At the National Music Publishers’ Association’s annual meeting in New York City on Wednesday, NMPA Songwriter Icon Award winner Ryan Tedder began his acceptance speech with a dose of humility. “I don’t particularly consider myself an icon,” he began, after thanking NMPA president and CEO David Israelite, along with the rest of the organization’s members. “Not to disparage any other artists who refer to themselves as icons, it’s just an odd thing to use to refer to yourself.”
Tedder’s thesis statement for the evening came from a question a recent interviewer asked him: “What is the point of a song?” “‘One song can change a person’s life’ is almost a cliché at this point, but as Jack Kerouac said, ‘Clichés are truisms, and all truisms are true.’,” Tedder said. He then went on to talk about getting dropped from Columbia Records in 2006 — notably the same week as Katy Perry and the Jonas Brothers — feeling the most “dejected and rejected” in his history as frontman of the band OneRepublic, and posting “Apologize” and “Stop and Stare” from their debut album Dreaming Out Loud on MySpace.
Tedder then went into detail about receiving a letter from a 15-year-old fan who was writing her suicide note when she heard “Stop and Stare” and began listening to it over and over again, in the process realizing that she didn’t need to take her own life anymore. “I took that letter and I was shaking and I showed it to the band, and a couple of guys started crying,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Guys, this is why we do this. We actually saved somebody because of this song. It’s not something I take lightly, or that I take credit for.”
On that note, the “Undercover King of Pop” addressed the issue that he — and almost all songwriters — are rarely given credit where it’s due. “In the entire ecosystem in the food chains of music, we’re at the absolute bottom,” he said. “If the artist is big enough, they’ll ask us for 25-30 percent of what we write, even though they’re in a different country. That’s bullshit, by the way.”
He went on, “I’m not going to call anyone out, but I’m going to say this as a writer as an artist. I don’t care if we ever ended up in a stadium, if we became Ed Sheeran times 10 — he doesn’t do this, by the way — I would never ask a songwriter for a piece of a song I didn’t write. I don’t know who started it, I don’t care how talented you are, or the mechanisms or the machine or the label behind you. Spend time with songwriters. Hang out with them, eating ramen with them on the floor of their apartments in New York or L.A. and wondering if the sample that the producer didn’t tell you he snuck into the song is going to eat up 90 percent of the damn song. I’ve had those conversations. If I didn’t have the band, that would be the way that I live.”
Towards the end of his speech, Tedder circled back to his central point, pointing out that artists focus on the Billboard charts because they’re a direct reflection of how well their song or album is received; but oftentimes they miss the forest for the trees. His song “I Lived,” for example, was written for his son, but has since become an anthem for individuals fighting cancer, leukemia, cystic fibrosis and other serious ailments. “To this day, it never occurs to me how deep these songs can go,” he said.
Watch Tedder’s full speech below starting at 1:39:08.