As Ricky Reed rises, the producer for Lizzo learns balance
NEW YORK, NY – Music producer Ricky Reed remembers the long days and nights in the recording studio, as he crafted hits for Halsey, twenty one pilots, Jason Derulo and Lizzo with zero-time limits or restrictions.
But for the father of 8-month-old twins and a 2 1/2-year-old toddler, things have changed: On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he’s a stay-at-home dad. And he doesn’t work on the weekend.
“My only real work days are Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” he said. “We have three kids under 3. It’s madness. They come first, second and third on my list of priorities before anything else.”
Reed, 37, said he came up with the new schedule about two months ago — around the time he watched a hit he created with Lizzo two years ago, “Truth Hurts,” top the Billboard Hot 100 chart — giving him and the artist he signed to his Nice Life Recording Company in 2015 their first No. 1 success.
“What I find with having kids and trying to be a good dad and trying to be a good musician is that it takes a ton of energy and effort, but a lot of that energy has to go into being creative with your schedule, reading the room and making adjustments every couple months as the needs change so that I’m not just off living my music producer dream while my family’s getting beat up,” he said. “It’s good, but you got to pay attention to it.”
Reed broke the rules on this particular day to complete an interview — a Tuesday — but for good reason: He’s celebrating his four Grammy nominations.
Thanks to his success with the year’s most popular singer, Reed earned nominations for album of the year for Lizzo’s major-label debut, “Cuz I Love You”; song and record of the year for “Truth Hurts,” which was No. 1 for seven weeks; and non-classical producer of the year, an award he competed for at the 2017 Grammys (he lost to Greg Kurstin, who worked on Adele’s “Hello.”)
“To be honest, I’m always so head down in my work that I never know what is going to be the thing that connects with people or would make a Grammy committee feel like, ‘This is the year that I should be nominated.’ The amount of work that I did in the last two years that sort of culminates in this specific discography, like, I beat myself up so bad. I think I beat up my poor family a little bit, too, just overextending," Reed said. “I will say it was very pleasing to be like, ‘Somebody was watching."
In addition to working with Lizzo — whose eight Grammy nominations makes her the show’s top contender — Reed also produced for Maggie Rogers, SZA, Maren Morris and X Ambassadors during this Grammys cycle. His got his first big hit in 2013 with Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 and became a four-times platinum success. He also has produced Top 5 hits like twenty one pilot’s “Ride,” Halsey’s “Bad at Love,” Meghan Trainor’s “No” and Derulo and Snoop Dogg’s “Wiggle.”
While working on those hits, he was busy working with Lizzo. “Truth Hurts” was created in 2017 but got a boost after it was featured in the Netflix film “Someone Great,” released in April. And “Good as Hell” — created in 2016 on a piano he purchased on Craigslist that was used at the iconic Sound City Studios (“It even has the whole Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' sticker on the undercarriage,” Reed excitedly says) — is spending its sixth week on top of the R&B charts).
In an interview with The Associated Press, Reed, who also fronts the multi-genre outfit Wallpaper, talks about making magic with Lizzo, the lawsuit looming over “Truth Hurts” and more.
AP: How does the schedule you created affect your job as a producer?
Reed: I don’t get creative block or writer’s block. The good thing about it is having that little bit of time in the studio makes it so every minute and second is so precious and magical. Sometimes I get so ahead of myself. I get to the studio and I tell my engineer, “All right, can you set up a drum machine?” ...I’m chugging coffee and I’m a mad man but it’s a blast, especially compared to a while ago when I would really be a studio rat, 24/7. There’s some fun in the lunacy of being sleep deprived and I’ve always considered myself an outsider, like somebody who didn’t have any connections or hookups or anything, so I worked crazy hours trying to break into this whole game.
AP: Do you record at home?
Reed: I have a studio in Echo Park that is not in my home. It’s a separate building. It’s about 20 minutes from where I live. There is a pretty rigid separation of church and state, which I think is good for everybody’s sanity.
AP: What’s it like to have your work recognized this year by the Grammys?
Reed: It’s much like a lot of the other aspects of success that have shown up this year. It’s so big and so overwhelming that it’s hard to even fully wrap my head around or understand. I still, I swear, to the day I die, I’m going to be the type of person (to say), “I got the producer of the year nomination because...” I just make up some kind of reason. “Oh, we’re still at the top of this chart because so and so didn’t put out the record that was supposed to come out.” I always have these weird, self-defeating excuses, so when something this big and this undeniable falls into my lap, especially with Lizzo, after half a decade of grinding it out with her, it really is time to be like, “All right, man, call your mom. Take a shot at 3 p.m. This is great. Enjoy it.”
