Country trio Lady Antebellum said their new record “Ocean” was inspired by a season of self-awareness for the band members that led them to open up more to each other. (Nov. 19)
Like many of us, Ryan Tedder is using this period of isolation to cook, spend time with family and binge-watch “Tiger King.”
But the OneRepublic frontman and Grammy-winning super-producer behind Adele, Beyonce and Taylor Swift is also busier than ever. He’s finishing a new OneRepublic album, which was set for release next month but is now “delayed indefinitely until fall,” he says. He’s working on songs for the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” And he’s finishing Season 2 of NBC’s songwriting series “Songland,” premiering Monday (10 ET/PT), on which he serves as executive producer and panelist.
“I’ve been shockingly more busy than I thought possible during a pandemic,” Tedder says by phone. “Once people realized I was accessible and quarantined in a recording studio, it’s almost like a green light turned on. But I’ve just been trying to make some lemonade from the orchard of lemon trees.”
In the new season of “Songland,” aspiring songwriters compete to have their compositions chosen by guest judges including Lady Antebellum, Usher and Boyz II Men, who will then go on to record the winning song. Tedder, 40, candidly talks to USA TODAY about the show, delaying his new album and predictions for the music industry in a post-coronavirus world.
Question: What surprised you most about the response to “Songland” Season 1?
Answer: The response to Season 1 was nothing short of amazing because it was a grand experiment: How do you make songwriting interesting? I kept telling NBC, “Well, how do you make cooking in a kitchen interesting?” Meanwhile, there’s 19 billion hours of cooking content that people have been consuming for decades.
The two things in the world we consume most are raw food and music, so it’s natural to assume you would be fascinated by songwriting, but it’s a hard pitch for a network because they don’t know what it is. It’s a bit like sorcery. But with Season 1, we were right around 8 million viewers per episode between live and delayed viewing. Our goal was half that.
Q: Guest judges like Kelsea Ballerini (“Better Luck Next Time”) and Black Eyed Peas (“Be Nice”) scored hits out of songs that came from “Songland.” OneRepublic has also found success with “Somebody to Love,” which started on the show and has more than 30 million streams on Spotify. Did you know that was “the one” the first time you heard it?
A: That was undeniable. For me, we should’ve gone to radio and put all the engines behind it. That was a mistake on our part and I’ll own it. It just came down to timing: “Somebody to Love” is a bigger song than “Wanted,” which was already on our release schedule. By the time “Somebody to Love” came out, we couldn’t unpeel the onion of the other song. They were basically fighting each other for oxygen, which happens all the time now with streaming. It’s a sad but true thing, you can only put so much focus on any one song at a given point.
Q: You’re constantly collaborating with different artists. How have you adapted to writing in quarantine?
A: Well, I have a (virtual) session next week with Normani and Bibi Bourelly. Luke (Hemmings) of 5 Seconds of Summer just texted me, “Do you want to FaceTime-write next week? It feels weird, but we should try it.” So we’re all going to Zoom and FaceTime, but I don’t know how else to do it. There’s no alternative.
Q: Many artists have been wrestling with whether to release their albums right now. On one hand, you want to give fans something to enjoy during these times, while also considering all the mechanics of releasing, promoting and touring an album. How have you approached that, in regards to OneRepublic?
A:Nobody can compete with the news cycle right now. And if you’re not doing that, you’re competing with “Tiger King.” We have this huge record that we wanted to drop in mid-May that we now won’t. It’s a summer song, it’s like the Beach Boys, it feels like it’s such a hit, but I’m not going to do it in the middle of a pandemic.
We dropped a charity song two weeks ago called “Better Days,” and it’s a non-cheesy anthem about what it feels like now to be in this time and space we’re in. But the only way I could release it in good conscience was by donating profits to the Red Cross, because I feel weird saying, “Come buy my stuff, check me out.” Meanwhile, people are sick and dying. It’s very tone-deaf. And unless you’re an artist who had a lot of momentum going into this pandemic like The Weeknd or Dua Lipa, it’s really hard to get anyone to pay attention.
So much of what OneRepublic does is driven by television. We do a lot of TV, but at that point, the “Today” show canceled. “Ellen” canceled. Everything canceled. And I’m not going to go put out an album I spent the better part of 6 to 12 months working on in a vacuum. Also, a lot of our audience are people listening to and from work: driving in their cars, Ubers, Lyfts, subways, you name it. We just lost 30-40% of that audience in the last three weeks.
The other thing is, I just got off a call with Zane Lowe, Charlie Puth and Luke (Hemmings), and one of the questions raised was “What music are you gravitating towards during this pandemic? New music or familiar?” (Everyone) said familiar songs. I’m going back and listening to old jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, songs from 10 years ago. When I have conversations with my friends at Spotify and Apple, we’re finding that the listening data is skewing so much toward already established songs and records.
I have a lot of songs with artists – Miley Cyrus, Diplo, Katy Perry – that were all supposed to be coming out in the next couple of months. Some of them might, but I can tell you that every single artist I’ve talked with is sitting there going, “Well, what do I do? Is it going to be a tree falling in a forest?”
Q: Even when bans on public gatherings start to lift, do you think it’ll take some time before people feel comfortable to attend concerts and festivals again?
A: I’m super bullish on the live component. Do I think a percentage of people over the age of 50 or 60 might decide to wait a bit and not go to a concert? Yes, I think that’s possible. Do I think outdoor concerts have a greater likelihood of crazy attendance numbers than theaters or arenas? Yes, I do. These are all logical assumptions. But do I think that it will come back? 100%. Do I think 2021 might break every concert attendance record of any previous year in history? Absolutely. I think 2021 will break records. It’s going to be touch and go for a little bit, but the thing about every terrible event in mankind’s history – for better or worse – is people have a short-term memory. The only thing we can do is put measures in place of preparedness, and we will be so freakin’ prepared for the next pandemic that we’ll be able to meet it head-on.
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