It has been reported that Hansard quit school at age 13 to begin busking on local Dublin streets (despite the minimum school leaving age at the time being 15 years). He formed his own band The Frames in 1990, and the group have been gigging regularly in Ireland since. Hansard came to international attention as guitar player Outspan Foster in the 1991 Alan Parker film The Commitments. He has often stated that he regretted taking the role, because he felt it distracted him from his music career. In 2003, he presented the television programme Other Voices: Songs from a Room, which showcased Irish music talent on RTÉ.
On 22 April 2006, he released his first album without The Frames, The Swell Season, on Overcoat Recordings in collaboration with Czech singer and multi-instrumentalist Markéta Irglová, Marja Tuhkanen from Finland on violin and viola, and Bertrand Galen from France on cello. Hansard also spent part of 2006 in front of the cameras for the music-infused Irish film Once, in which Hansard plays a Dublin busker, and Irglová an immigrant street vendor. The film had its United States premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007 and received the Festival's World Cinema Audience Award. During the promotional tour, he and Irglová began dating. Said Hansard about his relationship with Irglova: "I had been falling in love with her for a long time, but I kept telling myself she's just a kid".
Hansard had recorded a version of Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" for the film I'm Not There in 2007. In 2009, Hansard said that he and Irglova were no longer romantically linked, and that they are now "good friends".
Aside from his projects with The Frames and Irglová, Hansard also took part as a member of the band on the 2006 Oxfam charity album, The Cake Sale. Hansard has recorded several cover songs, both alone and with band member Colm Mac Con Iomaire, for the Today FM discs Even Better than the Real Thing. Songs that he has recorded include Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" on Even Better than the Real Thing Vol. 1 and Britney Spears' "Everytime" on Vol. 2.
He voiced a role on an episode ("In the Name of the Grandfather") on The Simpsons as an Irish busker. A new album of original songs recorded as The Swell Season with Markéta Irglová and entitled Strict Joy was released on 27 October 2009 on the ANTI- record label.
In the summer of 2011, he joined Eddie Vedder on his American solo tour in support of Vedder's solo album, Ukulele Songs. He played a solo concert at the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Guitar Heroes exhibit in New York City in May 2011. and on Cape Cod at the Cape Cinema on 17 June.
In September 2011, he played at Pearl Jam's 20th Anniversary Festival PJ20 at the Alpine Valley Theatre outside of East Troy, Wisconsin. Hansard plays several guitars, including a very recognisable battered Takamine NP15 acoustic guitar (even sporting a large hole), which he calls "The Horse".
In a November 2011 interview in The Huffington Post with Irglova, it was revealed that Hansard was preparing a solo album and that there was a very possible third release from The Swell Season. This solo album was later revealed to be titled Rhythm and Repose.
American Songwriter included Hansard's "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting" on its The Muse July Sampler. Another song of his featured in a film soundtrack is This Gift, which appears in The Odd Life of Timothy Green.
Hansard sang the song "Take the Heartland" on the soundtrack for the 2012 film The Hunger Games. Another song he wrote, "Come Away to the Water", is featured on the soundtrack, but is covered by Maroon 5 and Rozzi Crane. Hansard can be found singing "Come Away to the Water" on the deluxe edition of his first solo album Rhythm and Repose. He guest-starred in an episode of the TV series, Parenthood, playing himself. In the episode, "Trouble in Candyland", he performed "High Hope", a single from his solo debut Rhythm and Repose.
Hansard has remarked about his musical influences: "In my house, when I was a kid, there was the holy trinity, which was Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan with Bob sitting center." Hansard and The Frames toured as the support act for Bob Dylan in Australia and New Zealand in August 2007 and Hansard often performs Van Morrison's songs in concert. Two such songs include "Into the Mystic", and "And the Healing Has Begun" which were included on the collector's edition of the soundtrack for the film Once.
Hansard is a devotee of Krishna and performed for the 80th birthday of Swami Prabhupada in London, staying at a manor donated to the Hare Krishna movement by The Beatles' George Harrison, who was a Hare Krishna devotee. In July 2013, he sang with Bruce Springsteen at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Ireland. In July 2015, he performed "Raglan Road" with Ed Sheeran in Croke Park, Dublin.
In 2008, he began studying at the New York Film Academy.
In 2016, Hansard was a prominent member of the Home Sweet Home Group, an organisation set up to tackle homelessness on the streets of Ireland. The group occupied Apollo House in Dublin to house members of the homeless community in Dublin. They eventually had to vacate the premises due to trespassing.2007
Won, Best Original Song - "Falling Slowly", from Once (film)
Nominated, Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, for Once
Nominated, Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, for "Falling Slowly" from Once
Won, Best Musical Theater Album, for Once (musical)
Nominated, Best Folk Album, for Didn't He Ramble
This Gift (2012) (promo)
High Hope (2012) (promo)
Bird of Sorrow (2012) (promo)
Love Don't Leave Me Waiting (2012) (promo)
Drive All Night (November 2013)
It Was Triumph We Once Proposed...Songs of Jason Molina EP (17 March 2015)
Winning Streak (30 June 2015)
Lowly Deserter (November 2015) - (Sky Stone & Records)
A Season on the Line EP (February 2016)
"The Dancer" (1991)
"Realisation Music" (1992) (promo)
Turn on Your Record Player EP (1992)
"Picture of Love" (1993)
Angel at My Table EP (1994) (promo)
I Am the Magic Hand EP (15 February 1999)
"Pavement Tune" (1999)
Rent Day Blues EP (December 1999)
Come on Up to the House (1999) (compilation featuring "Star Star" by The Frames)
"Lay Me Down" (2001)
The Roads Outgrown EP (2003)
"Fake" (12 September 2003)
"Finally" (20 August 2004)
"Sideways Down" (28 January 2005)
"Happy" (Radio Single Only; 2005)
"Sad Songs" (2006)
"Falling Slowly"/"No More I Love Yous" (2006; promo)
The Swell Season (2006)
Once Soundtrack (2007)
Strict Joy (2009)
"When Your Mind's Made Up" (2008) (promo)
"Low Rising" (2009) (promo)
The Commitments (1991)
Austin City Limits (2008)
Ballymun Lullaby (2011; documentary)
The Swell Season (2011)
Parenthood (2010 TV series) (2012 episode: "Trouble in Candyland")
In the Deep Shade (2013 documentary, with the Irish band The Frames)
The Last Man on Earth (TV series) (2016 episode "Falling Slowly")