Exclusive: Songwriter Donovan Woods Establishes Himself Through “Leaving Nashville”

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Donovan Woods co-wrote “Leaving Nashville” after making monthly visits to Music City from Canada. He’s never actually lived in Nashville, yet the song — which he wrote with Abe Stoklasa — nails the emotion, ambition and heartbreak of trying to earn a living as a Nashville songwriter.

“It took me a long time for me to say that it was a good idea, that it wasn’t too ‘inside,” Woods said during a visit to MusicRow on Tuesday (June 7). “I feel like it’s started to open doors. Everybody I write with now, that’s the first thing—they want to chat about that song for a while. It’s certainly been invaluable.”

In May, Woods officially signed with Warner/Chappell Music Publishing in Nashville. While at MusicRow, he sang a new song called “Kings of Nothing” as well as “Leaving Nashville” and a tempo song he wrote with Tom Douglas called “What Kind of Love Is That?”

Dividing his time between Toronto and Nashville, Woods is a notable folk artist in Canada, building an audience through reflective songs such as “On the Nights You Stay Home.” He released a full-length album titled Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled in Canada in February.

With a quiet yet affecting voice, Woods is gaining traction as a touring artist. Later this year, he is scheduled to open shows for Buffy Sainte-Marie as well as Sarah Jarosz. With his dry humor and self-awareness, he knows being a touring artist in the United States is easier said than done: “There are a lot of dudes who do what I do in America. There’s 300 million of you guys, so 10 times the amount of dudes who look like me.”

Pictured (L-R): Will Overton, A&R Manager, Warner/Chappell Nashville.; Ben Vaughn, EVP, Warner/Chappell Music Publishing; Donovan Woods; Sherod Robertson, Owner/Publisher, MusicRow; BJ Hill, TITLE, Warner/Chappell Music Publishing

Pictured (L-R): Will Overton, Manager, A&R, Warner/Chappell Nashville; Ben Vaughn, Executive Vice President, Warner/Chappell Nashville; Donovan Woods; Sherod Robertson, Owner/Publisher, MusicRow; BJ Hill, Sr. Director, A&R, Warner/Chappell Nashville

Growing up, Woods was drawn to music but didn’t let himself consider a career as a performer.

“To be honest with you, when I was a kid, I thought I would be a songwriter. I knew there was no way I could be an artist. I was a chubby kid and thought, ‘I won’t be an artist, I’ll just be a songwriter,’” he recalled.

“I Googled if that was even a job. I think I Googled ‘Are there just songwriters?’ and the first company I found out about was Warner/Chappell. I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a company called Warner/Chappell that’ll pay you to just be a writer. I’ll just work for that company.’”

After ending a publishing deal in Los Angeles, Woods joined Warner/Chappell after developing professional relationships with executives BJ Hill and Blain Rhodes. He says he will continue to write for his own albums too, even as artists like Billy Currington (“Sweet Love”) and Tim McGraw (“Portland, Maine”) are recording his songs.

And at this stage of the game, Woods’ good-natured attitude is closer to the optimistic first verse of “Leavin’ Nashville” than the desperate last verse.

“Yeah, I love Nashville. I just love the system. It’s such a fun hustle to me,” he says. “I’m not jaded on it yet, maybe because I’m not mired in it all the time. I don’t ever feel jaded — but you wouldn’t know that from the song!”

Pictured, L-R: Troy Stephenson, Molly Hannula, Craig Shelburne, Donovan Woods, Sherod Robertson, Eric T. Parker, Jessica Nicholson

Pictured (L-R): Troy Stephenson, Molly Hannula, Craig Shelburne, Donovan Woods, Sherod Robertson, Eric T. Parker, Jessica Nicholson

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Craig Shelburne is the General Manager at MusicRow.

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