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Songwriting Session with Natalie Hemby
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Natalie-Hemby

Photo credit: Kate York

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Natalie Hemby shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

 

Natalie Hemby had a long journey to releasing her debut album, Puxico, in January. The Nashville native and established songwriter is well known in Music City for penning hits for Miranda Lambert (“White Liar,” “Automatic”) and Little Big Town (“Pontoon,” “Tornado”), among others, but for years she was trying to make it as an artist. Hemby found herself close to a record deal several times throughout her first decade as a songwriter but due to the shifting musical landscape and regime changes at labels, she never signed on the dotted line.

“When I hit 30 I just gave it up,” Hemby tells me over the phone two days after her debut album dropped. “I was just like, ‘I want to write music. I don’t really care what that looks like. I don’t care if anybody every hears it. I just want to write music because I love to write songs.’ I even worked a job at Comcast for a while, which I actually really loved because I learned so much and I got a lot of great song ideas out of it.”

Hemby says her day job at Comcast grounded her and made her love songwriting even more. At the time her husband, Mike Wrucke, began producing Miranda Lambert and the two women became fast friends. Hemby soon found herself singing on Lambert’s first three albums and the Texas native kept urging her to set up a co-write.
“I thought she was hilarious and I really loved her music,” Hemby recalls. “She kept telling me, ‘Hey, we should get together and write.’ She said that a few times and the third time she was like, ‘No, I’m serious. Let’s write!’”

The two songwriters finally got together and the first time they met they wrote “White Liar,” which would become both Hemby and Lambert’s first No. 1. They continued their partnership and co-wrote four songs featured on Lambert’s third album, Revolution. Meanwhile, Hemby likens Lambert to a younger sister and says she respects her songwriting.

“I’m really lucky that I get to connect with somebody like her because she is a deep well of lyrics, and talent, and she’s hilarious. We had our first No. 1 together and it all sprung from that. The great thing is, she was also very respectful of me. She knew that I loved to write and that’s why we have such a great relationship, we just love music. We love good music.”

Another song Hemby co-wrote with Lambert was their CMA Single of the Year and ACM Song of the Year, “Automatic.” Hemby remembers Nicolle Galyon bringing the idea to their writing session.

“I probably contributed the least lyrically to the song,” she admits. “Melodically, those were my melodies. Each person has their role each different day. Like for ‘Only Prettier,’ I came in with that chorus and the first verse. I wanted to map this out pretty straightaway. I had the chorus, the first verse, and then melodies. With this one I took a backseat because I’m not the only one who loves nostalgia. Miranda loves that kind of stuff. Nicolle had this idea, ‘whatever happened to waiting your turn.’ Those two really carved out a lot.”

For more of my interview with Natalie Hemby, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

February 12, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Emma White
CATEGORIES: Features, Interviews, Songwriting Session

Emma White EP COVER

 

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Emma White shares what she has learned as a songwriter.

 

Emma White was born into a musical family as both her mother and grandmother were singers and songwriters. In fact, Emma was named after Emmylou Harris while her siblings are named after a James Taylor reference. So, it’s safe to say that music has been woven into her life from an early age. Over coffee at Nashville’s Portland Brew, White recalls her music filled childhood fondly.

“We would have hootenannies all the time. My family got together and played and sang,” she says with a smile. “I was into pop music at the time. My family was always singing John Prine and Patty Griffin. They exposed me to something I might not have chosen on my own but it was always a part of me.”

White loved pop and R&B music while her family preferred country. Her latest EP blends all three genres and she credits her time studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston for helping her evolve as a songwriter.

The singer/songwriter wrote her first song as a teenager and began shopping her demos around at the age of 16. She’d often perform Lauryn Hill songs at talent shows in Maryland with the dream of being a singer. However, it wasn’t until she heard a Clive Davis interview where he stressed the importance of being able to write songs that she realized she should focus more on songwriting.

After living in Boston and New York, White made her way to Nashville although she admits she never thought she’d wind up in Music City.

“I was a New York girl, but every opportunity and every door that ever opened ended up being down here,” she says.

The first song she released professionally was called “His Eyes” and she first thought it was an R&B track. People advised her to submit it to a local Maryland radio station where it won an undiscovered talent contest with their country station. Suddenly, she realized she was actually writing country music.

White’s latest EP released on Friday (Feb. 3), merges her passions for songwriting, country, pop and hip-hop. While the songs include classic country songwriting the production hints at pop and R&B. This is exemplified in the standout song “My Ex,” co-written with Jesse Lee (Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan”).

“We kept that storytelling aspect of it, and then when I worked with my producers we really wanted it to be a hybrid of R&B and country,” she says of the song “My Ex.”

