OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder on Hitmaking, Writer's Block and the Song That Got Away (Q&A)
"When a song doesn’t go as far as you anticipate, it’s soul crushing," says the in-demand producer and award-winning songwriter, who is No. 6 on THR's Hitmakers list.
For OneRepublic frontman, in-demand producer and award-winning songwriter Ryan Tedder, hits fall from the sky. Okay, maybe not literally, but the hitmaker does find the many hours spent on flights as prime writing time. And inspiration can come from anywhere. Take, for example, the 2007 mega-hit he produced and penned with Jesse McCartney for Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love,” one of the top-five-selling songs of the decade. "I’m pretty sure I said, ‘What would Prince do right now?’”
Since then, Tedder has amassed co-writes on hits by Adele (“Rumor Has It”), Beyoncé (“Halo”) and Kelly Clarkson (“Already Gone”), the latter two ballads born of his love and respect for the work of Diane Warren and David Foster. Still, he notes, “It’s always more fun for your own band to have a hit” (1R’s latest “Feel Again” hit No. 8 on the Adult pop charts, while their new single, the Swedish House Mafia-inspired “If I Lose Myself,” is already charting in Europe).
With more than 40 credits to his name, you’d think Tedder might run out of ideas. To the contrary, the multi-hyphenate, who is working with future star Birdy and fellow Denver residents Churchill, explains: “With iPhones, nobody has an excuse for writer’s block. If you’re at Whole Foods getting your green tea extract and you have a melody, you just drop it into your voice memo and save it for later.” Who knew pop and produce would be so intertwined?
THR: Where is the strangest place you've heard one of your songs?
Tedder: I was at the [Los Angeles shopping mall] The Grove one day, and we get played in a lot of the stores and it was funny. I was standing outside Anthropologie and Colbie Callait's “Brighter Than The Sun” came on ... Then I walk twenty feet down the street into the Apple store and at that very moment, “Feel Again” was playing. I circled back past the movie theater, and it was blasting “Rumor Has It.” And it was all within a five-minute time period. Now that happened to me once, and that’s funny and cool, but what must it be like to be Max Martin or Dr. Luke where literally you cannot walk anywhere at any point in time or past any radio without hearing 90 of your songs? As far as the weirdest place? It was in a public bathroom stall. I’m sitting in the stall doing what everybody does on a daily basis, and I think it was B.O.B. “So Good” came on. The guy next to me, I can hear him mumbling the lyrics under his breath as he was doing his business. I just started laughing in the stall.
THR: How do you get a gauge on which tracks will work and what won't?
Tedder: I think the true test of a pop song, for me, and I’ve talked to a lot of other writers about this, is you take your demo, you pop it in your car and you drive down Sunset Blvd. to Santa Monica, and that’s the Hollywood car test. To me, that’s essential to any good pop song -- if you can picture it being played on the radio, on KIIS-FM, then that’s the test. I’ve been doing that for years religiously. If I’m in L.A., I bring demos with me and I roll the windows down and drive from my hotel all the way out to Pacific Palisades and back blasting music just to listen to it.
THR: Is there a song that got away? One that you thought would be a hit but its performance disappointed?
Tedder: B.O.B.'s “So Good." It did well, it sold 2 million copies, and should have been twice the hit that it was. Me and the co-writers were like, "What’s going on?" We were confused by it. Are people just not loving rap right now? We couldn’t figure out. Your ears will trick you. To me, that was a one-listen no-brainer and then when a song doesn’t go as far as you anticipate, it’s soul crushing. You feel like you failed the artist.
THR: What songs are you most proud of?
Tedder: “If I Lose Myself." We haven't put it out in America yet, but in Germany the song is already at No. 5. It’s the biggest and fastest hit we ever had in Germany -- more than “Apologize.” It is just skyrocketing. But the best songs on the album are yet to come.