The Undercover King of Pop: He made more than $2.5 million writing songs last year but doesn't know it. Now OneRepublic's lead singer, who claims to never check his money, is music's most prolific writer/producer
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What he didn't want, however, was to be on his own, and in 2003, he formed OneRepublic with Filkins, a friend since high school. "Touring around the world as a solo artist is the loneliest thing in the world to me," Tedder says. But whether it's for OneRepublic or for the other artists with whom he works, his vision is personal and identifiable - pop songs that sound as if they could be sung in a Mississippi church or a London club. Even "Counting Stars" goes from EDM-folk anthem to stirring gospel number by its bridge ("Take that money, watch it burn / Sink in the river the lessons I learned"), an about-face that's another trick of Tedder's trade. He takes pride in the fact that this reporter recently heard "Rumour Has It" on the radio in the middle of its dramatic breakdown ("Just 'cause I said it / Don't meee-ee-ean that I meant it"), momentarily thinking it was a new Adele song, before the Motown chorus kicked back in. "Bridges either need to take you away for a minute, which Max [Martin] is the king of, or keep the energy up if it's an uptempo song. Mine tend to become these other songs."
|Ryan Tedder Covers the March 22 Issue of Billboard -- Click Here to Get a Copy|
Still, there remains a relative anonymity to Tedder that has kept him from the superstar path currently enjoyed by Adam Levine, who also is at a career high with both Maroon 5 and his own ventures thanks to his role on The Voice since 2011. Levine has been sharing the wealth with Tedder in recent seasons, however, including helping Tedder land a half-season stint as his guest mentor and the chance to pen the show's first original song for season-five winner Tessanne Chin.
Tedder says that his current level of notoriety is ideal. "I don't get hounded, I don't get chased, I don't usually travel with security, and I still feel relatively like a normal person. The day that I can't go out and walk around Paris, I'm done. I'm not joking. If I can't do what I've done the last five days, I'm done."
You don't need a big name to attract Tedder. He also has been very comfortable working with unproven, rising acts like Birdy, Ella Henderson and The Voice winner Chin, who are not out-of-the-box chart-toppers. They need time to develop. Even "Feel Again," the lead single from Native, wasn't the out-of-the-box hit the band or Interscope anticipated it would be in summer 2012, prompting the album's release to be moved back from that fall to March 2013. Sources say that what might have helped the song finally break was its use in a public-service TV campaign for nonprofit Save the Children, which was said to be worth $30 million in gratis media exposure.
"I've now learned the hard way [that] just having a hit song doesn't equal having a hit song," Tedder says of working with other artists. "There are so many other factors: timing, profile, rollout, press, doing promo with an artist who doesn't like to do promo, not getting the song to the licensing department early enough to get any traction. It depends on all these different metrics. I don't have the time or the wherewithal on every single song to put out an all-points bulletin to my licensing department, and I'm kind of getting to a point where I'm fatigued. Less is more: Just do less songs. It's unfair to say for better artists, but certainly better situations."
He alternately admires and envies his peers Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Blanco (Maroon 5, Katy Perry), Greg Kurstin (Pink, Kelly Clarkson) and Greg Wells (Adele, Mika) for the luxuries that having one day job affords. "They wake up every day and they can walk across the hall or drive to their studio because they're not on the road," he says. "So Benny's developing four artists right now, and there are moments where I'm like, 'Man, I'm jealous of that.' But I can't functionally do that."
His imprint with Interscope, Patriot Records, through which he signed and developed two artists, Nikki Flores and Kay, has slipped off his radar. "I think I still have one, I don't know if it's folded or not," he says. (Iovine confirms the imprint is still active: "It's just a matter of being attended to - he's got a lot going on.") However, if he were to sign a new artist again, it would be someone like Lorde ("I would love to write with her"), or Of Monsters and Men ("they're pretty awesome"), or his most recent obsession, Irish folk-soul singer Hozier ("when I heard 'Take Me to Church,' I was like, 'You gotta be freaking kidding me'â¯"). He wants to sign someone self-contained, he says, "where all they needed was someone to put out their awesomeness. But I don't need to conquer every single corner of the music business or feel that I have my hands in everything. I don't want money bad enough to do that, or the amount of undue stress that's caused from developing artists."
Wherever Tedder ends up deciding to apply his talents, he won't suffer for a lack of options. "Ryan has his pick of many, many models," Iovine says. "Ryan can do anything from playing a concert, playing an arena, write or produce for other people, he could do a label. He's got the talent and the drive and the personality to do any of it. It depends on what he wants to do, or if he wants to do all of it. He's one of those guys - he's got that kind of bandwidth. Not everybody has that. It's hard to find."
In a way, the most important artist Tedder has yet to fully develop is himself - should he reconsider the option to fly solo. He admits to having flirted with the idea of doing a more experimental, hipster-baiting side project someday, one that would make his love for bands like James Blake, M83 and LCD Soundsystem more apparent. "If I ever decided to do that, I could create something that would surprise the hell out of even Pitchfork," he says. "I just don't know that I'll ever care enough."
Still, it's nights like the one he just had, eating dinner and sightseeing with guitarist Drew Brown and Brown's girlfriend, that remind him how he got to this courtyard in the Place des Vosges in the first place. "The thought of not being here with these guys with me feels like the experience when you go to camp and you're 10," he says. "I did this to be with guys relatively close to my age, and we all go through this together. I don't ever want this to feel like The Ryan Tedder Show, and I can see even on certain nights where that happens. I never thought I had a cool enough name to be a solo artist, anyway."