White’s new single “Not That Into You” is more pop based and sounds like a song that would fit in perfectly on radio in between Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson. She says it’s her favorite song she’s ever written and was inspired after a trip to LA. While attending an industry event a man there was making strong advances towards her. Taken aback, White turned the off-putting experience into a song that embodies a humorous portrayal of a girl pushing a guy away.

“I had seen the movie He’s Just Not That Into You and on my Facebook there are always ads: ‘Why are you single? This is why. Buy my guide.’ I thought in a theatrical way about [writing] it. I wanted to take on a gutsier character,” she explains. “I wanted it to be something a little bit shocking that you might not hear a female say. While I was writing it I sent it to my best friend who lives in New York. She had been on a million Tinder and Bumble dates and she was like, ‘I love this song. I totally get it.’ She wrote, ‘I’m not playing games or hard to get.’ So, I put it in the song and she’s the co-writer on this song.”

White’s new EP includes seven songs, all of which she co-produced, and spans several genres. She says this was intentional as she wanted each song to stand firmly on its own.

“For this album, I wanted to make every song stand on its own sonically. It definitely has an overall pop/country feel,” she shares. “Some songs lean more pop/rock and others have an urban thing going on. I really wanted to create a fingerprint for each song. There are certain melodies you’ll hear in certain songs and different textures in each song. It’s a blend of a lot of things.”

It has been a long musical journey for White, who now lives in Nashville full-time. She says if she could have told herself anything before taking the leap into music it would be to buckle up because there are a lot of highs and lows. She adds that having patience is important and stresses at being open to collaboration.

“I think co-writing has really expanded my sound and songwriting,” she admits. “You always learn from other people in the room. We can do so much more when we’re working together.”

She adds that she’s constantly trying to find a balance between success as a songwriter and simply doing it because she loves to write.

“You never want to have to compromise certain things. I think the biggest thing is staying true to what you think is good,” she says. “Being a songwriter is often a struggle but it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Performing, singing and music is woven into who I am. It’s always felt like it’s what I was meant to do. It chose me, I didn’t choose it.”

For more on Emma White visit her website and to purchase her music, click here. Catch Emma live in Nashville on Monday evening (Feb. 6) for Whiskey Jam at Winners Bar & Grill.

February 5, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Corey Crowder
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Corey-Crowder

 

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Corey Crowder shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Corey Crowder never dreamed of being in a band or on the stage. Music was simply a hobby until he started playing guitar and singing in church as a teenager. Soon after, all he cared about was music and in college he frequently played open mic nights where listeners loved his original songs. This prompted him into forming several bands, thinking he wanted to be Dashboard Confessional and Death Cab for Cutie until he discovered Bob Dylan.

“Bob Dylan sent me down a spiral and I got really into Southern rock and I started playing,” he recalls nostalgically from his writers studio at Liz Rose Music in Nashville.

He eventually acquired a record deal with Christian label Tooth & Nail Records where he released one album, Gold and the Sand, but it was far from a success. Soon he found himself dropped from his label as he and his wife moved from Tennessee back home to Georgia.

“I felt like there was my shot, I bombed, and I might as well just play bars,” he admits. “I went home and worked for a t-shirt company. I sold t-shirts to bands that I had toured with.”

This was far from Crowder’s last foray in the music industry. Back in Georgia, his wife decided to submit one of his songs to country station 94.9 The Bull for their locals only Saturday night radio program. Liking what they heard, the station played Crowder’s song “Love” and EMI executive Bruce Burch was flipping through stations when he heard the track.

The two knew each other from his t-shirt selling days so Burch called Crowder and convinced him to meet in Athens, Ga. the next day where he was running a music business program. Another music executive, Duane Hobson, joined them and suggested Crowder give Nashville one more shot and to play for the head of Sony. Still uncertain about Music City, he decided to give it a try and got a developmental deal with Sony during his first meeting in 2009. So, he and his wife packed back up and moved to Nashville and he began writing another album.

“I signed a publishing deal with Universal and just started writing like crazy. Every day. Once, twice a day. Sometimes three times,” he recalls. “They had paired me with a producer and we were writing for my record. I didn’t get to pick my songs. It was the first time I had ever been in that process. What I loved most was writing and not necessarily the performing aspect.”

Soon after, there was a regime change at Sony and his deal got dropped. He says it was the best thing that’s ever happened to him, though, as he quickly realized he didn’t want an artist career. Instead, he wanted to be a songwriter, something he didn’t think was an option until he began getting holds and cuts with his songs.

“You start going, ‘Maybe I can make a living doing this.’ I started over. Once I left my deal at Universal, I made that decision the moment that I said, ‘Forever, here on out, no more artist. Writer/producer only,’” he says. “That’s been the last four years. There’s a million ways to get here, but that was my way that I ended up here.”

