2018 MusicRow Awards: Breakthrough Artist-Writer Of The Year Nominees

Following the announcement of this year’s nominees for the 30th annual MusicRow Awards, we take a closer look at the Breakthrough Artist-Writer of the Year category.


Voted by MusicRow’s subscribed members to honor a Nashville songwriter and artist who for the first time wrote or co-wrote a Top 10 song, which they also recorded.

The MusicRow Awards will be presented at a private ceremony.

See the full list of nominees.

Winners are determined solely by MusicRow subscribers. Voting closes on May 25 at 5 p.m. If you do not have a subscription, you may subscribe to receive a ballot.

Jordan Davis took his self-penned debut single, “Singles You Up,” straight to No. 1 at radio. Davis co-wrote all 12 tracks on his album Home State (UMG Nashville), which marks the highest-selling debut release for a solo country artist this year, moving 10,739 units its first week. The Louisiana native recently wrapped his first headlining tour and will hit the road with Jake Owen this summer, stopping at minor league baseball parks across the country.

Devin Dawson blends pop influences but stays grounded in country’s storytelling tradition on his debut album Dark Horse (Warner Music Nashville). He is a co-writer on every track, including “All On Me,” which reached No. 1 on the MusicRow chart. The album was produced by Jay Joyce, who is nominated for MusicRow Producer of the Year. Dawson is currently on tour with Brett Eldredge as well as playing his own headlining dates.

Russell Dickerson notched his first No. 1 as an artist and as a songwriter when “Yours” reached the top of the radio charts earlier this year. The Triple Tigers Records artist had written the song almost four years earlier with friends and fellow Belmont alumni Parker Welling and Casey Brown, who also earned 2018 MusicRow Awards nominations. The trio re-teamed to write Dickerson’s follow-up single, “Blue Tacoma,” which is currently climbing the charts. He will support Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker on their summer tour and play select dates on Thomas Rhett’s outing.

Jordan Walker earned his first No. 1 as co-writer of the Luke Combs’ smash “When It Rains It Pours,” which also yielded nominations for Combs and their collaborator Ray Fulcher. Walker is half of the rising BBR Music Group duo Walker McGuire, along with Johnny McGuire. Walker co-wrote every track on the duo’s self-titled debut EP, including new single “Lost.”

Morgan Wallen scored back-to-back No. 1s on the MusicRow chart in recent weeks. In March, he had his first hit as a co-writer of Jason Aldean’s “You Make It Easy.” A month later, Wallen returned to the winner’s circle with his first No. 1 as a recording artist thanks to the catchy summer song “Up Down” featuring pals Florida Georgia Line. The track is on Wallen’s debut album, If I Know Me, released via Big Loud Records.

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Industry Pics: Maren Morris, Pop Goes Nashville, ASCAP

Maren Morris Takes Part In Bluebird Cafe Documentary

Pictured (L-R): Janet Weir, Red Light Management/42 Entertainment; Ryan Hurd; Maren Morris; Erika Wollam Nichols, Bluebird Cafe COO/GM; Jimmy Robbins; Laura Veltz.
Photo: Rick Diamond

Maren Morris led a sold-out songwriter round with Ryan Hurd, Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz recently at the famed Bluebird Cafe. Proceeds from the special performance were donated to The HEROES Fund, Maren’s charity benefiting fine arts programs and music education in public schools.

The event was filmed for Bluebird, the first-ever in-depth documentary about the influence the 90-seat venue has had on singers, songwriters and popular music in general. The film is in the final stages of production and heading towards post-production stage.


