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Ryan Tedder on the Success of His Runner Music, Which Recently Scored Three Top 20 Songs and a Super Bowl Ad

If there’s a top jack-of-all-trades in the music industry, there’s a good chance it’s Ryan Tedder. He’s a hugely successful recording artist (as leader of OneRepublic), one of the top songwriter-producers of the past 15 years (Beyoncé’s “Halo,” U2, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, Ariana Grande and many more) and is also a more savvy music publisher than many full-time music publishers.

After15 years of it being a sort of side-hustle, early last year Tedder partnered with longtime manager Ron Laffitte, former Downtown Music Chief Business Officer Andrew Sparkler and equity partner Melody Holdings (an affiliate of the Blackstone Group), recruited Amanda Hill from Sony Music Publishing (as president of A&R and co-chief creative officer) and launched a publishing company in earnest: Runner.

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And true to their name, they’ve hit the ground running and recently had three songs in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 — Tate McRae’s “Greedy” and “Exes,” and Renee Rapp and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Not My Fault” — as well as OneRepublic’s Super Bowl ad for T-Mobile (starring Bradley Cooper, Laura Dern, Common and others). Not bad for a fledgling indie pubco with a staff of six, including Tedder.

The company, which has a roster of 13 writers — including Alexander 23 (Renee Rapp, Megan Thee Stallion, Olivia Rodrigo), Sam Homaee (Selena Gomez, Lucky Daye), Tyler Spry (Tate McRae, OneRepublic), Grant Boutin (Meghan Trainor), singer/songwriter David J (in a partnership with Sony Nashville) — is based in Tedder’s West Hollywood studio compound, which he envisions as a sort of modern-day hit factory like Motown or the Brill Building.

“We have five functional rooms, so there’s always space for everyone to work,” Tedder tells Variety. “And we’ll be working on anything from OneRepublic to Lil Nas X to U2. For 20 years, my dream has been to have something like the Brill Building, a culture of cultivation and development. I’ve worn almost every hat in the industry, and any time someone needs help or just a set of fresh ears, I’ll listen, give my two cents, take it or leave it, and then move on to the next room.”

Still, it takes more than that for a small upstart company to land three songs in the Top 20. Hill, who launched her career at Warner Records and later EMI publishing (which was later acquired by Sony) in 2005, has a simple answer: “You can’t really fake it with talent, you know?,” she says. “I think everyone we work with is uniquely talented and their work ethic is really strong, and it’s on our end to provide opportunities to each of them and get them relationships with artists — like Alexander 23 was the executive producer of Rene Rapp’s last album and that’s an ongoing relationship.”

The company brings a tight focus and discipline to both songwriting and pitching that doesn’t necessarily take place everywhere else. “Probably seven out of eight sessions I do are with [specific artists for a specific project], and maybe one session a week is a pure pitch session with a curated room of writers,” Tedder says. “Like, we did a session a week or two ago where we were targeting Teddy Swims, because I know him personally and a couple of the writers do, and then we did another session targeting Jennie [Kim] from Blackpink. Usually, though,” he adds, “the rule of thumb is that at least one person in that room needs to have a direct ‘in’ with that artist or that camp — otherwise it really is like a crapshoot.”

Hill adds, “I think songwriters are just looking for something different, and the opportunity to work with Ryan, who’s one of the greatest songwriters today, and myself, who has 20 years of experience in both publishing and records — between us, there’s almost no person or artist that we can’t reach. And we can do it in a more family atmosphere where there’s more time and space for each person that we work with.”

The company’s launch in January of 2023 was literally a decade-and-a-half in the making. Tedder had been working for years as a solo independent publisher, with a roster of six writers, while fronting OneRepublic and writing and producing with other artists. “I was honestly just casting, writing personal checks, and thankfully, the majority of my bets [on songwriters] were good and more than recouped,” he says. “A few of my writers won Grammys and we had some big hits together, but I was touring so much with OneRepublic.

“I got approached by a lot of industry and publishing executives, asking me to partner with them and leverage what I was doing as a songwriter into a big, new independent publishing company,” he continues. “But none of it was appealing to me. In retrospect, maybe I should have —there are definitely some now-big artists that I had the opportunity to sign and passed on, just because I didn’t have the bandwidth. But I knew that at some point, I would start to transition to the second phase of my career, which was more songwriting and production focused and not being on the road all the time.”

Covid inadvertently provided the impetus for that reset. “I had a handful of companies that wanted to partner — everything from public minor and major publishing companies to private equity funds — and by far the best offer and the best partners — and the most forthright and transparent and willing — was Blackstone. We’re fortunate that OneRepublic is still relevant around the world and still doing arena tours — I just got back from India, the Middle East and Asia, doing Lollapalooza [festival] with the band. It’s the greatest thing, but the buzz you get from songwriting seven days a week is very unique too, and I love it now probably more than ever.”

That rare ability to multitask at a high level is one thing that Hill feels truly sets Tedder apart. “Ryan’s one of the only people I know who can use their creative brain and business brain at the same time,” she says. “That struck me from the first second I met him. He’s curious, he’s a reader and he likes to really understand things, and he’s really open to hearing other people’s ideas — and he also likes to know, when he writes a song, what happens to it?”

Runner’s writers just have to turn up at the studio and before long, the person with an answer to that question literally will be knocking on the door. “My favorite kind of day is to have four or five rooms humming with writers and artists or some combination,” Tedder says. “I love walking by and just hearing the songs happening. It’s my dream job and we’re finally doing it.”

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