Over the past four years as a full-time songwriter, Crowder has accomplished more than most achieve in a lifetime. He was recently nominated for a GRAMMY for Chris Young and Cassadee Pope’s “Think of You” in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category where he is both a songwriter and producer on the track. It’s recognition he never thought he’d see and a bucket list moment.

Crowder wrote “Think of You” with Young and Josh Hoge and says the song was inspired in part by a friend who had recently gotten divorced. While Crowder has known his wife since he was 16, he said he began thinking about how terrible it would be for their friends if they split up.

“Our identity is in each other because we’ve been with each other over half our lives,” he explains. “I knew that one was something special when we wrote it. That rarely happens. Usually when I think a song’s a hit, it’s not. That one I was like, ‘That song’s a smash.’ I just knew it. It felt different. Maybe it was because it came from a real place that I felt that way.”

 

For more on my interview with Corey Crowder, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

January 15, 2017 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Dan Couch
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

dan-couch

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Dan Couch shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Dan Couch moved to Nashville in 1995 with the dream of being the next Garth Brooks. When things didn’t happen exactly how he envisioned, he found a new passion: songwriting.

The Indiana native spent years attending writers rounds and open mic nights in the late ’90s, meeting hopeful artists like himself including Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich, Ira Dean of Trick Pony and James Otto. Meanwhile, he continued to hone his craft as a songwriter. After being in Music City for three years, he soon realized that what he loved most was not being on the stage but writing songs.

“I was in love with the idea of being a star, but I’m thankful that I was because it got me here and I found songwriting,” Couch says over the phone. “I started doing more songwriting and really became passionate and fell in love with songwriting. Then I was determined to get a writing deal and become a songwriter and let that dream go about being the next Garth Brooks.”

In 1999, nearly four years to the day of moving to town, Couch signed his first publishing deal with BMG and continued attending writers rounds and setting up co-writes. Chart success would not come to Couch for a while. In fact, it was 13 years later in 2012 when he would see his first No. 1 with Kip Moore’s “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck.” The two-week No. 1 is what he calls “a dream being realized.”

It was a long journey to his first No. 1 hit and Couch pauses when asked what kept him going all those years. He says it was blind faith and support from his parents, friends and especially his wife, who is a labor and delivery nurse.

“We all had the mindset that if you wanted it bad enough, if you worked your butt off, that you can get there. I never doubted that I was going to be able to do it,” he shares. “Obviously, it took a lot longer than I thought it was going to, but that ended up being our journey. We’re on this journey and I wouldn’t change any of it.”

Couch adds that being hard-headed and holding the belief that success can happen is what often kept him going. Following his first No. 1 with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” he’s had several hit songs including Moore’s second No. 1 “Hey Pretty Girl” as well as “Young Love” which went to No. 22 on the country charts and Canaan Smith’s “Hole In a Bottle” which went to No. 23 this past summer.

He credits his wife, who he calls the breadwinner, for allowing him to have a normal life and the livelihood to pursue songwriting full-time. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” he says. Couch’s wife is also his muse and was the inspiration behind his second chart topper, “Hey Pretty Girl,” off Moore’s debut album Up All Night.

“I remember wanting to write a song in honor of my wife, in appreciation. To tell a real story,” Couch recalls of the day he wrote the song with Moore. “I remember mostly throwing out a line that said, ‘Hey pretty girl, you did so good. Our baby’s got your eyes, and she got your nose like I hoped she would. Hey pretty girl, you did so good.’ Kip said, ‘No, man, and a fighter’s heart like I knew she would.’ That just absolutely floored me when that line came out of Kip’s mouth. I do very much remember that moment.”

 

 

For more of my interview with Dan Couch, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

December 25, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Paul Compton
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session
Paul Compton / Facebook

Paul Compton / Facebook

 

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Paul Compton shares what he has learned from working with Nashville songwriters as a song plugger.

 

Paul Compton was drawn to music from an early age. He played in his first band shortly after high school and eventually received a performance scholarship at Calhoun Community College in Alabama. In 1990, he moved to Nashville and completed his degree in Recording Industry Management at Middle Tennessee State University.

A fan of music and songwriting, Compton found himself interning at a publishing company called Murrah Music Corporation for two semesters. It just so happened that once his second semester ended, his boss exited which left a position open at the company. So, prompted by another employee, he applied and got the job. Compton would find himself at the same company for the next 17 years where he helped the early careers of many up-and-coming singer/songwriters including superstar in the making, Luke Bryan.

Compton recalls meeting Bryan around 2002 and while he says he never predicted the remarkable success that the “Move” singer would eventually have, he knew Bryan had the drive and determination to make it in the industry having come from a family of hard workers.

“When he walked in a room, before anybody even know who Luke Bryan was going to be, he could captivate a room,” Compton recalls. “This big southern voice, good looking guy, looks like a young Elvis, walks in a room and just lights up the party. You knew that if he could capture that in some artistic way on the stage with his songs, that people were going to respond because they did that before they even knew he could sing.”

