ryan listened to 61 Country radio with his grandfather. He loved the stories and sounds that defined country music. At 19, he learned to play guitar and enrolled in college to become an industrial arts teacher. But after three years, Ryan realized he devoted more time to writing songs than studying. “Slowly, my college career ended,” he jokes, “and I focused on playing guitar and singing.”

Ryan started the band, Higher Ground, with four other musicians. Their big break came when they won a Q104 band contest in 2000, and the group went from playing small venues to opening for Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson at Sandstone Amphitheatre.

Higher Ground toured the United States for two years and in 2004, Ryan moved to Nashville to follow his passion for songwriting. He worked as a remodeler during the day and played in downtown venues at night, surviving on tips. “I was amazed I could make a living doing what I loved, but I was on a Raman noodle budget,” Ryan laughs.

What Ryan lacked in income he gained in experience from musicians who toured with Kellie Pickler, Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck. He counts country superstar Kenny Chesney and new singer Craig Campbell as friends.

Ryan Hanlin, NKCH employee, and his familyRyan soon landed a job with a publishing company penning songs. Success for a songwriter comes when an artist chooses to record a song. He came close with, “When Did I Stop Being Funny,” which chronicled the breakup of his marriage. Singer Billy Currington expressed interest, but the song didn’t make the album cut.

The roller coaster of the music business eventually wore on Ryan. When his professional dreams kept him away from his 18-month-old son Trevor, who lived in Kansas City, Ryan reevaluated his priorities. “My dream was to be a songwriter, but then I had my son. Little did I know, but my real dream was to be a dad,” he says. From that experience, Ryan wrote his favorite song to date, “Something Better,” packed his bags and moved back to Kansas City.

Now remarried to Shannon, who wrote songs with him in Nashville, Ryan enjoys time with his sons, Trevor and Drake, and is looking forward to the arrival of a third son, Ben, in July. “I’m glad I chased my dream, and I’ll encourage my boys to do the same.”

Listen to songs that Ryan wrote and recorded at reverbnation.com/ryanhanlin.