Pop Goes Nashville

Top Row (L-R): Brad Kennard (Concord Music), Jen Duke (Concord Music), Dave Villa, Thomas James, Starling, Blake Carter, and Suzanne Strickland (RareSpark Media Group)
Bottom Row (L-R): Carly Strickland (RareSpark Media Group), Julia Knight, Scot Sherrod (RareSpark Media Group), and Katie Jelen (Warner/Chappell Music)

Members of Nashville’s burgeoning pop music community convened at The Steps at WME last night, May 21, for a night of networking and performances during the sixth Pop Goes Nashville (PGN) event and first of 2018. Nashville-based pop producer Dave Villa and up-and-coming pop singer/songwriters Blake Carter, Thomas James, Julia Knight, and Starling each performed several original songs in the round for a capacity crowd, hosted by Concord Music, RareSpark Media Group, Inc.; and Warner / Chappell Music, and sponsored by Regions.


ASCAP Honors Ralph Murphy

Pictured (L-R): Ralph Murphy and Randy Bachman

Longtime ASCAP employee and Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame member Ralph Murphy was presented with Canadian Music Week‘s inaugural “Ralph Murphy Songwriters Inspiration Award” in early May in Toronto. The award will be given each year to the writer who has “had the most impact on the world of songwriting” and was bestowed upon Murphy in a surprise presentation by legendary musician and songwriter Randy Bachman.

Trent Harmon Tackles Personal, Professional Upheaval For Debut Album ‘You Got ‘Em All’

In 2016, more than 13 million viewers tuned in as Mississippi native Trent Harmon was crowned as the Season 15 winner of American Idol, beating out hundreds of other contestants.

However, though he had just been crowned the new American Idol, complete with a recording contract with BMLG’s Dot Records and the release of the singles “Falling” and  “There’s A Girl,” Harmon (and his fans) would have a long wait for a full-fledged album, as Harmon wrestled with obstacles both personally and professionally.

The Dot imprint folded, and Core Media Group filed for a Chapter 11 restructure.

“For the past two years, the fans have been thinking that any day now, I’m going to put a record out,” Harmon tells MusicRow. “Quite honestly, I didn’t know when the album would happen. I just kept writing and trying to make the best songs I could.”

Harmon put the time of uncertainty over the past two years to good use, setting an ambitious goal of writing one new song every day for a year.

“I learned I could write and every once, in a while write a good song. It’s a muscle, just like every athlete needs to exercise a muscle to strengthen it. I got to where I could write songs faster. You gain confidence from consistence.”

On Friday (May 18), Harmon saw the release of his full-length album, You Got ‘Em All, after he joined BMLG’s Big Machine Records imprint.

Showing up, taking the risk, and putting in the work day after day might not always guarantee success in the fickle music industry, but so far the ethic has proven profitable for Harmon, whether he was auditioning for Idol, or showing up in the writing room in the wake of a painful romantic breakup.

Days before a scheduled writing session at Word Entertainment with Justin Ebach and Jordan Minton, Harmon received the news that his girlfriend Kathleen Couch was moving to Thailand to pursue her dream of teaching.

“I was tempted to cancel the write, and I had never canceled a write before. As a new artist in town, you can’t afford to go around canceling writing sessions. If you could phone one it in one time, that would be the day, but I went anyway. Once we sat there for a second, it all just came pouring out, and the song was done in 45 minutes. We didn’t try to write a happy song that day.”

Showing up and working through the tumultuous time via song resulted in his latest single, the arresting ballad “You Got ‘Em All.” Once in the studio to record “You Got ‘Em All,” BMLG’s Scott Borchetta, who served as a mentor to Harmon during the Idol competition, continued to champion and guide Harmon.

“We only did two passes of the song, top to bottom. I’ve never done that in the studio. Usually that’s one of the perks of being able to record, doing a line at a time and being able to get each line just right. With his song, Scott said, ‘What if we take it top to bottom and see what we get?’ The first take was good; it wasn’t great. Then he said, ‘Now take five minutes and I want you to go back to that place where you were when you wrote that song, right after she left. Sing that vocal the way you sang it on that tape that day.’ The next take we did, that was the take we sent to radio.”