Compton says Bryan was like a sponge when it came to learning about songwriting. He often borrowed what he could from people who had years of experience on him and soon went from someone they signed as an artist who wrote a little bit to becoming a “really respectable writer.”

Bryan’s early cuts included the title track off Travis Tritt’s 2004 album, Honky Tonk History and Billy Currington’s No. 1 song “Good Directions.”

“Luke started getting attention as a writer before his artistry was brought to fruition. He came at ideas from a different angle, wrote with writers who taught him how to craft a song. He was a good student and he worked hard. That was the deal with Luke,” Compton adds.

Compton says his job started out as a professional manager, what a lot of people in the industry call a song plugger. In addition to pitching songs to artists, he acted as a manager by setting up co-writes as well as demo production. He learned a lot from the publisher’s owner Roger Murrah, who is a Hall of Fame songwriter, and recalls Murrah having the perfect career attributes of being both creative and business savvy, which he says is often rare to find.

“I worked with him for 17 years, mentoring off of him, and slowly was promoted inside the company all the way up to Senior Vice President, which is the position I held for the last ten years that I worked there. We helped mentor young, aspiring professional writers to get to their first level and second level of success. Some of those writers, a great majority of them, went on to have No. 1 songs. I was a part of helping a lot of those writers get established, and get their songs cut. ”

For 17 years the company grew and was recognized by Billboard as Independent Publisher of the Year. Some of Compton’s personal successes included pitching what would become career songs for Kenny Chesney and Rascal Flatts. While he says there isn’t a direct science to getting a song in the hands of a popular artist, Compton would always pitch songs he believed in.

“I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of great firsts. Great songs that were a big part of not only the writer’s career but may have been a big part of the artist’s career,” he says with a smile. “I remember a young Kenny Chesney coming in, who had just gotten signed to RCA and they had cut most of his record, and they were looking for a few more songs. He was really desperate to find an uptempo song. I was back and forth playing him song after song of these uptempo songs, and towards the end of the meeting I kept asking, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to hear a ballad?’ He kept shooting me down, ‘No, I need uptempo.'”

Eventually Barry Beckett, Chesney’s producer at the time, urged him to try a ballad. So, Compton played him “When I Close My Eyes” written by Nettie Musick and Mark Alan Springer.

“He literally jumped off the couch, ran around the room, and it was almost like he had just scored a touchdown, he was so excited,” Compton recalls.

 

The song would be featured on Chesney’s 1996 album Me And You and make it all the way to No. 1 on the R&R chart (Radio and Records). It would also be his first No. 1 hit as an artist. Compton would have similar success with a brand new trio in 1999 — Rascal Flatts. Once again he was told by the band’s producer, Mark Bright, that ballads just weren’t probable at country radio. He recalls him saying, “A ballad right now is impossible. A midtempo is next to impossible. We just need uptempo songs to finish the record.”

Compton had only brought a midtempo and a ballad with him to the meeting, where 10 other song pluggers went around in a circle and pitched their songs. So, he started with the midtempo. He was the last one at the table and was getting increasingly more nervous as his turn came to play the ballad.

“I’m sitting there the whole time sweating bullets and thinking, ‘I’m holding a ballad and that’s all I’ve got.’ It’s like playing poker when you know you have nothing, and you’ve got all the chips on the table,” he reasons. “I believe in this song, I know it’s a hit song, I know it’s great. It kills me. It’s brand new, maybe I’m just too in love with it. I start trying to talk myself out of it. It gets all the way back around to me and I had no choice. I’m like, ‘Here’s the moment of truth. Either they’re going to laugh me out of the room, kick me out of the room, or think I’m a complete idiot, but I’m totally committed to this song, I believed in the song.'”

So, he plays the song and the room remains silent as the track comes to a close.

“It’s like that awkward thing where you tell a joke and nobody laughs right away. It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Then it’s almost like everybody exhaled, and Mark Bright said, ‘They can like it now or they can like it later, but we’re cutting this song.'”

That song — “I’m Movin’ On” written by Phillip White and D. Vincent Williams — would become the last single released off the band’s self-titled debut album in 2000 and garner them an ACM Song of the Year win.

 

“It was a good moment for them and a great moment for us,” Compton adds. “I love songs that go past the entertainment value, that actually change people’s lives. I remember seeing emails and reading stories about how there were people contemplating suicide, going through a drug addiction, who were in prison. There were people going through the lowest point in their life and they heard that song, and it gave them hope that they could move on. When you’re a small part of something like that and you put it out into this world that went way past just entertainment, that’s a pretty special feeling. I hope Nashville can continue to celebrate those kind of talents and that kind of creativity that can foster those kind of songs.”

