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
Ryan Tedder is well over an hour into a high-voltage OneRepublic set at Paris' Le Trianon - the third of three sold-out nights at the venue - and he's just been told something most bands rarely get to hear: "You have 30 more minutes left."
The band jumps at the opportunity to improvise in a set that includes many custom video installations, laser projections and one momentous confetti drop. Tedder takes to a piano illuminated in neon pink and begins to vamp on Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," having the young French crowd repeat each line ("She gives me money! When I'm in neeeeed!"). But when the time comes for a mashup with Kanye West's "Gold Digger," guitarist Zach Filkins audibly fumbles with the loop pedal, replaying Tedder's vocal off the beat as if it were a broken record.
|Ryan Tedder Covers the March 22 Issue of Billboard -- Click Here to Get a Copy|
So Tedder repeats the chorus one last time, summoning the ferocity of a Memphis preacher leading a choir. "Said, she gives me MO-NEY," he sings, letting his limber tenor leap in and out of a falsetto that the audience nimbly matches. "Wow, you guys bent that note just like I did - didn't see that one coming."
A throng of teen girls at the front of the stage scream "Ryan! Ryan!" - the first sign so far that the man standing in front of this band is a star all by himself. "Ah, I see you've finally learned my name in our 70 minutes together," he says before launching into the grand finale, a laser-soaked, confetti-showered version of 2013's "If I Lose Myself," as recently remixed by Swedish DJ Alesso. The remix went top 10 on the iTunes sales charts in five countries, including a No. 3 peak in the U.K. Outside of the U.S., OneRepublic has major fan bases in the U.K., Germany, Australia and Canada - and based on tonight's reception, France is now up there, too.
Minutes later, just after he's come offstage, Tedder, 34, gets right back to work - at his other job, as a songwriter for hire. His friend Hubert Blanc-Francard, half of French dance duo Cassius, swings by the dressing room to catch up. Tedder has completed two songs for Cassius' next album, which is shaping up to be an all-star compilation that includes remixes of Pharrell, Cat Power and Phoenix's Thomas Mars, as Tedder eagerly will tell you. Eager not just because all those acts have a hipster cachet that OneRepublic does not, but because as opposed to some of the work Tedder is doing, the Cassius project is not top secret. Working with the biggest stars in the business, as he did with Beyonce in songwriting sessions for her last album, often comes with a strict NDA. "I think I can talk about this," he says, which will become a refrain when we meet two days later in Paris' Place des Vosges.
The current tour is OneRepublic's biggest in terms of both dates and production, and it includes two legs in Europe and a second leg of U.S. amphitheaters, an upgrade from last summer's run of smaller outdoor stages. And it all has to be carefully coordinated with the rest of Tedder's professional obligations. His friend and fellow hitmaker Benny Blanco offers a perfect snapshot of Tedder's whirlwind life: "One time I was with Ryan, and we were cutting a song. He asked me to come in to cut a song. He was in the middle of recording strings for Adele. He was recording strings for Adele, at the same time recording me, and then 15 minutes later, he had to take a helicopter to the airport so that he missed the traffic. Then he took a jet to perform, and then he had to be back the same day to perform in another country. So he had two shows, two sessions and a helicopter. This was in New York City. It was insane. That dude is everywhere at once. I think he has stunt doubles or twins or something."
It would all be a lot simpler if only OneRepublic hadn't hit a new stride in recent months thanks to "Counting Stars," a No. 2-peaking hit that topped 2007's "Apologize" as the band's biggest hit and propelled the album Native to gold sales last month. Meanwhile, Tedder has been steadily - and somewhat stealthily - building up his dual career as an in-demand songwriter/producer ever since he and singer-songwriter Jesse McCartney penned Leona Lewis' 2007 global smash "Bleeding Love," which spent four weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and racked up 4.7â¯million downloads in the U.S.
He also co-wrote and produced Adele's top 20 hit "Rumour Has It" and was among the first people she started working with on her feverishly anticipated third album; his "Halo" became a signature ballad for Beyonce in 2008, and she tapped him again for 2013's "XO"; and former tourmates U2 have just completed sessions with Tedder for their long-in-the-works 13th album.
While OneRepublic has been touring Europe for the past month, Tedder has continued his creative tear. He recently finished two singles for Ariana Grande's sophomore album, a new OneRepublic single called "Love Runs Out," due for release later this spring, two songs for the forthcoming debut from Mikky Ekko (the songwriter and hook vocalist on Rihanna's "Stay") - and, oh yeah, a song for Taylor Swift's next album. "I did one or two other songs that I'm leaving out," he says before later confirming his latest finished product, a dance anthem with vocals from Elton John, produced and co-written with Swedish House Mafia's Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell for an as-yet-undetermined project.