By Harmon’s own admission, some of the most personal yet universally affecting songs are written from places of pain, not joy. The majority of the songs on You Got ‘Em All are vehicles of inspiration, determination, and above all, triumph–perfect emotional foils for Harmon’s powerful voice.

“First Five Minutes,” which Harmon penned with Paul DiGiovanni and Adam Hambrick, explores the rush of a new love, while “On Paper” captures the determination to follow that love through, disregarding any naysayers.

The centerpiece of that theme is “Hold On,” one of the few tracks on the 11-song album Harmon didn’t have a hand in writing. Penned by Chris Stapleton and Jim Beavers, the song hinges on the lyric When it feels like hope is gone/the remedy is you and me gotta hold on.

“I got Chris’ work tape at some point while we were filing through songs. I listened to it and the hook of the song was just so applicable to right now, and to any time. It’s like a ‘Lean On Me’ type of lyric. And Chris is not a bad co-writer to have on an album,” he quipped.

While American Idol introduced Harmon’s voice and music to music audiences, and earned him a major label recording contract, the talent competition also prepared him for another breakthrough moment, when Harmon introduced his new single “You Got ‘Em All” before thousands of country music programmers during Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar. Harmon planned to perform a piano-vocal rendition of the song, when technical issues with the piano threatened to derail his performance.

“I remember thinking I have one job today—to nail this song. There was a lot of temptation in that moment to do the song on guitar or do another song.” Instead, Harmon stuck to his guns, and waited until the technical issues were resolved. “I thought, everyone has put too much effort into this for this song not to be delivered so I stayed calm.

“There is nothing more nerve-wracking than someone counting down backward from 60. If nothing else, it prepared me for that one moment.”

Harmon’s commanding performance more than held the attention of the radio programmers, silencing the room as he poured his pain into the power ballad and earning a standing ovation.

Today, Harmon is seeing the fruits of his perseverance. In addition to release of his debut album, Harmon recently returned to the stage of American Idol to discuss his debut album and to give advice to the finalists (including the season 16 winner Maddie Poppe). His relationship with Couch has also returned to more stable ground.

“We are in a great place,” he says. “I don’t know what will happen with us, I don’t think anybody does. We talk quite often. I do anticipate her going back overseas soon. Maybe at some point, we are together down the road, if we were meant to be, and I sure hope we do. I love her to death, and right now we are two young people who are not holding each other back from what we want to do.

“It has been a pretty interesting past two years, but it’s a great place to develop as an artist. I’m somebody who likes to fulfill all my promises and I said an album will come out, and finally it’s happening.”

Trent Harmon returns to American Idol

Chris Janson Releases Powerful Video For “Drunk Girl”

Chris Janson on the set of his new video. Photo: Brenton Giesey

Chris Janson is known for his electric, entertaining stage shows, which often feature ear-bending harmonica solos. For his latest song, “Drunk Girl,” Janson turns to a softer, more somber piano melody and weightier lyrical material.

“Drunk Girl” delves into the subjects of respect and consent, and the video (directed by Jeff Venable) follows a young girl through the various relationships in her life. For the video, the crew shut down Nashville’s Lower Broadway.

“We don’t ever want to offend anybody,” Janson says. “but man, it’s almost a disservice if you don’t bring light to some subjects that are so important and don’t get talked about nearly as much as they should.”

The track is nominated for Song of the Year at the upcoming MusicRow Awards.

Watch the video below.

Americanafest Announces East Nashville Celebration

Americanafest will pay tribute to East Nashville with Comrades In Song: A Tribute to the East Nashville Community Spirit, on June 21 at Nashville venue the Basement East.

Comrades in Song will feature performances by Carl Anderson, Reuben Bidez, Kirby Brown, Creamer, JP Harris, Jon Latham, Nikki Lane, Ruby Boots, Mando Saenz, Kashena Sampson, Zach Schmidt, Caroline Spence, Patrick Sweany, Allen Thompson, Seth Walker, Emily West, Brandy Zdan and more special guests. The evening’s festivities will be hosted by Whiskey Wolves of the West with production and musical direction provided by Chase McGillis.