Murrah Music was bought out in 2009 and the company has since dissolved. Compton, however, has far from stopped helping up-and-coming songwriters. He has started a management company called Music Highway Writers Services that is strictly focused on writers. While he works on a daily basis with artists and singer/songwriters, he prides himself in helping the unsigned writer who hasn’t gotten their break yet. His goal is to help each writer get to the next level. Additionally, he helps the older, more established writers stay connected and plugged into the Nashville songwriting scene and acts as a consultant for those hoping to build their own publishing companies. Compton aims to help Nashville newcomers to navigate the waters easily and with nearly 30 years in the business, he is offering his talents to many Music City transplants.

“There’s a saying I used to have in my office, ‘You become successful by helping others become successful.’ That has been the motto of my career. I’m only successful if my writers and my artists that I work with can find success, and I’m happy with them getting all of the spotlight, because that’s not what I came to town to do. When they have their moment, there’s no better feeling in the world than to watch them revel in their moment.”

December 11, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Willie Shaw
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

willie-shaw

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Willie Shaw shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Willie Shaw grew up in a musical family where holidays were spent playing obscure songs on the record player while each family member guessed the musician who sang on the track. He says it was an unwritten rule in his family that each child picked up and learned an instrument at a certain age and his calling was the guitar. While he didn’t learn chords until he was a senior in high school, Willie recalls playing the guitar as a sophomore and writing songs in class.

“I grew up around music. I would always steal my mom’s CDs. I found her Beatles CDs and I would play them over and over and over again,” he recalls of his upbringing in Orange County, Calif. “I was the best shower singer in the world. My shower head knows all about my vocals. At that time, I didn’t even realize I was good at singing. I just did it in my shower, in my car.”

Even though music was part of his life from an early age, he didn’t fully realize he could sing until freshman year of high school when he learned he was getting a B in choir class. Willie and his football buddies sat in the back of the classroom and talked throughout each lecture and he soon learned that the only way to receive an A was to sing in front of 250 of his peers.

“I went up with my iPod and I put Stevie Wonder, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” in my ear and sang along to it. Everybody went from joking and making fun of me to really quiet,” he says. “I thought I messed up the words or something, so I started freaking out. After class the choir directors, they came up to me and said, ‘How do you feel about singing in our next concert? Have you ever sung in front of a large audience before?’ I was like, ‘No, but why not?’ So I sang two songs in that final concert of the year.”

Soon after he began writing songs, admitting that his first songs were “so bad.” Not knowing how to transition from verse to chorus his early songs were often seven minutes long. The more he wrote, though, the better he got. By junior year, he wrote what he calls his first real song, “Eskimo Kisses,” in geometry class. Writing songs was an outlet for Willie where he learned who he was and who he wanted to be.

Now, he immerses himself in songwriting and compares it to a job that he shows up for every day. “Some days you write a cool song you really like and some days you write a song that you give to somebody else,” he says.

Willie moved to Nashville last August after being discovered singing on a street corner in Williamsburg, Va. while studying at the College of William and Mary. A woman who had connections in Nashville walked up to him and asked what his plans for music were. An ego boost, he set up meetings with some of her contacts last June and two months later moved to Music City.

Currently, Willie works as an accountant for NASA part-time and once he finishes his shift each day he spends time honing his songwriting skills. He says his transition into Nashville living was slow at first, but now the people he has met feel like family.

“Before we even talked music, it’s like, ‘Who are you? Where are you from? Are you a good person? What church do you go to?’ Stuff like that where it’s very humanitarian based,” he says of the Nashville songwriting community. “In California, my experiences with the music industry, it’s very product driven first. Then, who are you second, if at all.”

Willie is a pop artist who cites acts like Andy Grammer, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars as inspiration as well as Motown, doo-wop and jazz.

“I grew up by the beach in California, so I have that sound. I love 40s Big Band, swing music. As I’m cooking dinner, I’m listening to Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers and Frank Sinatra. I love Motown, Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy. I also love the early rock and roll with Elvis, like everybody does,” he explains.

These influences can be heard throughout his music. Songs like “Good Feeling” and “Move,” available on his Soundcloud, were written when he was in high school and while he’s changed musically since then, they’re a good indication of where he came from.

Willie notes that an important songwriting lesson he’s learned since moving to Nashville is in being as honest as possible.

“People connect to things that are honest,” he explains. “I think that’s why you see a little bit of push back right now, especially in pop music. You listen to the radio and everybody’s talking about sex, drugs, alcohol. Not that that’s a new trend, but people can’t always connect. You look at people like J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar in the hip-hop realm, they are so brutally honest that people will follow them anywhere. It’s the same with country. Country’s a little more holistic because it’s so faith, family and values driven. Just being honest, whether that means you’re struggling with an addiction of some kind or you’re struggling with love.”