"He's made great records, yet why he's so different is, you don't see these guys usually going around producing Adele or Beyonce - he's so diverse," says Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine, who signed OneRepublic in 2007 and paired the band with Timbaland for the breakthrough remix of "Apologize." Adds Iovine: "There have been people like him in the past - whether it be Todd Rundgren a long time ago or a Dave Stewart - someone who comes along from a great band and has gone on to produce other people, but he's spread it out a lot. He's gone to multiple genres, which is very difficult to do."
|What's a Tune Worth? Tedder's Songwriting Income in 2013:|
Royalties for OneRepublic U.S. sales and digital streaming payments
Producer royalties for U.S. sales of hit singles by OneRepublic, Beyonce, Maroon 5, Demi Lovato and The Fray
TOTAL = $2.5M
Many of the songs started out in other cities at other times - the John collaboration more than a year ago, the Swift session in late January during Grammy Week - but Tedder draws upon the inspiration of the road to put the final ribbon on his tracks. "Counting Stars" initially was born out of the week he spent in the Hamptons working on Beyonce's top-secret album but was completed months later when he was in Santorini, Greece, with Noel Zancanella, a rising writer-producer signed to his Patriot Games Publishing.
"It's the most productive tour I've done, and we've still got another month," he says. "It is expensive - I'm renting another bus half the time in Europe, which'll cost you an arm and a leg. I'll rent studios in Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin, Paris - I just finished two songs for the Cassius project here." Later that night Tedder and his wife of seven years, Genevieve, their 3 ½-year-old son, Copeland Cruz, and Genevieve's mother will join Cassius' Philippe Zdar for dinner in Montmartre, a chance to mix a little business with family time.
Even in Paris, there's no avoiding Tedder's many songs hitting the airwaves. In the past six months alone, he has charted Hot 100 hits for Maroon 5 ("Love Somebody," peaking at No. 10), Ellie Goulding ("Burn," No. 13), Demi Lovato ("Neon Lights," No. 36), Beyonce ("XO," No. 45) and The Fray ("Love Don't Die," No. 60), in addition to the impressive run of "Counting Stars" - currently in its 20th straight week in the top 10 - enough to make him the top-ranked songwriter on Billboard's Publishers Quarterly for Q4 2013. He's also one of the biggest-earning, often sharing writer-producer credits that net him 50 percent to 75 percent of a song's earnings, sometimes more, which added up to an estimated $2.5â¯million last year in the U.S. alone.
Not that Tedder keeps track. The Tulsa, Okla., native swears he's never looked at a royalty check since his very first - $7,500 in mechanical royalties for co-writing and singing on Bubba Sparxxx's "She Tried" from 2003's Deliverance.
"I can't start thinking about the money," he says. "I've been with [music rights administrator] Kobalt since day one. I signed because of the transparency that you could go online and constantly see your flow. They can verify this - I have never signed in. I have this weird jinx-y [thing] where if I start thinking about that and start focusing on how much I'm making..." Tedder pauses to semi-correct himself. "At the end of every year I ask my business manager, 'What did I make this year?' and my goal is to match or beat the year before. And that's it. I don't know when my last royalty thing came in."
Tedder's split interest in rock and pop developed naturally. Raised in a rural, religious Oklahoma household by a musician father and schoolteacher mother, he'd been exposed almost exclusively to gospel music until his preteens, when his uncle started sending him albums by British musicians like Lighthouse Family, Simply Red, Seal and Peter Gabriel. Tedder started making mixtapes from all the songs played on one of Tulsa's only Top 40 stations, KHTT 106.9 "KHITS." Boyz II Men, Babyface, Diane Warren ballads and Prince's early '90s output ("The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" and its piercing four-octave range) soon became his vocal training, even as he started saving his money for the cooler $39 CDs in the import section at his local Best Buy.
His first big opportunity arrived in 2000 at the age of 20, when he entered an MTV TRL competition called "The Free Lance Talent Search," hosted by 'N Sync's Lance Bass. He won with an acoustic, Babyface-ish ballad called "The Look" and was introduced to Justin Timberlake (who remains a close friend and business partner; Tedder is an investor in Timberlake's New York barbecue joint, Southern Hospitality). But when a promised record deal fell through, Tedder was practically back to square one.
After spending two years "mining my sound" through a mix of influences he sums up as "American gospel rock meets anything British," he began finding work as a topline songwriter and signed with Timbaland's Mosley Music Group. The MTV experience taught him a valuable lesson. "When I won that [contest], I knew I'll never play guitar as good as John Mayer, and I'm not gonna have more fans than Justin Timberlake or be in a boy band. And I asked myself, 'What do you actually listen to? What is your favorite music?' And the things I was listening to by that time, my sophomore and junior year of college music, was British rock, Jeff Buckley and Muddy Waters. To this day, the album I play the most is a Muddy Waters compilation. It's spiritual and uplifting but it's dirty at the same time. It's in the dirt, and that's what I want."