“There is no denying that the East Nashville community is absolutely bursting at the seams with innovative and driven individuals who are not afraid to think outside of the creative box,” said Jed Hilly, Executive Producer of AMERICANAFEST® and Executive Director of the Americana Music Association®. “We recognize a parallel within our own community and are humbled to be honoring that uniting spirit through song.”

Tickets for the show will first be made available during an exclusive pre-sale for members of the Americana Music Association® beginning tomorrow at 10 a.m. (CDT) until Friday, May 25 at 12 a.m. (CDT). Members will receive a code for a discounted ticket rate of $5 via email, with the pre-sale limited to the first 100 members who redeem the special offer. Tickets will be made available for purchase here by the general public starting on Friday, May 25 at 10 a.m. (CDT). General admission is $12 in advance, $15 on day of show.

The evening will begin with an informal mixer for ticket-holders at 6:30 p.m. with the show slated to begin at 8 p.m. In addition, the official second round of AMERICANAFEST® 2018 showcasing artists will be announced with discounted Festival Wristbands made available for purchase at the venue throughout the show.

BMI Artists Light Up Hangout Stage

BMI’s Nina Carter poses for a photo with Caroline Rose and her band during Hangout Music Festival on May 18, 2018, in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo: Erika Goldring

BMI returned to its original location at Hangout Music Festival over the weekend to showcase 15 talented up-and-coming acts on the Mermaid stage in Gulf Shores, Alabama. 

The weekend started strong with a funk-filled set from Luthi and never slowed down with performances from Welshly Arms, R.LUM.R, BONES and more over the course of the weekend. BMI wrapped this year’s festival on Sunday with massive crowds packing the centrally-located stage for high-energy sets from MAX, rock-quartet Greta Van Fleet and singer-songwriter Anderson East. 

Since 2013, BMI has hosted a number of rising stars on the Hangout stage, including Halsey, The Revivalists, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Daya, A R I Z O N A, Elle King, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Shakey Graves.

Mobley performs during Hangout Music Festival on May 20, 2018, in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo: Erika Goldring Photo

Red Light Management’s Jessi Tichenor, BMI’s Brandon Haas and Nina Carter, and Portugal the Man’s Zach Carothers gather for a photo during Hangout Music Festival on May 18, 2018, in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo: Erika Goldring

Sony Acquires Stake In EMI For $2.3 Billion

Entertainment and electronics business Sony Corp. is set to purchase a 60 percent stake in EMI Music Publishing for $2.3 billion, from a group of investors led by Mubadala, according to a statement from Sony.

Sony already held a minority stake in EMI, but the new deal will result in Sony owning an estimated 90 percent of EMI, with a music library of around 4.5 million songs, including classics such as “Over The Rainbow” and more current hits such as Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

“The music business has enjoyed a resurgence over the past couple of years, driven largely by the rise of paid subscription-based streaming services,” Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Sony announced a deal to acquire a stake in Peanuts Holdings, the organization behind classics including Snoopy and Charlie Brown.


Maddie Poppe Is Latest ‘American Idol’ Winner

Maddie Poppe took home the latest American Idol crown in the second part of the show’s two-part finale, beating out fellow finalists Gabby Barrett and Caleb Lee Hutchinson for the win.

Poppe performed three songs, including “Landslide,” which she dedicated to her hometown, and also repeated her original, “Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up.” She wrapped her three songs with “Going Going Gone” as the winner of the ABC reboot, which will return for a second season it was just announced. During the show it was also revealed that Poppe and Hutchinson are officially a couple.

During Poppe’s American Idol run, she offered up renditions of gems made famous by Sheryl Crow and The Beach Boys, as well as Randy Travis’ 1988 hit “I Told You So” (which Carrie Underwood later recorded and released as a duet with Travis in 2009).