Willie also advises new songwriters and artists moving to Nashville of the importance of having a business plan and career goals.

“As much as it’s heroic and poetic to say ‘I’m chasing my dream,’ you have to have a goal with it too. If you’re just running around like a chicken with its head cut off, what’s the point? Where are you going to end up? You’re going to look back after a certain amount of time and be like, ‘I wasted X amount of money, X amount of time that I can’t get back.'”

He also urges those songwriters and artists to study people in the room when they’re out at writer’s rounds.

“Since I don’t sing country music, I have a five to ten second window when I first start singing to grab whoever’s there. That’s why often you’ll hear me sing something really jazzy, or I’ll start beat boxing, or I’ll play my mouth trumpet or something,” he explains. “That’s the hook, that’s the trailer to the rest of the movie.”

For more on Willie Shaw, visit his SoundCloud and Facebook.

November 27, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Erik Dylan
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

erik-dylan-promo

Photo courtesy Lonestar PR

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Erik Dylan shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Guitars were always present in Erik Dylan’s home as a young boy. The Kansas native vividly remembers listening to his father’s record collection which included artists like Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, Lynyrd Skynyrd, James Taylor and Guy Clark. Once he was older, he recalls his hour-long bus rides to and from school with the radio dialed in on mainstream contemporary country.

“That’s where the musical journey started for me,” Dylan shares over coffee at East Nashville’s Sip Cafe. “I’ve always loved music but I moved to Tennessee to go to MTSU for recording and production technology.”

While attending Middle Tennessee State University, Dylan got the songwriting bug and attempted to transfer into the songwriting program unsuccessfully. As he recalls, the professor of the program told him he wasn’t qualified to be a songwriter because he didn’t know enough music theory. Though this news sidelined him for a while, it wasn’t before long that he picked back up his guitar and began to write songs more seriously.

In 2011, Dylan hit a wall. Miserable at his job, he realized he wasn’t happy doing anything but music so he began playing open mic nights around Nashville every chance he got. As he recalls, he played close to 200 shows that year.

“I’ve always had a philosophy that you must be present to win with whatever you do and I thought at least being off of the couch and playing in front of people would give me a chance to find out how to get plugged in,” Dylan reasons. “I really didn’t know anybody in the music industry and wasn’t related to anybody in the music industry so I just kept doing that. One night I was playing at Belcourt Taps in the Village and luckily a guy named Kip Moore walked by and heard me and got me in touch with his publisher and producer, Brett James. That was the only publisher I ever met with and that’s who I signed with and I’ve been there for the last five years.”

While Dylan is the first to admit there are many highs and “tons of lows” when it comes to life as a songwriter, he says it’s his family who constantly keep him grounded.

“There are days where I wonder if I had the sort of normal 9-to-5 job, would I be making more money? Would I be making the same money? Would I be able to provide better for the family? I think what it comes down to is that I’m a better person when I’m writing songs,” he says. “I think I’m a happier person, I’m more grounded and I think it’ll be cool that my son knows he can do anything he wants to do, to chase a dream.”

Since he signed on as a songwriter with Cornman Music and Warner/Chappell, Dylan has been able to write with some of his heroes including Guy Clark and Steve Earle. He recently performed at the Ryman Auditorium as part of a memorial concert for Clark, citing it as the coolest moment he’s had in Nashville.

Another rewarding moment is having his first major label single with Eric Paslay’s “Angels In This Town.” Written with Paslay and Corey Crowder during a writers retreat in Alabama, “Angels In This Town” was finished quickly. Dylan remembers Crowder initially playing a track he had started while Paslay began strumming his guitar and humming a melody.

“Melody just falls out of Eric. He’s amazing when he sings. He has melodies for days, you never have to worry about a melody,” Dylan shares. “It sounded like he was saying ‘Angels In This Town’ at one point and we all looked at each other and I said, ‘I think that’s our song.’”

 

For more of my interview with Erik Dylan, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

November 20, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Jerry Vandiver
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

jerry-vandiver1

 

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Jerry Vandiver shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Seven years into his teaching career in Missouri, Jerry Vandiver visited Nashville during Spring Break and dove into the music scene playing his songs in writers rounds. He had visited Music City many times over the past few years during spring and summer breaks but this trip was different and a fellow teacher at school noticed the change. As Vandiver recalls, while the two were chatting about their vacation there was a lull in the conversation. While he had no immediate plan to move to Nashville, she saw things differently.

“You’re going to do it, aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re going to move to Nashville.”

