Oklahoma native Ryan Tedder has had a hand in some of the most popular songs of the last 20 years, working with a diverse array of artists ranging anywhere from Adele and Beyoncé to U2 and Paul McCartney as one of the most in demand songwriters and producers in modern music.
As singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for alternative pop group OneRepublic, Tedder penned “Apologize,” collaborating with Timbaland on a remix of a song which stands as one of the biggest hits in the history of Billboard’s Modern Top 40 chart, indicative of record breaking radio airplay across America upon its release.
The host of NBC’s Songland is also an investor and philanthropist. Tedder has created a strong brand that resonates across a variety of different industries and mediums, giving back wherever possible.
Taking the knowledge he had gleaned from investing in companies like Public Goods and Dos Hombres Mezcal, Tedder launched Mad Tasty in 2018, a line of hemp-infused sparkling water.
For Tedder, wading into the cannabidiol (CBD) realm was the result of dealing with a period of anxiety at the end of 2016.
“People that know me know I’m a workaholic – but I had actually pushed it too far. You know when they say you hit the proverbial wall? I had actually found the wall. And physically drove into it,” Tedder told Forbes over the phone last week. “It resulted in heart palpitations and mild panic attacks – complete loss of sleep. It just became months of like a spin cycle. People who have battled with anxiety know what I’m talking about. I wound up on Xanax for the first time – and I swore I’d never mess with that stuff or any prescriptions. But I got prescribed that,” he explained. “I started dosing CBD once I got off Xanax. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be a guy that’s constantly getting prescriptions. I’m just not that guy. There has to be a natural, better way to do this…’ So I started dosing CBD.”
Coming from the hemp plant, CBD contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and therefore lacks the psychoactive effects of marijuana-derived CBD. It’s legal and has been proven beneficial in the treatment of epilepsy, reducing seizures (especially in children). There are also claims CBD may help reduce anxiety.
“I was surprised how it just levels you. I don’t want to say mellows you out – because mellow implies that it makes you lazy or lethargic. It doesn’t do that. It just levels you out. You don’t get high,” explained the songwriter. “While I was dosing, I had one bad reaction – it doesn’t taste good. It’s a hemp plant. I saw a couple of CBD beverages around and most of them tasted terrible. I’m a really good judge on things that taste good and I’m a pretty good judge on branding. So I thought to myself, ‘I think there’s a world where we can create something that is a lifestyle brand, is good for you, good for the environment and good for other people. We can wrap a bunch of good vibes around this beverage and, at the same time, actually be successful and launch a company,’” Tedder said.
“I was around when Jimmy Iovine launched Beats off the back of Interscope Records and used the marketing machine that is the music industry – which obviously worked. I had some conversations within the record label space and quickly figured out that one of the easiest things to launch within the music industry is a beverage. And if it’s non-alcoholic and functional, it’s even easier.”
Mad Tasty features branding inspired by 1980s street art. Early in 2020, sales were negatively impacted amidst pandemic. But the beverage is available for sale in all 50 states, with recent launches in about a dozen, and monthly sales have improved dramatically since August, a trajectory Tedder describes as “a rocket ship.”
Partnering with Drop4Drop, Tedder and company seek to provide clean drinking water in Third World countries and other developing parts of the world. Twelve ounces of clean water are provided for every twelve ounces of Mad Tasty sold. Recently, the group built its third well in India, one which will supply clean water to 4,000 people.
Right now, each Mad Tasty can is also equipped with a QR code that, when scanned by a smartphone, will take fans to the Rock The Vote website, one which features information on voter registration with a focus on voter education.
“Your vote counts. I hate using the phrase ‘more than ever.’ Because your vote has always mattered. I think one of the saddest things, historically, in our country, is the ridiculously low percentage of voter turnout. It’s sad. I don’t care if you’re going to write in a name. But use your right to vote,” advised Tedder. “We take it for granted because we’ve always had it. But there was a time when women couldn’t vote. There was a time when people of color and different ethnicities couldn’t vote. And we’re so lucky to have that right. I don’t care who you’re going to vote for. All I care about is that you actually vote,” he continued. “Because, guess what? When you take things for granted long enough, sometimes you lose those rights. If you think that’s crazy, read some history books. Anything can happen – good or bad. And voting is about the only way that we can control where that ship gets steered.”
In the 60s and 70s, the American pop music tradition was defined by socially conscious song and artists looking to provoke a conversation and beget change via their art.
But, today, in the social media era, it’s become more difficult than ever for music with a message to break through.