AP: What’s it like working with Lizzo?
Reed: On the first day we worked together, we made a song called “Worship” in about six hours. Literally, when that happened, I went home to my girlfriend and best friend at the time and was like, “I can’t not sign this. Listen to this, it’s outta here.” From the very beginning there were sparks like that. She’s grown and I’ve also grown and learned so much throughout this process. We felt like we were quietly making records in Echo Park, east of Los Angeles, and nobody was giving us the time of day for years. Doing all types of different styles, experimenting, growing pushing the envelope. Her shows are getting bigger, but nevertheless it still felt like, “Hello, world, listen to this music.” It’s crazy to get to the place that we are now and especially to have older releases pop off has been so validating. I wish I could go back to the Ricky and Lizzo in 2017, 2018 and be like, “Guys just be patient, it’s going to be fine.”
AP: Were you surprised that songs like “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” didn’t take off initially?
Reed: Completely. We wrote “Good as Hell” ... and it was in the “Barbershop 2” soundtrack. I was like, “This is it.” I went to Atlantic, our venture partner, and I was like, “You guys gotta take this to radio. What are you doing? This is a hit. C’mon. C’mon. C’mon.” They were like, “Yeah, OK, we’re gonna wait, read the tea leaves a little bit to see how it goes.” I was like, “What are you talking about? This is a hit.” It was funny because I was really frustrated about that and, as the years went on, I started to understand the way their building works and how they time things. When they decide to pull the trigger, they do it for a reason.
The hardship of when “Truth Hurts” didn’t connect in 2017 — that still feels so real to me. I can feel that. I can touch that disappointment when that song had a three-month shot. That feels like I’m awake. The last few months feel like a dream. It’s so hard to even understand. When I saw the scene in “Someone Great,” I was like, “Oh this is it. This is going to do it.”
AP: What was it like creating “Truth Hurts”?
Reed: That one was crazy. Lizzo had been using our studio sessions on and off essentially like therapy. She was going through it with a person. Typical on and off stuff. It had definitely been working its way into the music that we were writing. She came in one day and he had basically just fully cut the cord and she was devastated. A lot of sessions I do, I like to just sit back, kind of listen to people talk, tell their story. Lizzo has this way of speaking in lyrics, she’s just naturally funny. She has this way with words. As she’s talking I just started scribbling down a phrase here, a phrase here.
To write that took us a little more time than some of the other songs we had written instantly. When we made that, I remember telling my wife like, “If this isn’t it, I don’t know what is. This is the best thing we’ve ever made.”
AP: What are your thoughts on the lawsuit related to “Truth Hurts”? (Lizzo's lawyer filed a lawsuit to establish that the songwriting brothers Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, as well as Justin "Yves" Rothman, are not entitled to any credit for the song; Lizzo did give credit to Mina Lioness, who created the viral tweet, “I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100% that bitch,” which is used in the hit song).
Reed: As far as the actual back and forth, I think it’s Lizzo’s story to tell. I, of course, support her 200%, top to bottom in it. I can add that it has been difficult. It’s been difficult for us this year especially in the face of all the success that she’s had and how hard she’s worked for this moment. Of course, everybody that I talk to about it, when I’m having a tough day or rough afternoon, will just kind of remind me, “This is part of it. This is part of what a long career looks like. You just have to keep your head down and keep working.”
AP: Have more calls been coming in from artists to collaborate since the Lizzo success?
Reed: Yes, more calls have come through I will say, but good thing I was talking to my therapist, of all people, about this a few weeks ago, and one of the things that I hadn’t really considered about having some success like this, one of the more magical, less-discussed things, is that it makes me feel less afraid; I fear the future a little less. I’m a little less afraid of being irrelevant. All these things that happen in any career of a creative where you operate out of fear, it makes you overextend, it makes you overcommit, overschedule; maybe your art is a little less bold because you’re trying to work within some confines that you think will become more successful. It’s the thing I think all creatives have to deal with at some point, if you don’t deal with it, you’re lying.
What a little success has brought to me this year is, “Oh I can say no to more things.” Something that I may have said yes to a year ago when I was a little more freaked out, maybe I can say no to that now. And the challenge and goal then becomes: “OK, whenever this amazing moment is wrapped up, when we start working on the next album, or whatever it is, can I try to will myself to work from this place where there is less fear so I can continue to be bold with my art and say no to things that I’m not passionate about, and conducting my career in the way that I really want to always be conducting it?"
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