Born William Ryan Key, Key lived in Jacksonville, Florida. He started playing piano at the age of nine and guitar at age thirteen. He attended Episcopal High School of Jacksonville before transferring to Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (for theatre), from which he graduated. He then attended Florida State University but dropped out. During this time he sang in a Jacksonville band called Modern Amusement (who subsequently broke up in 1998). He next moved to Santa Cruz, California along with Dan McLintock of Inspection 12 to join Craig's Brother but moved back to Jacksonville after less than a year in Craig's Brother.
By this time, some of Key's high school friends from Douglas Anderson had formed the band Yellowcard, and when the original lead singer Ben Dobson left, Key was invited by lead guitarist Ben Harper to join. Previously, Key had been part of the band Craig's Brother. Key convinced the rest of the band to migrate to Ventura County, California.
With Key's voice and rhythm guitar, the band produced albums One for the Kids, The Underdog EP, and Ocean Avenue, after which Ben Harper, Key's original recruiter, left. Key and his fellow band mate Peter Mosely moved to New York. With the inspiration from the city's sights and noises and the experience of living in some place completely new, the band recorded the album Lights and Sounds. In July 2007, Yellowcard released their latest album, Paper Walls.
Key stars in numerous music videos including "Powder", "Way Away ," "Ocean Avenue," "Only One," "Lights and Sounds," "Rough Landing, Holly," and most recently, "Light Up the Sky".
Key sang a duet with Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines for the song "How I Go."
Key appeared on the hit television series Made on MTV. He was the Made coach for two students. The goal was to make them singers and to make their own band; so they could compete in the Battle of the Bands for the students' High School.
Key made an appearance J. J. Abrams' movie Cloverfield. He plays a bartender at the party near the beginning of the movie.
On 12 August 2008, a song by Ryan Key and Taboo (The Black Eyed Peas) was streamed onto the Internet for downloading called 'Gotta Get It Now!'.
On 14 February 2009, Ryan Key and Ryan Mendez performed an acoustic cover of a song by the band Lillix.
On 24 February 2009, Ryan Key announced that he has started a new band with Sean O'Donnell called Big If. It is posted on their official Myspace bulletin.
On 5 April 2009, Ryan Key created a MySpace blog sharing info about an indie movie that he took part in called "Moustachette."
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