“I think the right song can always function as a cultural panacea for whatever is ailing you. I think, at it’s best and brightest, that is what it does. It is a uniter, not a divider, across political and socioeconomic strata. Music recognizes no Mason-Dixon line, line of demarcation, north/south or right/left. When it’s at its best, that’s what it does,” said Tedder of the role of music in today’s world.
“In terms of there being that lyrical, political menagerie that used to exist in the 60s and 70s, there’s very, very little of that now. And when there is, it falls on deaf ears. I think that’s sad. You’re not getting Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young’s [‘For What It’s Worth’]. That should be what’s being written right now. That songwriting makes more sense to me right now than ever, right?” continued the songwriter. “But nobody is writing those songs. Because there’s a disconnect. Youth culture, Gen Z, the Millennial culture – look, I write for that demo. I love writing songs more than anything else on earth. I do it addictively. I wrote a crazy song with Ozzy Osbourne two weeks ago and we sang about what’s happening. We wrote about what’s happening now. But that was with Ozzy. He can do that and his audience gets it. I have a song out now with Blackpink and Cardi B that just dropped. Their fans don’t want that – they don’t want to hear that. So I try to sneak it in when I can on the records that I can,” Tedder said.
“I grew up listening to U2. I’ve produced two U2 albums. And Bono’s always beating it into me, you need to say something. Stand for something – or fall for anything. So I try to as best I can. But I’ll tell you, when I’m writing songs for pop stars, those songs, when I pitch them, they don’t get cut sadly. Not as often as I wish they would.”
Growing up in Oklahoma and, later, Colorado Springs, U2 was an early influence on the future songwriter.
At a time when the latest U.K. pop exports were otherwise hard to come by, Tedder was sent music by an aunt and uncle living in London. One artist in particular would go on to have a profound impact on his ability to go beyond the sounds emanating from his stereo, forcing him to dig a little bit deeper.
“When I was like 13 or 14, they sent me a Peter Gabriel CD. I had known some of the songs on the radio but I became obsessed with him. I read the liner notes on the Us album front to back like a hundred times. And that’s when I first discovered phrases like ‘‘written by,’ ‘produced by,’ ‘engineered by’ – all of the credits. That started me looking at the liner notes of every song,” said the songwriter and producer.
“Diane Warren. I found out that she wrote Milli Vanilli’s ‘Blame it on the Rain.’ She wrote for Celine Dion. ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’ for LeAnn Rimes. Babyface. Probably the turning point was Babyface on Boyz II Men’s ‘Water Runs Dry.’ When I saw him listed on ‘Water Runs Dry’ and ‘End of the Road,’ I was like probably 12 or 13, and thought ‘I want to be Babyface. I want to write those songs.’ And I started trying to write those songs. So you can contribute my career, functionally, to a combination of Babyface and Diane Warren.”
While songwriters like Bono, Gabriel, Warren and Babyface came to inform his musical worldview later, Tedder’s pop sensibility actually took shape much earlier.
Growing up in the church, Tedder was exposed to the catchy, sing-along choruses and refrains that have long defined nonsecular music, songs which predate rock and roll and much of the pop canon. It’s a melodic tradition designed to be unforgettable – because it has to be.
“Think about this… When you have congregants come into a church for the first time and people are singing – with their hands in the air, crying and all of these things – the golden rule of contemporary church music is catchiness and simplicity,” he said. “Because you have a bunch of congregants who don’t have lyrics in front of them hearing a song for the first time. And you want them to be able to sing the entire chorus by the second play through. It needs to be simple and super emotive. You need to lead people to this spiritual plane and the way you do it is through your chord changes and your voicings,” said the songwriter. “Pre pop music for me, we sang old hymns and gospel songs. If you listen to a rung of my first three or four years of hits, you can hear that.”
Busy as always, Tedder is gearing up for the 2021 release of Human (now available for pre-order), the first new OneRepublic album since 2016, the longest break in the group’s catalog but one made necessary by the onset of COVID-19.
“We were going to drop an album in May. And then this nasty little virus hit. We have an album wrapped. We have a new single though that we just wrote that I’m obsessed with,” he said. “We did the song ‘Wild Life’ for a Disney film called Clouds, that we just released. That’s gorgeous. It’s very quote/unquote OneRepublic sounding. Anyone that has ever liked us, if you like any of our old stuff for the last 13 years, you’ll love this song. It’s not a radio single. It’s just something we did for the band that’s for us that very much reminds our fanbase that, yeah, we can still do this. We can still do songs like this!” joked Tedder. “OneRepublic, 90% of the hits that we’ve ever had have been about our humanity and about struggling – going through life as a human and processing it. And I’ve always taken that as my own thing.”