This week, Summer Walker celebrated her first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with her second album, Still Over It. The 20-track project (released Nov. 5) earned 166,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. in the week ending Nov. 11, according to MRC Data, helping it become the first R&B album by a woman to top the Billboard 200 in over five years. The album’s tracks also flooded the Hot 100 (dated Nov. 20), landing 18 songs on that chart — tying Taylor Swift as the only female artists in the chart’s 63-year history to place as many as 18 songs on the survey simultaneously.
With features from artists including Cardi B (“Bitter”), JT & City Girls (“Ex For A Reason”), SZA (“No Love”) and Pharrell Williams & The Neptunes (“Dat Right There”), among others, Still Over It also raked in the biggest week, by units, for an R&B album this year — and has helped Warner Chappell Music’s Ryan Press earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
It’s one of many recent achievements for Press, whose promotion to president, North America, was announced this Wednesday. Press joined Warner Chappell in 2009 as senior director, A&R, before being elevated to vp, A&R and most recently co-head, A&R, U.S. Press has led WCM’s stateside A&R efforts (excluding Nashville and Miami) since 2019 and now, as president, will focus on the U.S. and Canada, reporting directly to CEO Guy Moot and COO Carianne Marshall.
Across the past 10-plus years, Press has signed and extended deals with artists including Cardi B, Saweetie, Anderson .Paak, Travis Barker and jxdn, among countless others. Press signed Walker to a publishing deal in 2019 and at the top of this year helped secure a partnership with her label home LVRN.
Below, he discusses building key artist-to-artist connections, Walker’s strength as a songwriter and what he hopes to accomplish in his newly-appointed role. “For me, the song and the songwriter will always be the most exciting parts of publishing,” says Press. “The spotlight is also now on the value of a song in a way it’s never been before — and songwriters are starting to get the attention and the credit that they deserve as a result.”
Summer topped the Billboard 200 for the first time this week with her latest album Still Over It. What key decisions did you play in making that happen?
All the credit goes to Summer Walker. It’s an amazing moment for her. This album represents her life story and her truth — it’s real and raw, and I believe that’s one of the many reasons why it’s resonating with fans around the world. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Summer for a few years now alongside Wallace Joseph on my team, our vp of A&R. For Still Over It, Wallace and I partnered behind the scenes to make connections and set up writing sessions for Summer, which included pairing her with Pharrell and others. With this album, Summer and LVRN also collaborated with Sean Garrett, another Warner Chappell producer who I signed earlier this year, and he ended up contributing to a large portion of the project. It’s been beautiful to see all these relationships being made across our network with everyone working together to create great music.
You helped close a publishing partnership with Summer’s label LVRN earlier this year. What have been the biggest benefits so far?
The team at LVRN is one of the best — if not the best — at finding up-and-coming artists, writers and producers and developing them into superstars. They’re young and inspiring entrepreneurs with the passion and drive to do things differently, and that hard work is paying off — just look at the top talent they’re signing. They took a chance on Summer Walker and have been beside her every step of the way. We’re also working with LVRN to support other great artists and writers on their roster, including BRS Kash, who broke onto the scene with his “Throat Baby (Go Baby)” single, along with Cruel Santino, GMK and Genio Bambino. And I definitely have to give credit to Wallace for being instrumental in making this partnership happen. On a personal level, I’m learning new things from LVRN every day — Justice [Baiden] is one of the absolute best A&Rs in the business, and it’s an honor to get to work with him and learn from him, along with [president] Tunde [Balogun] and the whole crew.
Summer now ties Taylor Swift as the only woman artist in history to place 18 songs on the Hot 100 simultaneously. What does that say about the growth of Summer as a storyteller?
Summer Walker has always been an amazing and prolific songwriter, and it’s great to see the world continuing to recognize her talent. She’s come into her own even more with Still Over It and is reaching people in a way that’s only happened a few times in recent history. Similar to Taylor Swift — who’s an incredibly talented songwriter and known for sharing her truth — Summer’s fans are gravitating towards her authenticity. This is more than an album; it’s her story, and people relate to that universally.
Aside from Summer’s chart-topping second album and your promotion, what are some other recent wins?
We’ve had an incredible year at Warner Chappell, signing some of the best hitmakers and global superstars out there, including Cardi B, Jhené Aiko, Anderson .Paak, Travis Barker, Ari Lennox, Daniel Caesar, Jenna Andrews, d.a. got that dope, 42 Dugg, Masked Wolf and Sean Garrett. In addition to Summer Walker, we also re-signed Saweetie, Lizzo, Mitski, Belly, Carter Lang, Tay Keith, Tones and I and more. It’s really been a team effort to attract as well as keep the best talent in the business, and all these amazing signings and deal renewals are a result of everyone’s hard work and commitment to our writers. As a leader, it’s incredibly rewarding to see your team building relationships and closing huge deals with a wide range of talent across multiple genres, and I’m so proud of all that we’ve accomplished.
You signed Summer before she blew up and more recently signed Cardi B. What’s the difference in approach for signing emerging versus superstar talent?
When it comes to talent, whether they’re a superstar or an emerging act, it’s all about gaining their trust. They have to believe that you can continuously add value and help grow their careers. With someone who’s already established, it’s kind of like joining a party that’s already started — you have to be able to contribute to their goals in a meaningful and different way, and it requires a more out of the box approach. With emerging talent, it’s all about following your gut instinct and believing in what an artist, songwriter or producer has the potential to be. You then work closely with them to develop their craft as a songwriter, build connections and support their dreams.
What’s a change you’d like to see in the business as we return to some sense of normalcy?
The new normal isn’t going to be the same as the old one — we’re never going to return to how things were before. We’re heading into something different, and that’s a good thing. During the pandemic, everyone was talking a lot about change and making diversity and inclusion a top priority. While some progress has been made, I’d like to see those words turn into real action across all areas of the music business in 2022 and beyond. We really have to be committed to working together and making bold decisions if we truly want to see substantive change in the future.
What are you planning to focus on first in your new role?
For the last 12 years, I’ve worked closely with writers and producers as an A&R exec and former manager and have grown to understand their needs. So I’m hoping to take all of my experience and knowledge and pump that energy into other areas of the Warner Chappell business. I’ll be focused on working with our leads across sync, creative services, admin and more and finding new ways to execute our strategy and add even more value for our songwriters and company as a whole.