Writer’s Notes: Troy Verges

Troy Verges

Troy Verges

Rumors abound about the house near Music Row where songwriters Troy Verges and Brett James have set up shop. Maybe Kris Kristofferson stayed there when it was a boarding house in the ’60s. Perhaps Patsy Cline hid a secret lover next door. Was Kip Moore spooked by a ghost when he lived in the room upstairs? Regardless, one thing is undeniable about the more than 100-year-old building: the volumes of hit songs being created there.

It’s where Verges, Barry Dean and Hunter Hayes penned the artist’s current single “Tattoo,” which is scaling the radio charts alongside another Verges and Dean co-write, “Day Drinking,” penned with members of Little Big Town.

Verges and Hayes were first paired by Universal Music Publishing Group’s Cyndi Forman, who had a hunch her fellow Louisiana natives would hit it off. Following the success of their collaborations including 2013 BMI Song of the Year “Wanted,” the duo re-teamed for four cuts on the artist’s latest album.

Similarly, Verges’ writing with pals Kip Moore and Blair Daly led straight to No. 1, with Moore’s “Beer Money.”

“Hunter and Kip are two guys in town that I’ve worked with that have the most clear vision of themselves as artists,” says Verges. “It makes it easy to write songs with them because they know exactly what they want to sound like and what their message is. It frees you up creatively to follow their lead. By the time we wrote ‘Beer Money,’ Kip had already been touring and knew what his audience wanted. In those cases, the songs come out sounding like them, not me, which makes them great artists. And I get to help them shape that.”

Verges and Hunter Hayes at the BMI Country Awards.

Verges and Hunter Hayes at the BMI Country Awards.

• • • •

Verges isn’t exaggerating when he says his 10th birthday was “fortuitous.” That’s the day his parents surprised him with a trip to the music store where they let him pick out his first guitar.

The Shreveport native discovered The Eagles and Bob Dylan while combing through his parents’ record collection. He played in bands and dabbled in songwriting, first while attending Middle Tennessee State University, then at Belmont University, where he picked up an equally fortuitous card from a campus cork board. It was for an internship at Pat Higdon’s Patrick Joseph Music. Before Verges even graduated college, Higdon signed him as a songwriter. (Verges landed at UMPG after it purchased Higdon’s company.)

It took a few years for Verges to gain traction as a writer. “I’d have a party if I got a hold,” he says. But he kept plugging away, often traveling to Oklahoma to write with Brett James, who had returned there after losing his record deal. (In one of Nashville’s best stories of songwriter destiny, the further James got from music—he enrolled in and quit medical school twice—the harder fate worked to pull him back.) “Around 2001, things blew up for Brett and me at the same time. It was a crazy way to get where we ended up,” says Verges. Their collaboration led to Verges’ first cut, “Love Is A Sweet Thing,” on Faith Hill’s Breathe album and James’ eventual return to Nashville. Following closely were their co-penned No. 1s by Jessica Andrews (“Who I Am”) and Martina McBride (“Blessed”), written with Hillary Lindsey.

“There were so many women on Country radio at that time: Faith, Shania and Martina were the biggest artists in our format,” says Verges, who enjoys exploring the female perspective through writing. “The production on their singles seemed more outside-the-box, and since I didn’t grow up being a massive Country fan, I tried to put as much rock in that I could. I hope we get more females on the radio today.”

When Verges’ career took off, it zoomed at breakneck speed. In a year and a half time span, he was awarded 2001 MusicRow Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year, an award for new writers, and 2002 overall Songwriter of the Year from NSAI and BMI.

“It was a whirlwind,” says Verges. “To go from ‘if I can keep my deal one more year’ to having a year like that. I was lucky. I didn’t know I was going to win the NSAI Award, and Pat Higdon got my parents to the ceremony without telling me. It was a magical moment. They stayed for the BMI Awards, and I didn’t know I was going to win that either. I went from not even being invited to winning Songwriter of the Year.”

• • • •

A lot has changed on The Row since Verges arrived. Songwriting success is increasingly harder to achieve for a myriad of reasons, including the sales landslide, longer single cycles, and artists co-writing much of their own material. Technology has boosted some parts of the industry (DIY recording) while decimating others (sales).

“I was lucky to land in town when I did, and get involved with the group of people I did: Pat Higdon, Whitney Williams and Joe Fisher,” says Verges. “They believed in me enough to stick with me when it didn’t make sense on paper. I was keeping my head down and trying to write better and better songs. It seems like that is less possible today, because there are fewer slots.”

On the flip side, Verges notes that changes in technology have resulted in increased opportunities, especially for indie artists. “It’s easier and less expensive to record an album than it used to be, which means more diversity in our genre,” he says. “It feels like it is as diverse as it has ever been, which I love. With satellite radio there are more opportunities for artists to be heard and you can look on the screen to see who it is and go check them out.”

Changes in recording technology has eased Verges’ production work, which includes projects by Daniel Tashian and New Orleans artist Anders Osborne. Verges co-produced and co-wrote songs on Caitlyn Smith’s album, which yielded the hits “The Heart of Dixie” (Danielle Bradbery) and “Wasting All These Tears” (Cassadee Pope). “It’s the funnest part of this process because you get to write all these songs and take your time recording them, and get exactly the right players and mix it,” says Verges. “It is different than the demo process which you have to cut off due to budget or time.”