“I thought about it and I said, ‘Yeah!’” Vandiver recalls of that fateful day in 1984. “I don’t know if she hadn’t said that if I’d be here today, because it’s a scary thing. I got everything in order, I told my Principal, told my Superintendent I’m not coming back. I came here in the fall and I remember driving from Kansas City to Nashville. I was halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis and I had the trailer behind me. I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’”

While he admits he almost turned back, ultimately he knew Nashville was the right decision. And, the thought of turning around and facing some of his biggest supporters after all those going away parties kept him driving. Vandiver cites that conversation with his colleague and his move to Nashville as his first defining moment. The second would come four months after his move when he would play the Bluebird Cafe for the very first time.

“Like everybody else that was really serious about it, I had my blinders on. I was like, ‘Damn the rejection! Full speed ahead.’ I pitched my songs like crazy, but none of them were ready at all,” he admits. “Up until that moment I had been naively calling publishers trying to get my songs heard. I say naively because at that time my songs were not ready. At that time though publishers were a little more receptive and a lot of them — not all of them but a lot of them — would offer critiques and feedback especially if they saw that you were serious.”

There was one publisher in particular called The Reese Company who Vandiver called only to learn that they weren’t taking any material. After his successful performance at the Bluebird, however, another songwriter approached him who had recently played some songs for the company’s owner, Jan Reese. That songwriter, Sandy Ramos, asked if he’d like to co-write sometime and for Vandiver it was a no brainer. He says it was all part of the networking process and after four years of co-writing with Ramos he signed his first single-song contract with The Reese Company. While the song he was signed for never got cut, it was a foot in the door that led to more single-song contracts for the songwriter. Vandiver calls his first single-song contract a “momentous moment” and he and Ramos continued to get better writing together.

One weekend, he was writing a new song while trying to get over a heartbreak. When he and Ramos met later that week she loved what she heard and said that she could make it a hit. Ramos put a new melody on the song and it became their first major label cut together for Gene Watson. The song was called “Don’t Waste It On the Blues” and went to No. 5 on the country charts in 1990 and won Vandiver an ASCAP Award. Vandiver notes that had he not gone to the Bluebird that one Sunday night and met Ramos and had he not had that heartbreak, the song would have never come together.

“Those are the stories that are all over Nashville. I find them fascinating, from anybody’s perspective,” he adds.

Before the song was put on hold Vandiver thought about giving up his career as a songwriter. At the moment his song was being pitched to Watson’s team, Vandiver was considering returning to school to get his Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and was at a local campus taking a tour. Vandiver says going back to school just didn’t feel right and went to his publisher’s office at Little Big Town Music afterward when he learned he had his first hold with Watson.

“I think that most songwriters can make a little bit of encouragement go a long way and so you get a little encouragement like that, a hold or sign a single-song contract or something, and you go, ‘Okay. I can make this last a few more days,’” he explains.

 

 

For more of my interview with Jerry Vandiver, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

October 2, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Richard Casper of CreatiVets
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

creativets

(Pictured L-R) Richard Casper, Johnny Bulford, unnamed veteran, Stephen Salyers; Photo via @creativets on Instagram

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Richard Casper shares his journey to founding non-prfit CreatiVets.

 

For many veterans, returning home after war is a challenging ordeal. Numerous men and women who have served our country suffer from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and struggle to get reintroduced into society, some even commit suicide.

In a 2013 study, the Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 22 veterans each day commit suicide. CreatiVets, a non-profit organization that aims to offer relief and healing to veterans through songwriting, visual arts, music and creative writing, hopes to combat depression, PTS and suicide.

Richard Casper is the co-founder of CreatiVets and learned the struggles firsthand when he returned home after one tour in the Marine Corps Infantry in Iraq where his humvee was blown up four different times and his best friend died beside him. Casper himself suffered through three concussions, tore cartilage in his chest and after returning home learned he had brain damage from a traumatic brain injury.

“I had a lot of stuff inside me that I couldn’t get out after the war about my buddy who died,” Casper tells Sounds Like Nashville. “I started writing a lot about it. Not a song yet, but I was in a creative writing class so I was writing about it.”

When Casper returned from Iraq, he enrolled at a community college in Illinois and a friend suggested he try his hand at songwriting. Soon after, he got accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and to make money while studying, Casper worked at Joe’s Bar. It was there that he was introduced to several songwriters through the venue’s songwriter series, all the while, he continued to write on the side. As he explains, his anxieties and depression minimized through songwriting and one night after a writer’s round at the venue he approached songwriter Mark Irwin (Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw) and shared his story and asked if he traveled to Nashville if Irwin would write with him. Irwin agreed and soon after Casper took a trip to Music City and wrote a song about his experience in Iraq called “One Night In Iraq.”

After his first writing session, Casper knew he wanted to find a way to help other veterans. He invited his friend who lost a leg and was severely burned from a vehicle borne Improvised Explosive Device (IED) to Nashville and they wrote a song in May of 2013 with Blackjack Billy. It was during this co-write that CreatiVets was born and was founded as a nonprofit that July.

