Views From The Studio: Meet Producer Ricky Reed
Producer extraordinare Ricky Reed details his process in the studio with today's top artists.
Ricky Reed's musical palette is as vast as the Golden Gate Bridge in his hometown of San Francisco, Calif. As a native of the Bay Area, Reed would dive into the sounds of rappers like E-40, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre whose music was played on the local radio station KMEL. Or giving a nod to his mother, her eclectic collection of music introduced Reed to Parliament-Funkadelic, Earth, Wind and Fire, to Rock bands like Zepplin, Genesis, and Steely Dan.
With his extensive familiarity with various genres, Reed is almost like a chameleon when it's time to hit the studio. He's able to adapt to any type of artist, and create instrumentals that not only find homes within the fine print on their albums, but also the billboard charts. Reed has pieced together infectious sounds for Jessie J, Too $hort, LunchMoney Lewis, Icona Pop and many more.
Within Views From The Studio's latest installment, Reed details working with today's top artists and how he gets them to open up on melodies to create an authentic piece that'll live with listeners for years to come.
VIBE: You've produced across all genres. How would you describe your knack or ability to translate your ideas for an instrumental into a hit song no matter which genre you might tackle at the moment?
Ricky Reed: All you can really do is go by what you like and what you love. When I’m in the room I have to go by my instincts. I can never think about, ‘Is this going to sell? Is this going to work on radio?’ I just have to get in the zone where I’m like, ‘Do I love this or do I not love this?’ Essentially it all comes down to that. I grew up playing in rock bands while I was listening to rap records. I like a lot of stuff.
How did Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” & “Get Ugly” come about and what was that studio session like?
It was really interesting. We didn’t know each other at all. I made the beat for “Talk Dirty” thinking that it was going to Missy Elliott. I made the beat and basically somebody from the label said, ‘We’re going to put Jason Derulo on this.’ I said, ‘Weird, cool, okay’ and it ended up sounding great, obviously. But from there he and I became friends. We started collaborating more. The next thing we did was a song called “Wiggle” which was on that same album. “Talk Dirty” happened and he and I went on tour together, we were writing records on the road and started “Get Ugly.” That was a product of our tour bus sessions.
You also worked with Pitbull, who churns out single after single. What’s his work ethic like in the studio during production for “Fireball?”
Pitbull is like one of the most incredible humans. He’s an amazing guy and when we first connected on “Fireball,” he said, ‘I love it!’ He recorded the verse in a day, we mixed it the next day and it was on the radio in like two weeks after we made the initial track. That’s just how he works. He’s so hard working, kind and really appreciative. After “Fireball” came out he would text me every few days, ‘Thanks again, thank you so much for your hard work. Buckle up papos it’s about to be a bumpy ride.’ He would always just hit me with that, so I’ve actually been working with him on his new album as well. People that are that gracious and hard working, they just inspire you to do more work for them.
How’d you link up with Bomba Estereo? What was the album process like, especially expanding into the Latin demographic for their Grammy-nominated album?
That was a bit of a surprise. My band Wallpaper had a show at Lollapalooza and I met the band members backstage and we just kicked it there. They were a fan of my band, they didn’t even know about “Talk Dirty” or my work with Pitbull or with anybody yet. They asked me to produce their album, and I said, ‘You know what? Yeah I’d like to go to Colombia, I’d like to check that out,’ (laughs), so we did it on a whim and we ended up all becoming life long friends. They brought me to Bogota, Colombia twice, they came to L.A. twice and made this pretty amazing album that witnesses the growth of all of us as friends and people. The creative process was just so cool because they just did what they do which is infusing traditional Colombian and Caribbean music with electro, and I just brought an American sense of bass and melody to it. When you combine those things, you get what that album is.
What was it like interacting with Fifth Harmony’s dynamic personalities?
They’re all awesome and so different. We did “Boss” and a couple more for the last album that didn’t make the record but we had all these long nights recording and hanging out. They’re so fun to be around and silly, just amazing. Camila and I are still bros. She came in and worked on a LunchMoney Lewis song with us a few months back.
How do you encourage artists to open up about certain issues so that authenticity translates and resonates with listeners?
A lot of it is about patience and moving really slowly. Instead of getting in there and saying, ‘What do you want to do? Here’s a beat,” I’d say, ‘Let’s go for a walk, grab coffee,’ just talk and catch up and spend a few hours getting some dirt out on the table. Hopefully the more and more time we do we can be writing a song and they can be like ‘Yeah!’ and they can say a lyric and I’ll say, ‘You know that’s not you.’ They’ll say, ‘Yeah, I thought it’d sound good,’ but it’s got to be you. That’s the thing that makes songs compelling. I think that the listener can subliminally pick up on when the sh*t is real or when it’s not. That’s the difference between hit songs and not hit songs.
Most memorable studio session?
They’re happening so fast now, I feel like every week there’s a new crazy, exciting moment. I had one with Meghan Trainor on a Monday where she had had a meeting with her label and she was distraught. She said, ‘I need to come over, I got to make something. I’m feeling frustrated,’ and she came in and we banged out a record in one day that was all emotional and intense. It felt like a hit song and we were all high-fiving and drinking at the end. It’s awesome. That’s not even to say that’s the most memorable one, but I love capturing when somebody’s in that moment of distress or frustration and anger and then getting them in the studio and making magic.