Meet Ryan Tedder, the Secret King of Pop Who Doesn't Look at Royalty Checks (Cover Story)

Ryan Tedder photographed in Paris, France

Jair Sfez

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.

Minutes after getting off a Paris stage, 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.

Ryan Tedder Covers the March 22 Issue of Billboard -- Click Here to Get a Copy

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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 4.7 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.

What's a Tune Worth? Tedder's Songwriting Income in 2013:

U.S. mechanical and radio airplay royalties for 7 songs by OneRepublic, Beyonce, Ellie Goulding, Maroon 5, Demi Lovato and The Fray

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

"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."

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 $2.5 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.