While the industry has evolved, the way to navigate Nashville has not—after all, it worked for Verges. “Be nice, be persistent, be patient,” he assures. “As long as I’ve been here, it’s held true that people who are really talented and have a good work ethic eventually get where they want to go. The flip side is also true—if you are really talented, but you’re a jerk, you might have a short run of success, but it will go away because no one will want to work with you. And keep writing. I don’t know anyone who looks back at what they wrote six or seven years ago, that they thought was awesome in the moment, and isn’t almost embarrassed by it today. The more you do something, the better you get at it. Songwriting is no different. Nashville has some of the best writers and artists in the world, especially the core group I’ve been writing with since I started: Brett, Hillary Lindsey, and Blair Daly. They are my dream collaborators.”

• • • •

Did you know? Verges’ wife Ariel and her sister Danielle are co-owners of Ani & Ari corset atelier in Edgehill Village, which has dressed Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, The Pistol Annies, Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere.

Verges and his UMPG team in 2013: Top row (L-R): Amanda Merki, Executive Assistant to Kent Earls, UMPG Nashville; Ron Stuve, VP of A&R/Special Projects, UMPG Nashville; Whitney Williams, Creative Director, UMPG Nashville; Missy Wilson, Senior Creative Director, UMPG; Tammy Helm, Manager of Administration, UMPG Nashville; Travis Gordon, Creative Manager, UMPG Nashville; Freeman Wizer, Creative Director, UMPG Nashville
Bottom row (L-R): Kendall Connell, Receptionist, UMPG Nashville; Cyndi Forman, Vice President, Creative, UMPG Nashville; Troy Verges; Kent Earls, Executive Vice President/General Manager, UMPG Nashville; John Mark Capers, Catalog and Studio Manager, UMPG Nashville

Verges and his UMPG Nashville team in 2013: Top row (L-R): Amanda Merki, Executive Asst. to Kent Earls; Ron Stuve, VP of A&R/Special Projects; Whitney Williams, Creative Director; Missy Wilson, Senior Creative Director; Tammy Helm, Manager of Administration; Travis Gordon, Creative Manager; Freeman Wizer, Creative Director
. Bottom row (L-R): Kendall Connell, Receptionist; Cyndi Forman, Vice President, Creative; Troy Verges; Kent Earls, Exec. VP/GM, UMPG Nashville; John Mark Capers, Catalog and Studio Manager.

Troy Verges Brief Discography

“I Want Crazy” Hunter Hayes (No. 1 Country)
“Wanted” Hunter Hayes (No. 1 Country – 2 weeks)
“Beer Money” Kip Moore (No. 1 Country)
“Who I Am” Jessica Andrews (No. 1 Country)
“Blessed” Martina McBride (No. 1 Country)
“Wasted” Carrie Underwood (No. 1 Country – 3 weeks)
“This Mystery” Marco Borsato & Sita/Polydor (No. 1 Netherlands)
“Raincoat” Kelly Sweet (No. 1 AC)
“You Save Me” Kenny Chesney (No. 3 Country)
“I Would’ve Loved You Anyway” Trisha Yearwood (Top 5)
“With Me” Lonestar (Top 5)
“Tonight I Wanna Be Your Man” Andy Griggs (Top 5)
“The Heart of Dixie” Danielle Bradberry (Top 15)
“Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You” Kellie Pickler (Top 15)
“Drugs or Jesus” Tim McGraw (Top 15)
“Famous” Kelleigh Bannen
“Day Drinking” Little Big Town (Upcoming album)
“Storyline” Hunter Hayes (Upcoming album)
“Tattoo” Hunter Hayes (Upcoming album)
“Flashlight” Hunter Hayes (Upcoming album)
“Nothing Like Starting Over” Hunter Hayes (Upcoming album)
“Shotgun Rider” Tim McGraw (Upcoming album)
“Hang a While” Kip Moore (Upcoming album)
“Get Into Something” Kip Moore (Upcoming album)
“Wild Boy” Danielle Bradbery (Upcoming album)
“A Perfectly Good Heart” Taylor Swift (Taylor Swift album)
“Crazy Dreams” Carrie Underwood (Carnival Ride album)
“Naked With You” Celine Dion (One Heart album)
“The Man You Love” IL Divo (Il Divo Album)
“Don’t Give Up On Me” Jason Aldean (Wide Open album)
“Stronger” Faith Hill (Greatest Hits & Cry albums)
”Paris” Faith Hill (Fireflies album)
“This Is Me” Faith Hill (Cry album)
“Love Is A Sweet Thing” Faith Hill (Breathe album)
“Telluride” Tim McGraw (Set This Circus Down album)
“Sleep Tonight” Tim McGraw (Dancehall Doctors album)
“I Wish I Was Wrong” LeAnn Rimes (Family album)
“This Time Tomorrow” LeAnn Rimes (Family album)
“The One You Love” Paulina Rubio (Border Girl album)
“We Can Dance” Bon Jovi

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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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