Released in November last year, Irish singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Cian Ducrot’s fragile, heart-wrenching ballad “I’ll Be Waiting” is shaping up to be one of 2023’s biggest songs. Fueled by fan power on TikTok – where Ducrot has 3.1m followers and over 71.1m likes, with a recent viral video of Ducrot performing a surprise gig on public transport hitting 56m plays – “I’ll Be Waiting” has started to take on a life of its own, steadily climbing the UK Top 40 and currently sitting pretty at number 22. It’s also currently charting in five other countries, and on Spotify in 19 territories worldwide. A plain-speaking, emotionally eloquent, universal ballad, “I’ll Be Waiting” carries a specific meaning for its heart-on-his-sleeve writer. “It’s a story of waiting for someone you love to show up, but they tend to not show up when you need them,” he explains. For the classically-trained Ducrot, songwriting has always been cathartic: “I just really love emotional music. That’s what I’m drawn to.” This was evident on last year’s breakthrough single, All For You, which spent four months in the UK top 40 and peaked at 19. Its success – assisted by a duet with previous touring partner Ella Henderson – lead to him announcing his own UK and Europe tour, which has now completely sold out.
Growing up in Passage West in Cork, Ducrot was surrounded by music. His mum, who raised him after his father left, is a classical musician, specializing in piano and flute, while his older brother was well on the way to becoming a violinist by the time Ducrot was born. “Me and my brother were always forming bands, playing in orchestras, practicing for competitions, so music was everything and everywhere,” he remembers. “My mum toured just after she gave birth to me and had me on tour, breastfeeding me in the intervals.” So while music swirled around him growing up, so too did a wider narrow-mindedness from his peers. “I’ve got a love-hate relationship with Cork. There were a lot of hard times in terms of what happened growing up with my family, and with my father, but also a lot of tough times when you’re different and doing music. It wasn’t the most open-minded place back then.” While he excelled at music, learning piano, classical guitar, saxophone, percussion, drums, violin and, eventually, the flute, he was also having to battle people’s prejudices surrounding who should and shouldn’t be able to make music. “There was a huge amount of wanting to prove people wrong,” he says. “I was lucky enough as a kid that I didn’t really care about what people said. Or what they thought. I grew up fast.”
There was also a smaller battle brewing at home. Adept at playing any instrument he picked up, the flute had always been forbidden, with Ducrot’s mum worried about teaching him an instrument she played professionally. “Then one day I found a spare one and immediately made a sound,” he smiles. “Usually that takes months and months to learn to do. My mum was like ‘oh no’ because she then felt a responsibility to teach me. Eventually that was the instrument I fell in love with and pursued for most of my life. From 9-years-old until I went and studied it at the Royal Academy of Music in London.” So started a musical life that often felt split between the classical training on one side, and a burgeoning desire to become a pop musician on the other. Constantly singing around the house as a child, that later morphed into busking and singing in local pubs, while songwriting started when he was in his early teens. “I struggled at first because I wanted to be as good at writing songs as I was playing the flute. Later I realized I needed to properly focus on practicing my songwriting.”
Ducrot started to relish the challenge. With a clear career as a classical musician laid out in front of him, inspired by his mum’s path, his mind started to wander to the ‘what if’s’ of the pop world. “I grew up in an incredibly musical family and so I found it relatively easy – everything I was learning I’d heard a million times already. But there was always something in the back of mind that wanted to be a pop artist. I think that’s why I pursued it because it seemed a bit less attainable.” It also offered him the chance to connect to an audience in different ways. “All of my dreams would be me onstage singing to thousands of people and I’d wake up thinking ‘that was the best feeling, I have to do that with my life’. I knew that I couldn’t give up until I had that experience.”
It was after Ducrot moved to London to study that he really started to build on Cian Ducrot: The Artist, swapping the covers he’d post on social media (“I’d go on this platform called YouNow in-between my flute practice and livestream songs for people and build a following,” he says) for songs he was writing himself. “I was balancing my studies with writing songs, producing songs, doing meetings, networking, posting YouTube videos, so it was just too much. So when I discovered TikTok it was so much quicker, and by that point I knew how to connect with people and what worked and what didn’t.” It was a vocal coach of his that suggested he head to LA for a writing camp, a move that would change his life forever. “I had this really amazing time, and the people were really encouraging like ‘you’ve got to do this’. I text my mum on the second day at the camp saying ‘I’m leaving the academy, all I need is your moral support’. She was obviously like ‘are you sure?’ but at the same time she said she always knew this is what I was going to do.” Back in London, however, the reality of leaving a prestigious school kicked in for everyone. “It was followed by moments of doubt where she was like ‘maybe you should go back’ or ‘are you sure?’. She was worried. I’d thrown 15 years worth of studying down the drain. But school was holding me back and I knew I needed to spread my wings.”
Having moved back to Cork, and with songwriting trips to London and LA involving the borrowing of money and lots of sofa surfing, Ducrot got an email out of the blue from his now manager. “She was working at a distributor and she just sent me a stock email, which I nearly didn’t reply to because I was so annoyed,” he smiles. “It just asked me to send more music. I sent her a playlist of songs I’d been working on and she said it was the only time she’d ever listened to a playlist where she thought every song was great. In that moment she said I was the person she’d been looking for.” As 2019 rolled into 2020, however, things still seemed to be up in the air. “There were these five months that were ambiguous and I came back to London and started working random jobs in restaurants and cafes. All the people at the jobs I worked at would listen to my music and be like ‘you’re going to be big one day’ and I’d reply with ‘I fucking hope so’.”
Just before lockdown hit in 2020, Ducrot moved into a London flat-share with two Canadian songwriters. Sharing a mix of new music alongside funny videos exploring the pros and cons of living with two female housemates to TikTok, Ducrot’s followers went through the roof. “Both of them started gaining traction and within a few months my manager started getting a load of emails and calls from all the major labels,” he explains. “I picked the team I liked the most and ended up signing with Darkroom and Interscope in America [now Geffen and Interscope] and Polydor in the UK.” His first release, 2021’s Make Believe EP, was all about finding his sound now that he had suddenly found people who believed in him. In the end he returned to what he knew best. “I was running away from what I naturally am, which is an Irish singer-songwriter lad who grew up busking in Cork and playing gigs in pubs. That’s where my grounding is. It wasn’t until I’d done that EP and come full circle, that it all started to click.”
In January 2022 he wrote and produced “All For You,” the song that would cement his status as one of music’s most vital songwriting talents. “It was really amazing to come back to myself and write a song at the piano and see what happens,” he says. As for its enduring appeal, he’s still trying to get his head around that: “I think maybe it’s the simplicity of it or something. It’s connecting with every single generation, which is so weird.” While “All For You” focuses on loss tinged with a hint of regret at your own behavior, the skyscraping “I’ll Be Waiting” deals with the frustrations that come with desperately hoping someone close to you can change. “I didn’t want to have a relationship with my dad as a child, he was a horrible person, but also when you’re a kid you still want your dad to care,” he says quietly.
After years of wrestling with his decision to quit becoming a classical musician, Ducrot is finally living out his recurring dream of performing his own songs in front of screaming fans. It’s a fanbase that are connecting both with Ducrot’s emotional songs, but also with the man himself. It’s testament to his vulnerability and willingness to lay himself bare that people keep returning to his songs (across just two songs, Ducrot has already spent eight months in the UK top 100), with people desperate for more. “Everything I posted on TikTok before ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ came out was like ‘that’s cool, great your tour is sold-out, but when is the next single released’,” he laughs. This is just the beginning.