Grammy Producer of the Year Nominee Ricky Reed Discusses Some of His Biggest 2016 Hits

Matthew Salacuse
Ricky Reed

Renowned producer Ricky Reed has a lot to be excited about. Married and expecting his first child, the multi-faceted musician also released his single “Be the 1” last week -- just a taste of his own solo album he's releasing later this year.

In the midst of it all, Reed has also continued producing hits for an eclectic range of musicians from stars like Jason Derulo to Twenty One Pilots. "I have a short attention span," Reed explains to Billboard. “And when I’m in the middle of one thing, I’m then drawn to the next thing.”

Working with an array of high-profile artists -- some of whom are also Grammy nominees -- and with no shortage of his own musical talents, it’s no wonder Reed is a Grammy nominee for Producer of the Year. Prior to the 2017 Grammys, Reed takes Billboard through some of his biggest hits.

“You Don’t Get Me High Anymore,” Phantogram
Josh [Carter] and Sarah [Barthel] brought in a demo that had a rough version of the baseline and sort of gibberish lyrics that were roughly in the melody and tune. Together with Dan Wilson, who we wrote the song with, we started hacking into the lyrics and trying to create this psychedelic experience. So we’d sit around the campfire in the backyard of the studio and just talk and talk and talk, trying to get the lyric right.

Meanwhile, on the sounds side, I started digging in with bass synthesizers, live bass, distorting everything, trying to blow everything out and find the right combination of sonics to sort of make that main grinding bass of the tune. I would also say the other thing that’s interesting about that is the other song contains the other synthesizer effect; a very, kind of '90s house organ sound in the pre-chorus breakdown where they sort of hotly debated in all the circles, "Is this gonna be too soft? Is this too pop? Where does this fall?" 

It turned out to be just the right blend for them because with Phantogram, if you can do something that’s clean, it’s going to be jarringly clean. Their sound is so built on being grinding and gritty that we thought the most surprising thing to do would be something clean. 

“Girls Talk Boys,” 5 Seconds of Summer
That song was made by myself and three of my favorite collaborators: Teddy Geiger, John Ryan, and Ammar Malik. We wrote that song in Palm Springs in a big house. We kind of rented a house for a weekend and we’re all out there just like shirtless in swim trunks, making nachos and BBQing, being knuckleheads.

I think we had actually spent the whole day writing another song, like 12 hours of lyrics, and then we were like, "OK, this was cool. It’s night time. Let’s kick our feet up and drink, and watch Game of Thrones or something." And then of course, once you get into that head space and you’re relaxed and you’re partying a little bit, someone grabs a guitar -- and “Girls Talk Boys” was written in about two hours. It was incredible.

We wrote the whole song top to bottom. Then we brought it to 5SOS and I think it actually laid dormant for a good couple of months before they heard it. They loved it, they came in and I had the best time hanging out with them. They totally have a bunch of energy. They’re hilarious, they have a really weird humor that lines up well with me. They also can all sing like really, really well. I was blown away by their vocal ability. That song was about as fun, easy and breezy as a process can get. 

“Ride,” Twenty One Pilots
We hadn’t worked together at all yet. I had met Tyler [Joseph] and I was really impressed by him just as a person. So they flew me out to Columbus, Ohio where they’re from. I remember having heard the song "Ride" just being like enamored with it, having heard the demo, and said, ‘That’s a special song, I’d love to work with it.’

So we did it over the course of a couple days in Columbus which was awesome. I mean Columbus, Ohio is a surprisingly cool city. They have a massive university, tons of stuff to do. We banged it out, the song was already written so as a producer I was able to focus all my energy on helping Tyler paint a landscape for his vision and his lyrics.

We actually finished it in L.A. We rented an old Hammond B3 Leslie organ, and some other kind of old standbys from some reggae production, like a '60s, '70s reggae production and threw that on the song. We finished it up right before the album came out and it’s definitely one of my favorites that we did together.


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