A true star of the publishing world, Ryan Press was upped to President, North America, at Warner Chappell Music as this profile was being prepared, adding that august title to his ongoing role as head of A&R. The Philly native began as a manager before landing his first pubco gig—at Warner Chappell, as it happens—in 2009. Among the deals he’s had a hand in are pacts with Summer Walker, Cardi B, Lizzo, Jhené Aiko, Saweetie, Anderson .Paak, Travis Barker, Greta Van Fleet, LVRN and Eardrummers. One thing that hasn’t changed since Press first got into the game: his hard-core hustle.

Press was raised by his mother following her divorce from The TemptationsRon Tyson. “My experiences with my dad were often at shows in different cities and tours in the summer,” he says. “It was pretty tough, because she had to raise two boys on her own. She developed a hard exterior to deal with us. But we had fun. And I saw a woman who would do any and everything for her family. She was like a superwoman to me. She’d change the battery in my car, carry cabinets up steps, make sure we never wanted for anything… That had a big impact on me.

“She was a social worker—helping women who’d been battered or people suffering from HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, alcoholism… She was always a fixer and a caretaker of others and her family.

“My mom was a huge R&B fan, oldies, everything—she just loved music. And obviously with my father being who he was, I was exposed to everything Motown. My uncle was a heavy record collector too. Music was around me all the time.

“The earliest memory I have of seeing the power of music was watching my dad’s group and The Four Tops. As much as they were R&B, they were just popular—attracting predominantly white or mixed crowds depending on the city. So I always thought R&B music spoke to everyone from all backgrounds.

“A lot of my friends in the neighborhood produced songs and were super-intrigued by the business. They were also artists in rap or singing groups. My best friend, Chad Wes—music was his dream. He had music equipment from an early age. I’d sit in his house and watch him produce tracks when we were only 12 years old. He was so passionate about music. When he asked me to manage him, my focus in the beginning was just to help my best friend achieve his dream.”

Press and Wes became roommates, moving into an apartment with a studio, as his childhood friend J Erving and Troy Carter “were starting to blow up with their management company, Erving Wonder. You also had Black Friday, the company that managed Eve and Beanie Sigel. You had the whole Jazzy Jeff crew, plus these hubs of neo-soul. The business felt reachable; I knew some of these people, so I thought we could start to make some headway within the city first.

“We got a track to Omillio Sparks, from this group Oschino and Sparks. They were part of a rap group called State Property [that also included Freeway] on Roc-A-Fella. Sparks wanted to buy the track. Apparently, Jay-Z, Dame Dash, Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke—everyone loved it. I remember walking into Baseline Studios, and all of my heroes were there. It was Jay-Z’s birthday. Hip-Hop [Kyambo Joshua], who started Hip Hop Since 1978 with Gee Roberson and managed everybody, was there. Memphis Bleek. Tata. Lenny S. And if I’m not mistaken, Dame Dash. And I’m like, ‘Holy shit—I never want to do anything else but be in the music business.’

“That track changed everything. Sparks quickly became a close friend, and we started creating music. At the time there were two-way pagers and those big silver flip phones; I asked Sparks if I could have all the contacts in his two-way to get our music to other rappers, and then I beamed myself the contacts for the East Coast rappers that were in there—The Lox, Cam’ron, Mase, LL Cool J… you name it.”

His company, Press Conference Management, had just one client, Wes; the partners also formed a production company.

“One day I’m sitting in the Roc-A-Fella office,” Press recalls. “Biggs is running the company. He says, ‘I heard you’re the one with the music.’ Back then the artists would say, ‘Don’t play any music for the label.’ So I’m, like, ‘Oh shit, should I play the music? But this is my shot.’ When I’m running an A&R meeting, I tell the young assistants, ‘Sometimes you gotta read the room and know when it’s time to take your shot.’

“I pull out my computer and play Biggs, like, 20 songs by Young Gunz. And he says, ‘We got an album done—this is the album. What are we waiting for? We can put the album out. I want to sign you and Chad to a production deal.’ He wanted to buy 25 songs for 15 or 20 grand a track —life-changing money. That deal allowed us to quit our jobs and take everything more seriously. We ended up producing 10 of the 14 songs on the Young Gunz album. We had the first single, ‘No Better Love,’ and things just started to take off.

“Once my career with Chad started to take off, I felt I had the capacity to do more; I knew my impact could be big. I needed to spread my wings. So I started to look at other people to manage. I managed Cassidy with J Erving. Then I started to manage songwriters, starting with Frankie Storm, who wrote ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ for Rihanna and a couple of Jay Sean’s hits. The publishing part came into play when Chad’s career took off and people wanted to sign him to publishing deals.

Theo Sedlmayr was my attorney at the time, and I think it was Theo who introduced me to Livio Harris at Notting Hill. This was 2006. He said, ‘I don’t have any representation on the East Coast. Would you be interested in doing A&R as a publisher? We’ll pay you a commission on the deals you bring in.’ I had no idea what he was talking about, but it sounded like an opportunity. I was getting exhausted by people calling me ‘Freeway’s manager’; I just wanted to be Ryan Press when I came into the room. I wanted to be Puff Daddy or Berry Gordy. Livio gave me my first shot and influenced where my career would go from there.

“I started to develop a very close relationship with Juan Madrid [at Sony/ATV]. We immediately became inseparable. While learning the hustle on the Notting Hill side—bring a deal in and get a check—I’m watching Juan and [Sony/ATV’s] Rich Christina, learning the creative side. They’re actually working with the people they signed. I didn’t get that at Notting Hill, because I was just a consultant.

“So I’m in Miami, where Freeway had just performed, and this new artist named Rick Ross comes out. I hear, ‘Every day I’m hustlin’’ and this beat is playing, and I’m on the side of the stage losing my mind. I’d never heard a song like that in my life. Ross’s energy onstage is captivating. It was a real moment for me. The next day I’m researching: What is this song? It had just come out in Miami and was starting to blow up. I’m telling Juan, ‘You need to sign these guys [The Runners, who co-wrote and co-produced ‘Hustlin’’].’

“I signed The Runners to Notting Hill, and that was my first publishing deal. Their manager at the time was DJ Khaled, but he’s also a producer. He’d bring Freeway and me to Miami to work on projects. When we finished the Runners deal, he’s, like, ‘I got another deal for you: It’s me.’ And he talks about the music he’s going to start working on as an artist. So, I’m, like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ And that was the second deal I did at Notting Hill.

“But as The Runners’ career started to take off, I wanted to work with them the way I saw Juan and Rich working with songwriters. That’s when my brain started to shift to publishing A&R. But I needed to do it at a company where I was actually on staff. I was willing to take the step back financially to take the step forward in my career. It took years, to be honest…”

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