Living the Dream

Jefferson grad Ryan Press orbits among the stars like LL Cool J and Rihanna.

As a kid growing up in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, Ryan Press idolized recording artists such as Mary J. Blige, LL Cool J and Jay-Z. Now 39 years old and living in Los Angeles, he finds himself sitting down with many of his childhood heroes to give them guidance on their careers.

“When I was young, I never dreamt of being around these people, but now those I’ve looked up to my whole life are listening to my ideas and taking my advice,” Press says in humble amazement.

Press, a 2001 graduate of Jefferson, has become a mover and shaker in the music industry and was recently named president of A&R for the U.S. at Warner Chappell Music. A&R stands for “artists and repertoire”; it is the division of a music publishing company or record label that is responsible for talent scouting and the artistic and commercial development of a songwriter, producer or recording artist.

Ryan Press with rapper Kendrick Lamar and Jon Platt, chairman/CEO of Sony/ATV.
Ryan Press with rapper Kendrick Lamar and Jon Platt, chairman/CEO of Sony/ATV.

Although he now lives in California and travels a lot for the job, Press’ career took root in Philadelphia, where he was surrounded by the local music scene around his neighborhood and at college.

He was introduced to what was then known as the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science at a young age through his cousin, David Fields, a star player for the basketball team in 1994. He spent a lot of time at the college watching Fields play, so when he was recruited to be a Ram, “it just felt right.”

Press attended the college on a basketball scholarship, but when the time arrived to decide whether he wanted to pursue a career in professional sports, it came down to being a bit of a homebody.

“I had some offers overseas, but at the time I was 21 and lived in Philly all my life,” he says. “I wasn’t mentally prepared to travel and live in a foreign country by myself.”

So, he stayed in Philadelphia and used his marketing degree to build a career in the music industry.

Every aspiring artist who I’ve signed I’ve felt in my heart will go on to have No. 1 records.

His best friend, Chad Wes, was an up-and-comer on the Philadelphia hip-hop scene; during the summers at college, Press would spend time with him at the studio. Eventually, he became Wes’ manager, and they “started making things happen.”

First, they got a production deal with Roc-A-Fella Records, which was Jay-Z’s company at the time, and started producing for all the local Philly acts signed to the company.

From 2002 to 2004, there was more growth and more success as Press climbed the ladder one rung at a time, eventually moving on to a creative consulting position in A&R at Notting Hill Music Publishing. In 2009, a senior director of A&R position opened up at Warner Chappell Music, and Press was ready.

“I got the job, moved to New York and dove into the publishing side of the business,” he says. He started working closely with an array of acclaimed artists, songwriters and producers, including Rihanna, DJ Khaled, Wiz Khalifa, Meek Mill and Lil Wayne, among others.

He was later promoted to vice president of A&R and then co-head of A&R. Now, as president of A&R for the U.S., he looks back on a career of “hard work and hustle”—something he says a lot of young people seeking to follow in his footsteps need to understand comes with the territory.

No job was too big or too small for me. The phrase I live by is: Your ego is not your amigo.

“It’s one thing to look at my career and say you want to be where I’m at today, but you have to do what I’ve done behind the scenes to get there,” he says. “On my journey, I’ve done it all. I’ve managed, I’ve been someone’s assistant, I’ve driven people around. No job was too big or too small for me. The phrase I live by is: Your ego is not your amigo.”

To clarify, Press uses a basketball analogy:  “A lot of young people see LeBron James, but they don’t see LeBron James waking up every morning at 5 a.m. and lifting weights and working on his game to be able to perform the way he performs. You have to put the work into it,” he says. Quoting basketball star Kevin Durant, he adds, “Hard work beats talent every time.”

He says all his hard work is geared toward one thing—helping someone else chase their dreams.

“Every (aspiring artist) who I’ve signed I’ve felt in my heart will go on to have No. 1 records,” he says. For those who were already stars when he came along, the goal is to create “special moments” through helping them to deliver hit songs. Two of his biggest moments recently were putting the right songwriters and producers together with Rihanna to deliver the chart-topping “Work,” and pairing Swae Lee and Carter Lang with Post Malone and Louis Bell for “Sunflower” from the animated movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

Press says he sometimes has to pinch himself to believe he is really in the orbit of some of his hip-hop and R&B idols.

“At the end of the day,” he says, “I’m living the dream.”

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Business, Life at Jefferson