Freelancing Job Led to His Big Break

Ryan Firm, ’09

On a Sunday night in October, Ryan Firm sits at his computer in downtown Nashville, anticipating the launch of his latest freelance project. A final few tweaks, and a new website the graphics design graduate has been working on is ready to go live.

Midnight, and the numbers start rolling in. Tens, hundreds, thousands of visitors to the site – numbers any webmaster would drool over – immediately and at a relentless pace. And then the realization hits him.

Ryan Firm is a Youngstown State University alumni who recently designed a website for Taylor Swift and her latest album Red.

Ryan Firm

Thousands of people from all over the country are flocking to a website that he, a YSU graduate, has just designed…for country music star Taylor Swift.

Firm is the creative director at Checkd.in, the creative technology agency in Nashville that first gave him a shot at this once-in-a-lifetime client. Living his dream job, Firm connected with the company in a moment of perfect timing in his career after two critical positions.

The first came six months after Firm graduated from YSU in 2009. With a BFA and design experience working for the Review Newspapers and Stambaugh Auditorium in Youngstown, he set off to Nashville to start as a designer at Uniquest. The hospitality marketing agency gave him the opportunity to design touch-screen interfaces and other applications for clients like Hilton Hotels.

“That first job really broke me into marketing,” said Firm, “but when my boss was let go and I became the new marketing coordinator, I started to really miss designing.”

It was Firm’s former boss who introduced him to his next Nashville career stop ­– Hospital Corporation of America, a healthcare services provider. As senior designer of applications for hospital administrators, Firm got a technical education working on back-end functions for reporting applications.

And when he wasn’t teaching himself web coding, Firm was running his own freelance business. “I recently came back to Youngstown to talk to some of the design classes at YSU,” said Firm. “My biggest piece of advice to them: Never turn down a freelance job.”

Firm didn’t, and free-lancing allowed him to score a gig with Taylor Swift, a country music legend-in-the-making.

“I’m now working for the same company that hired me as a freelancer to work on the Taylor campaign in conjunction with her latest album release,” said Firm, who was lead designer for taylorswiftred.com.

Entitled “Red,” the Swift album Firm promoted sold more than 1.2 million copies in just one week, the largest sales week for any album in a decade.

“It was pretty awesome having a hand in something like that,” admits Firm. “You have that moment where you’re thinking, Taylor Swift has no idea who I am, but here I am from Youngstown, working on her website.”

After a hugely successful web campaign of 2.6 million interactions from over 150 countries, Firm was immediately offered a job.

As creative director at Checkd.in, Firm now designs mobile, web and social fan engagement campaigns for other big names –Toby Keith, P!nk, Kenny Chesney, Pitbull, Dunkin Donuts, Wrangler Jeans – all by drawing upon his design, marketing and technical skills.

Next on deck for Firm at Checkd.in are campaigns for Snoop Lion and Tim McGraw, an interactive game application for Trace Adkins for his upcoming appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, and another project for Taylor Swift.

A dream job not even four years out of college – too good to be true? Not for Firm, though he’s still slightly in shock over it all.

“Growing up in the Youngstown area, you come away with that work ethic you can’t get anywhere else,” said Firm, a native of Campbell. “It translated into my college life, juggling school with multiple jobs, and it’s translating into my profession now. Coming out of Youngstown is something I’m proud of. I don’t think I could have picked up that work ethic anywhere else.”

(Previously published in YSU Magazine, Winter 2013.)