Since 2013, nearly 30 veterans have come to Nashville to write with songwriters like Darryl Worley, Johnny Bulford, Lance Carpenter and Erik Dylan. Casper serves as the nonprofit’s co-writer and tour guide as he spends three days with each veteran. The day before the veteran sits down to write his or her story, Casper takes them to a writer’s round and tells them to listen to why the songwriters created their songs.

“Days prior, I’m on the phone with them prepping them about what the song’s going to be about so when we go into the writing room they know exactly what the song’s going to be. We’re not trying to write a hit song,” he stresses. “We’re trying to write their story and turn it into a song. If it becomes a hit that’s awesome, but that’s not what we’re doing it for. When we’re done, the guitar that we wrote the song with I give to the veteran so that we can get them to hopefully keep learning how to play guitar on their own and to write more music about what they went through and give them a new tool to help with the PTSD.”

 

For more on CreatiVets, read my article on Sounds Like Nashville and visit creativets.org.

 

September 11, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
Songwriting Session with Brett James
CATEGORIES: Songwriting Session

Brett-James

Photo courtesy Evolution PR

Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Brett James shares what he has learned as a songwriter.

 

Brett James’ career is one of perseverance. It includes two stints in med school, two tries at an artist career and a long legacy of 22 No. 1 songs over the span of 16 years. In an interview with Sounds Like Nashville, the songwriter shares how a Steve Wariner concert shifted his life plan and sparked his decision to move to Nashville.

During his first year in med school at the University of Oklahoma, James attended Wariner’s concert and instantly thought, “I think I can do some of that.” As he recalls, he knew he could sing and he thought he could write songs, too.

“He inspired me to show that part of me for the first time,” James explained to Sounds Like Nashville over the phone. “And so, I went home and wrote ‘Sweet, Slow Oklahoma’ and I wrote about ten other songs and took some summer money I made in between my freshman and sophomore year in med school and did a little cassette tape.”

It was 1991 and James had one friend in the music business who was an intern at a college radio station in Michigan. She shared his music with her boss who was well connected and soon called James and said he’d like to be his manager, asking how soon he could get to Nashville. Spring break was coming up so during his sophomore year of med school, James traveled to Nashville for the first time and found himself at the famed Bluebird Café and took several label meetings. His third day in Nashville he met with the president of Arista Records, Tim DuBois, who promised James a record deal if he moved to Nashville.

Knowing a record deal doesn’t happen so easily, James went back to med school and thought about his impending decision. Once he realized Nashville was the answer, he then finished up the school year and told the dean that he’d take a year off. That one year turned into seven. James then waited a year before he reached back out to Arista Records because he says he wasn’t ready.

“I waited tables at Midtown Café in Nashville and hit the streets and got my own publishing deal and finally, when I thought I had something that he’d want to hear, I came back in and said, ‘Remember me? It’s been a long time, but you said if I moved here, you’d give me a record deal,’” he explains.

James had another meeting with Arista and they liked what they heard and he eventually garnered a record deal and spent 1993-1997 on Arista Records and released three singles. James admits that he “failed miserably” as all three songs went to around No. 28 on the country charts. By the time 1999 rolled around he was dropped by both his label and publishing deal and with two young children at home he had to figure out a Plan B.

“I just wanted to make sure I could feed my family. At some point, that’s what it comes down to when you’re a dad,” he says. “And I really didn’t care how. I didn’t care if it was in music. I figured I’ve given music my shot, and it hasn’t worked out, so let me figure out a way to feed the family. All I’d ever done was gone to med school, so I wrote the dean of the school a letter and said, ‘I’ve been out one year, I know it’s been seven, but is there any chance I could come back?’”

The dean allowed him to return, but said he had to repeat his sophomore year. So, in the fall of 1999 he went back to Oklahoma since he knew as a doctor he could feed his kids and put them through college. But that’s far from the end of James’ Nashville story.

“It was kind of bizarre to be back at school, seven years later, same classes and all that kind of stuff,” he admits. “I started on Sept. 1, and on Sept. 4 Faith Hill cut one of my songs. And up until that I only had two of my songs recorded by other artists. By the third day back to med school, Faith Hill cut one and the floodgates opened, and I got 33 more of my songs recorded in the next five months and ended up having five Top 10 singles that year while I was going to med school every day.”

While finishing up his sophomore year for the second time, he decided to give Nashville one more shot. Although, James admits had it only been 10 songs cut, he probably would have stayed in med school.

“It was so overwhelming that there were so many of my songs getting recorded and people liking them all of a sudden that I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got a job now,’” he recalls. “After a lot of failure in Nashville I came back in 2000, and that was 16 years ago.”

For more of my interview with Brett James, visit Sounds Like Nashville.

August 28, 2016 | | (0) comment comment
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