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Ryan Tedder is Music’s Most Under-the-Radar Mogul

“In the music industry, two plus two doesn’t equal four,” says Tedder, whose band, OneRepublic, just released its first album in five years. “It equals banana.”

Ryan Tedder performing at the 2019 Global Citizen Festival in New York

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

It’s less than two minutes into a phone call with Ryan Tedder, and with little prompting, the OneRepublic frontman makes a prediction: The wealthy who left cities for calmer pastures during the early days of the pandemic will take on hefty buyer’s remorse. The result, by next year, will be “the absolute best bargains on secondary homes and vacation properties of all time.”

For most pop stars, such a thought might be just some random musing, but for Tedder, it could be an actual business move. Besides being a prolific songwriter and producer, Tedder has become one of the more savvy stars in the music business, often on the cutting edge of the industry’s booming trends. 

His portfolio is extensive, with a slate of commercial real estate properties across the country alongside venture-capital investments in companies like salad chain Sweetgreen and Masterclass-style content company Monthly.com. He also founded with an Interscope marketing executive a hemp-water company called Mad Tasty in 2018, and as Tedder nonchalantly mentions, he’s also currently executive-producing a Netflix film. 

“Basically I was thinking what’s the opposite of the music industry,” says Tedder of his push into business to sustain the unpredictable nature of a career in songwriting. “I love writing and producing and performing songs more than anything else on Earth, but in the music industry, two plus two doesn’t equal four, it equals banana. I was so drawn to ventures like real estate because it’s the opposite extreme to the music business. It’s something you can count on.”

Tedder remains an industry fixture. He runs a publishing venture with Brandon Silverstein, manager for Normani and Anitta. At the start of the year, amid the surge in demand for music copyrights, Tedder sold a majority stake in his extensive publishing catalog — which includes his OneRepublic hits, like multiplatinum singles “Apologize” and “Counting Stars,” alongside tracks he’s written for Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé — to high-profile investment company KKR. A few months later, he launched his own NFT line in a collaboration with street artist Bustart, selling digital collectables featuring an exclusive song he wrote for tens of thousands of dollars. 

And of course, Tedder still fronts OneRepublic. The band released its fifth studio album, Human, on Friday. Human, which faced more than a year of delays because of the pandemic, is OneRepublic’s first album since 2016’s Oh My My. The record puts a fresh spin on the climactic pop rock the group has made over the past decade, lined with many of Tedder’s songwriting. Tracks like latest singles “Run” and “Someday” have the potential to sneak their way into the charts.

In what was supposed to be a 25-minute conversation about NFTs, Tedder spoke with Rolling Stone in April for an hour about the state of the music business, the economics of songwriting, and expanding to new ventures. 

You’re one of many artists to sell their catalog in recent years. What drove you to that decision?
For me, it was very black-and-white. Not to bore you with the business side, but I was looking at where I was in my life, and the value of my catalog. The window for me getting a 20-times multiple on my publishing isn’t going to be around forever. It was really a business decision for me to be able to reinvest that sale into other things. But I think I’m better at writing and producing songs right now than I’ve ever been because I’ve been doing it so much. I’m rebuilding a new catalog. I can honestly say that I’ll have more songs released in 2021 than in the three previous years combined. I’m executive-producing seven albums. Anitta, DNCE, Jessie J, obviously OneRepublic. There’s two artists that I’m not even allowed to announce right now.

You’ve managed a successful career both in music and all your other business ventures. Which world do you think you understand more?
I understand the music industry better than ever before. I understand the economy of it, the drivers, the value proposition. 

I love writing and creating and helping other writers and artists and producers come into their own and learn whatever it is I know, and I learn from them. That is my happy place, aside from being with my family. Pretty much everything else about the music industry I despise. We don’t make enough from streaming. As songwriters, we make about one-tenth or one-twelfth of what the labels make. The only way that we make legitimate income as songwriters right now is if you go to radio. The people who work at iHeart are brilliant and I know them well, but everybody knows that terrestrial radio has had its brightest, sunniest days, yet the only way that we get meaningfully compensated is if the label chooses our song to go to radio. Then you hope that it streams, because if the chart position on the streaming platforms doesn’t coalesce with the radio chart, you’re screwed because the radio won’t play it without the streams. 

I had a song that I released with Kygo called “Stranger Things.” I pulled the numbers on who made what. We estimated that the record label took about $1,250,000 on that song. I own 40 percent of the song, I made $62,000. The value proposition for songwriters has been skewed. The only way to make money is radio, but to go to radio requires money. They know as well as I know that radio doesn’t pay labels, streaming does. If I’m a label, I’m disincentivized to go spend money on your song to go to radio because I’m making my money on streaming, I’m not making a dime from radio. 

Given all that context, what are your thoughts on The Pact?
I think it’s been needed for a long time, and I’m proud of Emily Warren for putting it together. But I’m more focused on the broader issues around it. I don’t make a dime from artists’ merchandise, tour, if you score a makeup or shoe deal. Even if they didn’t write a lick of the lyrics or the melody, but what they did to a song made it what it is, I’ll happily give an artist credit as a songwriter, but I don’t know if that’s worth five or 10 percent. I don’t want to throw artists under the bus; 99 percent of the time it isn’t the artists doing these deals, it’s their managers. They’re acting in full autonomy, saying if you want their artist on a song, they need 25 percent as a songwriter credit. It’s beholden to management to keep some code of ethics, but the music industry and the word ethics don’t belong in the same sentence, in my opinion. It’s the Wild West and we know it, we signed up for it. But I see the issues in The Pact with splits as the tip of a much bigger conversation. 

What makes you more money, your music or your other investments?
It’s hard to answer that because of the catalog sale, but it’s safe to say that I will earn more this year from venture capital and real estate than I will from music. That was the plan from the beginning, though. Those years that you go through where you thought you had five or six first singles on huge artists, and then at the last minute the artist pivots or they change their mind, it’s not like you went from making $300,000 to $150,000. For a songwriter, you go from making a million-plus to zero. And that absolute rollercoaster drove me insane. 

Why go so heavy toward these ventures at all?
I’ve had so many waves in my career since 2007, and I will continue to. Songwriting is my favorite thing to do in the world, but it’s a disloyal beast, a disloyal bed partner at best, and you can’t count on it.

I know there’s going to be a time when I don’t have hits. It happens to everyone. There’s going to be a time when we don’t tour as a band for OneRepublic. And then, God forbid, the day comes when I don’t want to actually sit down and go into a room with a new 18-year-old artist and tap into her feelings and try and extract personal stories to write a hit record. I don’t want to be the 55-year-old guy in the room hanging out with 18-year-olds. As fun as that sounds, there will be a point where I just don’t want to do that. And I thought, I better figure out my back office. How can I create a world where in my worst year as a songwriter, I still made the same income as if I’d written two or three hits. And that was what got me into investing in the first place.

From Rolling Stone US