Women in Music 2018

Ryan Tedder on OneRepublic's 'Connection' With Jeep, Playing Corporate Gigs & Why He Related to Anthony Bourdain

FCA/Jeremy Jackson
OneRepublic performs at Los Angeles’ Greek Theater during filming of Jeep commercial for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

“Five years ago, I couldn’t have done this,” says OneRepublic leader Ryan Tedder, minutes after coming offstage at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ June 27 presentation in Los Angeles.

“This” is talking up OneRepublic’s participation in FCA’s Summer of Jeep campaign. But, as Tedder explains, the last several years have seen the erosion of any remaining stigma for acts aligning with brands. In fact, as he notes, the reverse is true: Tying in with a strong brand is now seen as a sign of status.

Not to mention the exposure. FCA’s campaign, which sources say includes a $70 million media buy, launched Monday (July 2) on television and introduces OneRepublic’s new song “Connection” via three different spots. The tune is also available on all digital service providers.

The move is the latest in a fruitful relationship between FCA and the band, which also worked with Jeep on its 2013 campaign, and the band’s label, Interscope, which closely worked with Jeep to break X Ambassadors in 2015 with the song “Renegade,” as well as placements by Imagine Dragons.

“Interscope has been very fortunate to develop a wonderful relationship with FCA, Olivier Francois, and the incredibly talented team over the years,” Steve Berman, vice chairman of  Interscope Geffen A&M Records, tells Billboard. “There is tremendous value in launching OneRepublic’s new song 'Connection' with a brand that understands the importance of artists and music. It is a true collaboration that gives OneRepublic access to massive exposure through the marketing platforms available to FCA.”

Francois, FCA’s chief marketing officer, called music “the best return on investment of Planet Marketing” during the presentation, which, in addition to the Jeep/OneRepublic affiliation, revealed new campaigns pairing Dodge with Alice Cooper, Ram Trucks with Brothers Osborne, Fiat with DeJ Loaf and Leon Bridges, and Chrysler Pacifica with actress Kathryn Hahn. He also touted Apple CarPlay, FCA’s new program with Apple, which allows drivers to do anything from their dashboard that they can do from their iPhone, including access to Apple Music’s 45 million-song catalog.

Billboard spoke with Tedder after his presentation about the importance of licensing, surviving burnout, his new NBC fall series and schooling Bono. 

In the new commercials, we almost see OneRepublic performing at the Greek Theater more than we see the Jeep. How does that help you set up “Connection”?

The hardest thing in the world as an artist is to let the world know you exist. On every album, if people knew how much money and time and expense goes into it… This is one of those deals where it just worked out. They didn't [even] ask me to write a song for Jeep. I was like, "So I'm sitting with Jeep, and they're asking me to not write a song for Jeep, just write songs.” Olivier was adamant: "If it's a song that you would put out, that's what I want. Don't think about the car company.” 

What was the inspiration for “Connection”?

The hardest thing in the world after a decade of writing is trying to avoid narcissism when possible, and being an artist is incredibly narcissistic. Everyone's world revolves around you, they operate on your timetable, and the bigger the artist, oftentimes the bigger the narcissism. I started thinking about it, and I was like, “Everybody is so distracted all the time, including myself. Everybody is so plugged into other people's lives, and real time updating our own lives so that the rest of the world can see your life, in whatever glorious edited [form].” It’s [about] trying to connect with somebody in a real sense. One of my favorite lines is, "If there's so many people here, then why am I so lonely?" That's really, for me, the human condition and human experience, and that's everything I'm writing about. The whole album is steering towards connection. It's about wanting real human connection in a meaningful way, because that's really all that matters at the end of the day. 

Radio has been without OneRepublic for a little bit. How can the Jeep commercials start the national conversation going again?

It's not that I don't love radio. I'm a kid of the ‘80s and 90s, I grew up with radio. It's an entirely different beast, especially in the U.S. We dropped two songs last year to Apple and Spotify, both of them are two or three times platinum now. We did zero promo. … But if I'm being real, there's obviously is an enormous gap between a song that sells 2 or 3 million copies or streams or whatever and one that is a true groundbreaking record hit; one that really moves the needle for a band like us. And I know that that requires hard work. And promo [at radio]. While I'm down to do that, and I know that the part of getting this whole train up and moving again is going to be promo, I'm trying to hedge our bets. And this truly fell in our lap. This gets me in people's houses, free promo.

When does the song go to radio? You’re competing with yourself with “Start Again” featuring Logic, which was in the new season of 13 Reasons Why.         

The timing is everything. I woke up this morning, and “Start Again” is No. 36 on the Spotify chart. By any normal prognosis for OneRepublic's vantage point or any label standpoint, they'd be like “Go! We're at 36 with no radio, just playlisting. Let's go.” But now we have this campaign with "Connection," so we are in this interesting zone of like, “We have this song that's clearly raising its hand, but how do you compete with a worldwide, potentially, Jeep campaign?”

