Exclusive: MTSU’s Odie Blackmon Helps Student Songwriters Prepare For Success

Odie Blackmon

Odie Blackmon

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) students with aspirations of becoming chart-topping songwriters are receiving stellar mentorship thanks to Grammy-nominated songwriter Odie Blackmon, Assistant Professor of the school’s Commercial Songwriting Concentration. He is the author of songs including Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself In The Morning” (2004 ACM Song of the Year) and George Strait’s “She’ll Leave You With A Smile.”

Blackmon, a 1995 MTSU alumnus of the Recording Industry program, says he was largely given a “blank slate” to create his vision for progressing the work of the Commercial Songwriting Concentration. “The songwriting concentration had been two classes: commercial songwriting and advanced songwriting, as well as some music business or audio courses. I have a vision based on what I wish I could have done when I was a student.”

The program currently has approximately 30 commercial songwriting majors, and Blackmon has worked with close to 60 students in the past semester.

In his first months overseeing the program, Blackmon instituted three additional classes: Piano for Songwriters, Guitar For Songwriters, and Genres & Style. Blackmon also teaches a class on the music of country legend George Jones, and courses in commercial songwriting. Genre & Style is taught by rock and Americana producer R.S. Field. “He will go to top artists in the most popular genres, and look at it though the lens of songwriting and production,” says Blackmon of his colleague.

Also in the works will be an advanced lyric writing class and a jingle writing class. Blackmon has revamped an Advanced Songwriting course into weekly, three-hour blocks, allowing students more time for in-class co-writing. “In this setting we can lecture, share songs and then split off into rooms to co-write. I can pop in and out of the different sessions to give suggestions and guidance.” Guest lecturers have included R.L. Castleman, Bobby Taylor, and Woody Bomar.

Blackmon emphasizes that though MTSU is in close proximity to the country music capital, Nashville, the university’s songwriting courses aren’t country music-centric. “In class, I try to borrow from different genres, but mostly pop because it is so commercial,” Blackmon says. “We listen to and study writers like Eminem. I think he’s one of the best lyricists out there right now. I try to teach in a way that students can use the principles within their own style and voice.”

He hopes to soon hold the advanced songwriting course in the Music Row vicinity, so it will be more convenient for hit songwriters from various genres to stop by and offer advice.

“At a time when trying to break in as a songwriter is increasingly difficult, we’re trying to give our students every opportunity to succeed,” says Ken Paulson, Dean of Mass Communication at MTSU. “That includes hands-on instruction from top professionals, an increasingly rich curriculum and the chance for students to showcase their talents.”

“I’ve always been interested in songwriting education,” Blackmon says. While considering the new role at MTSU, the Arkansas native says the notion of working with Paulson, as well as esteemed journalist and Chairman of MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry Beverly Keel, sealed the deal. “I’ve read Beverly’s work and really admire it. I’ve watched Ken’s PBS specials on the First Amendment. [Paulson has served as president and CEO of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University and at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.]. They are both rock stars to me.”

“Odie Blackmon has ushered in an exciting new chapter of our songwriting concentration and I am thrilled with everything that is happening,” Keel says. “We are adding classes, bringing new faculty members to campus and inviting talented songwriters from many genres to speak to our students.”

Pictured (L-R): Dylan Altman, Eric Paslay

Pictured (L-R): Dylan Altman, Eric Paslay during the MTSU Songwriters Series

Outside The Classroom

Aspiring songwriters receive mentorship far beyond the classroom walls. Blackmon has already initiated seven songwriting internships. “One pro writer is having an intern catalog older songs, and is also writing with the student,” Blackmon says. “Another student happens to be ProTools savvy and already doing editing work for two vocalists from The Voice, in addition to writing. Even a student who is helping a writer just by typing lyrics will learn a great deal about form, structure, and song revision.”

Blackmon recently welcomed MTSU alumnus and EMI Records Nashville artist-songwriter Eric Paslay to headline the MTSU Songwriters Series, along with songwriter Dylan Altman. The performance at Nashville’s The Listening Room raised nearly $4,000 for MTSU’s songwriting program, and showcased the talents of student songwriters including Kyle Crownover, Nick Carpenter and Collin Baxter. A second event is in the works for spring 2015.

Blackmon hopes to add to MTSU’s line of hit songwriters and artists that have claimed spots on the country radio’s Top 40. In 2014, those students have included Brett Eldredge, Sam Hunt, Paslay, Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, and Chris Young. That’s in addition to former students turned industry stalwarts, including Grammy winner Luke Laird and multi-platinum producer Michael Knox.

“Cal IV’s Daniel Hill and Billy Lynn discovered Eric Paslay because he was their intern,” Blackmon says. “I would think of that as a best-case scenario for an internship. Publishers get a lot out of the internships as well. Young people are excited, passionate, and they have their fingers on the pulse of what is going on musically.”

Though many of Blackmon’s plans for the program are still in their infancy, he’s already seen promising results from his work. He is confident that the program is developing students into young creative professionals primed to become the industry’s next crop of hit songwriters. “They are some of our best songwriters in our program right now,” he says of the students who opened for Paslay and Altman. “I would expect them all to have deals in the next year or so.”

Pictured (L-R, back row): Kyle Crownover, Caitlin Spencer, Terrez Seiber, Collin Baxter, Odie Blackmon, Eric Paslay, Dylan Altman, MTSU Mass Communication Dean Ken Paulson, Nick Carpenter. (front): Zach Russell

Pictured (L-R, back row): Kyle Crownover, Caitlin Spencer, Terrez Seiber, Collin Baxter, Odie Blackmon, Eric Paslay, Dylan Altman, MTSU Mass Communication Dean Ken Paulson, Nick Carpenter. (front): Zach Russell


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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]musicrow.com.

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