It’s Only Rock And Roll And We Like It – Stones Exhibit Extends Nashville Run Through August

The Rolling Stones Exhibit will be spending some extra time in Music City due to popular demand. The band’s first ever major exhibition, presented by DHL and supported by Jackson National Life Insurance Company, will continue its successful run at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville now through August 26, instead of ending on the previously scheduled June 30 date.

To ensure as many visitors as possible can see The Rolling Stones Exhibit before it leaves North America, for the rest of its Nashville run, Stones Exhibit-only tickets will be $25 on Mondays and Tuesdays. Additionally, tickets purchased in advance online for Wednesday through Sunday at StonesExhibit.com are now discounted $5 and are available online through the end of August. Nashville is the exhibition’s last stop Stateside before heading to Sydney, Australia, marking the last chance for fans to view the expansive exhibit in North America.

The exhibit is a definite can’t-miss, full of rare memorabilia, vintage rock artifacts, amazing guitars, a complete recreation of the group’s earliest days in their UK flat, and over 190 original artworks including many of the band’s iconic album covers. Fashionistas will especially love the style and fashion gallery featuring many of Mick Jagger’s one-of-a-kind stage costumes spanning from the 1960’s to the present, with fashions from Alexander McQueen, Prada, Dior, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier, and many more, and contributions from Anna Sui, John Varvatos and Tommy Hilfiger. Interactive experiences like the sound mixing studio and a 3D concert film cap off the experience which extensively chronicles the legendary band’s 56-year career.

“We’re thrilled that Music City has fully embraced this once-in-a-lifetime, immersive and experiential Exhibit that tells the story of the most influential rock band in the world,” said Tim McGregor, Managing Director of TEG Live. “This extension allows for more lovers of music, art, fashion, and pop culture to experience The Rolling Stones Exhibit before it leaves North America.”

Fifth Annual Georgia On My Mind Concert To Feature Lauren Alaina, Chris Janson

The fifth annual Georgia On My Mind concert, hosted by hit songwriters and Georgia natives Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip (also known as The Peach Pickers), is set to return on June 26 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

The Peach Pickers hand-pick a star-studded group of friends to celebrate the music of their home state with proceeds benefiting the Georgia Music Foundation. Performers this year include Lauren Alaina, Travis Denning, Chris Janson, Michael Ray, songwriters Pat Alger and Tony Arata.

“For Ben, Rhett and I, it’s almost like organizing a bonfire party in South Georgia every year. We call our friends, they call their friends and we all get together, play the songs we love and tell stories,” said Davidson, who chairs the Georgia Music Foundation. “The fact that the last four concerts have allowed us to donate nearly $300,000 to the Georgia Music Foundation and support music education programs all over our home state is icing on the cake.”

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famers Alger and Arata will be on hand to perform and receive the Georgia Music Foundation Flamekeeper Award given since 2014 to individuals whose tireless work preserves and promotes Georgia’s musical roots and traditions.

This year, the Peach Pickers welcome Gretsch, the fourth-generation musical instruments company headquartered in Pooler, Georgia, as a presenting sponsor. Fred Gretsch, President of The Gretsch Company, noted, “As we celebrate our 135th anniversary as a family business run by Dinah Gretsch and me, we are honored to support the Peach Pickers and present ‘Georgia On My Mind.’ The Gretsch family’s goal is enriching lives through participation in music and we’ve seen how proceeds from previous years’ concerts have impacted music education programs around the state of Georgia.”

The Georgia Music Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1994, has distributed nearly $300,000 in grants to deserving music education, preservation and outreach programs since the first “Georgia On My Mind” concert was held in 2014. Proceeds from the 2017 concert benefitted 17 schools and non-profit organizations.

Tickets are available now for $54.50 and $44.50 via Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com, ryman.com,or by calling (800) 745-3000.