Not to mention what’s rumored to be a $70 million or so media buy. No label could ever do that. 

Not in a million years.

When did you start to understand the power of licensing your music? 

"Secrets" was the first song where I really understood what it did. That was Ralph Lauren [in 2010]. We were the official face/brand ambassador of Ralph Lauren fragrances for two years with that song. Then that song got picked up by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a big Disney film, and it was in all the trailers. We saw that keep going. The thing with OneRepublic: We have never had one song virally ignite itself. We've never had "Uptown Funk!," we've never had "Blurred Lines."  We have never had the benefit of celebrity. I'm not super famous. I'm like a D-[level].

It’s different when you're younger -- Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, the true pop stars of the world. The self-igniting inertia they get from just saying, "I have a new song, here it is." It's like, week one, day one, top 15 Spotify worldwide. The song could be garbage and it's still gonna do that. We're like, "We have a song!" And you just hear crickets, crickets, crickets, crickets. That's the curse. The blessing is when it's good, it just keeps going. And then you turn around, and we've quietly out-performed every song that calendar year. A OneRepublic song on average is, from start to peak, five, six months. And we've had some take nine, 10 months. Tying back to Jeep, having this authentically line up in a way that fits them, and makes us and them look good, this is functioning as that cultural ignition.

Ranking your income streams, where does licensing come in? 

Number one for me, personally, was always writing/publishing. Band would say touring. For me, I would say licensing. TV and film would be two and touring would be three.

On the touring side, OneRepublic has built up its corporate and private gig business. How has that helped? 

A lot of artists don't do that, and we chose to do that from an early stage. We hated it when we started -- and the reason most artists won't do it -- because there is a certain "ugh" factor you have to get over. A guttural kind of “I don't know any of these people, they're all wearing suits, and they sell toothbrushes.” Or whatever the case may be. But then you look at the overhead that you have, your profit margin's like in the 60s [percentage] -- which is pretty much almost double what a normal tour would be. It took us a year for me to just start telling myself, "You know what? These are fans. They may not know it yet. When we come to their city next time. they’re gonna come see the show." And I treat those people like all of them paid a hundred bucks a ticket.

Right, the act normally takes home 30 percent on a tour.

And they're paying you two to three times what you're actually worth. So, you can run the numbers in your head, There's no reason to not do it. I had this conversation with Bono [when we were working on U2’s Songs of Innocence], and he was like, "Why are you leaving?” because when I was working with him, I [said], "I have to jet off tonight to Seattle and I'll be back tomorrow, though. We have to start later tomorrow." He's like, "What are you doing?" I was like, "We have a private gig in Seattle." And he goes, "Tell me about private gigs."

So now is U2 doing private gigs, thanks to you?

No, hell, oh my God. I don't know what you'd have to offer them.

Elton John calls private gigs bank-runs.

We'll do one or two a month when we’re not on tour. Here's the law of unintended consequences with that: The first three, four years of being in this band, we did none of them. Every time we get back together to do a tour, I was a disaster, my voice was out of shape, we were out of shape, we sounded like shit. We had to rehearse for two weeks. We could start a tour tomorrow that lasts two month with no rehearsal now. We never thought that through until we did [corporate gigs] for a year and we jumped into a tour and it's like we didn't skip a step.

You will be on NBC’s songwriting competition, Songland, in the fall. Will that help decrease the traveling?

In a touring year, I'll fly 400,000 miles. [To promote 2013’s] Native, we did 252 concerts in 60 countries, six continents. I was gone for two and a half years. Probably a fourth of that, maybe even more, was promo. I'm still in my 30s. Ten years from now, do I want to be doing that tour cycle? No. I love U2, [but] I don't get anybody wanting to do that. I love the rush of playing in huge arenas and seeing the different cities. I've been doing it for 11 or 12 years -- seeing the world and getting to have fun and having arguably the best job. People used to say to me in interviews all the time, "You have the best job in the world." I'd say, "No, Anthony Bourdain has the best job. I have the second best job." I was gone 250 days of 2016. I was watching one of Anthony Bourdain’s last episodes last week, and the guy [asks him], "How much you travel?" He goes, "On an average year, I'm gone 250 days." He said, "I see all the world and all the beautiful people, but none of them are my real friends. I'm so lonely." I guess the point I'm making is foreshadowing that and wanting to not be 49, still holding on to whatever. If Songland does well, I can't tell you how appealing it is to get up from my house at 10 a.m., drive to Studio City, doing what I love to do anyway, talk about music and make music, and then at 5 p.m., drive home. The money is absolutely ancillary. For OneRepublic, which has taken most of my time of my life and is the most important thing to me career-wise,  anything that I can do to elevate that band and allow the world to know we have new music, TV does that in the most phenomenal way. So for me, it checks a lot of boxes.