With the same satirical spirit he brought to the launch of his hip-hop pop/rock collective Wallpaper, Ricky Reed chose the tongue-in-cheek name Ricky Reed Is Real for their 2013 major label debut on Epic. Though the album only made Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart, its title took on a fresh new meaning with the subsequent explosion of the songwriter/producer’s career as one of today’s biggest pop hit makers.
Starting with Jason Derulo’s Top 5 hits “Talk Dirty” and “Wiggle” (featuring Snoop Dogg) in 2014, Reed has been on a tear, co-writing and helming or co-producing tracks for Jessie J (“Burnin’ Up”), Pitbull (“Fireball”) Mary Lambert and Tim McGraw, in addition to new cuts by LunchMoney Lewis (the #1 Australian hit “Bills”) and Fifth Harmony’s “Bo$$” and upcoming projects by Robin Thicke and Columbian electro-tropical band Bomba Estero.
In 2004, Reed started Wallpaper as a side project of Facing New York, the progressive rock band he led as a student at UC Berkeley. As band leader and chief songwriter, his goal was to satirize things that were going on in mainstream pop culture. Their popularity as a house party band led to tours, popular independent EPs, performances at South By Southwest and Coachella, and popularity for their singles “#STUPiDFACEDD” and “F**king Best Song Everr.”
Ten years later, through some exciting quirks of fate, Reed ironically finds himself an integral part of the industry machine that he made his name poking fun of. Reed is the stage name of his given name Eric Frederic; he uses “Ricky Reed” as his producer credit because, he feels, his productions come from the same part of his brain as his work as an artist. His songwriting credits are under his given name.
“Over time,” Reed says, “as the popularity of Wallpaper grew and these opportunities to write and produce for other artists arose, I just sort of realized that I could be much more effective bringing about positive change to the large stodgy old machine of the music industry by getting inside of it than making fun of it. One of the keys to this creative evolution was learning to collaborate with other songwriters. Talk about an incredible eye opener! For years, I viewed co-writing as ‘adulterating my heart’ but later I came to realize that if you’re co-writing with good friends you care about, it can be a fun, natural process. Being open to that can be a powerful avenue to connect with new people and lead to some amazing music.”
While Reed’s songwriting was very insular on some of Wallpaper’s early recordings, he collaborated on Ricky Reed Is Real with a handful of old and new friends, including Daniel Omelio, Ammar Malik, Evan “Kidd” Bogart and one of his band members, Tom Peyton. His co-write on “Talk Dirty” (with Derulo, Jason Evigan, Sean Douglas and others) happened via a bit of serendipity. Reed was in a writing session for a completely different song when Miles Beard – a DJ and A&R consultant at Atlantic Records – brought him a Balkan beat box song with an infectious saxophone hook that he heard while on vacation in Tel Aviv.
Beard thought it might create the perfect vibe for Missy Elliot, and Reed took it and turned the sample into a new beat. Beard gave that to Evigan and Douglas, and a few months later, Reed heard that the two had developed the song with Derulo and it was going to be on the singer’s album Talk Dirty. Though Reed is one of eight writers credited on the track, he is credited as the sole producer.
Here’s the video of Jason Derulo’s single,”Wiggle” (featuring Snoop
Dogg), which was co-written & produced by Ricky Reed.
Evigan and Douglas subsequently became frequent collaborators with Reed, and Douglas is a co-writer with him (and others, including Derulo, Snoop Dogg and another frequent Reed partner, Axident) on “Wiggle.” Reed says, “I can’t say it was pure luck getting to collaborate on these songs that became international hits for Jason because I had been working in these spaces for years, hoping to seize such opportunities. The sample I heard, with the sax part and drop, blew my mind, and I carved out these holes in it using the parts of the original track that were most valuable while replacing others. I created the foundational beat and track of the song and they took it from there.
“I learned a lot about the industry I used to make fun of through this experience,” he says. “Yes, having a hit opens a lot of new doors for you, but you still have to write great stuff and you’re really on the spot to keep delivering good songs. The difference was, now there was a platform for people to listen to them.”
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects to Reed’s expanding resume of credits these past two years is the fact that some of these opportunities have arisen outside the Hot 100 realm. The crossover success of “Fireball,” the third single from Pitbull’s Globalization album which was a worldwide hit and hit #4 on the Hot Rap Songs chart and #6 on the Latin Pop Songs chart, laid the perfect foundation for Reed’s work with Bomba Estero. Reed also co-wrote “The View,” a bonus track on the deluxe edition of country superstar Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town, and produced songs for the indie pop/rap duo Twenty One Pilots – one of the rare instances where Reed produced songs he didn’t co-write.
Speaking about the unexpected, freewheeling moments that occur in the songwriting process, Reed enjoys telling the story of how LunchMoney Lewis’ new single “Bills” came about. Reed and Lewis were among the co-writers of Jessie J’s “Burnin’ Up” and Fifth Harmony’s “Bo$$.” After sending the track on to Jessie J, they and “Burnin’ Up” co-writer Jacob Kasher were hanging out with another writer, Rickard Goransson, when they whipped up a groove. Reed asked, ‘You guys hear anything on this?’ and Lewis shouted out ‘I got bills!’ over it and the song developed from there.
“That’s when it’s really exciting, when you’ve got a lot of people in the room at the same time and you’re channeling this wild, spontaneous energy,” Reed says. “That’s what pop music is all about these days and what hit songs are made of – capturing that lightning in a bottle that just doesn’t happen if you’re writing a song alone with a guitar. Every situation is different, though. Some tracks emerge out of writing camps where you go with your collaborators to far off places and jam together, while other times, a hook will hit you at 3 a.m.when you’re totally drunk, or the first thing in the morning when you’re as sober as the day you were born.
“You never really know how that germ of a great new song will come to you,” he adds, “so the most productive thing you can do is keep changing scenarios, keep switching environments to keep your life experience fresh. If you commit to doing that, you’ll always be able to channel good ideas when they come to you. To me, a great song is one that has a really potent impact on the listener, whatever your original intention is. I only have a few bits of advice to make that happen: visit L.A. and Nashville where the best writers are, don’t be afraid to co-write and remember that it’s better to write one great song a month than one mediocre song a day.”
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also on Google+