2020 MusicRow Awards Category Profile: Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year

Following Tuesday’s (July 7) announcement of this year’s nominees for the 32 annual MusicRow Awards, we take a look at the MusicRow Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year category.

The Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year is voted by MusicRow’s subscribed members to honor a Nashville songwriter who wrote or co-wrote a Top 10 song for the first time during the eligibility period of April 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020. In addition, the qualifying song was not recorded by the nominated songwriter.

The MusicRow Awards winners will be announced virtually among multiple MusicRow platforms on Tuesday, August 18, 2020. Presenting Sponsor of the 2020 MusicRow Awards is City National Bank.

Click here to see the full list of MusicRow Awards nominees.

Winners are determined solely by MusicRow Magazine subscribed members. Voting is now open and closes on July 17 at 5 p.m..

To receive a ballot to vote in the MusicRow Awards, become a MusicRow member here.

Brock Berryhill is the only nominee in this category who earned three No. 1s during the eligibility period: “What Happens In A Small Town” (Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell), and Kane Brown’s pair of chart-toppers “Good As You” and “Homesick.” Berryhill has previous cuts by Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Jake Owen and Chris Janson.

Ash Bowers has had notable success in recent years as a publisher, manager and producer, and 2019 yielded his first No. 1 as a songwriter. He co-wrote “Prayed For You” with fellow nominees Allison Veltz-Cruz and Matt Stell, which became Stell’s breakthrough hit. Additionally, Bowers and Stell co-produced the track.

Ben Burgess earned his first No. 1 as co-writer of “Whiskey Glasses,” recorded by Morgan Wallen. This follows Burgess’ numerous cuts with artists as diverse as Dierks Bentley, Tyler Rich, Lil Wayne, Diplo, Martin Garrix & Troye Sivan, and HARDY. Burgess recently signed with Big Loud Records as an artist.

Jennifer Denmark earned her first No. 1 as co-writer of “Make Me Want To,” recorded by Jimmie Allen. She penned the song with fellow Breakthrough Songwriter nominee Paul Sikes. Denmark adds this success to her previous cuts by Florida Georgia Line, Kelsea Ballerini, Hunter Hayes, Jason Mraz, and Aaron Carter.

Josh Dunne celebrated his first No. 1 with “What Happens In A Small Town,” recorded by Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell, and co-written with fellow Breakthrough Songwriter nominee Brock Berryhill. This follows Dunne’s cuts by Chris Young, Kane Brown, and The Cadillac Three.

Sam Ellis scored his first No. 1 as co-writer of “What If I Never Get Over You,” recorded by Lady A. Ellis followed that success with an even bigger hit—”More Hearts Than Mine,” written with fellow MusicRow Awards nominees Ingrid Andress and Derrick Southerland. They are the only Breakthrough nominees who simultaneously scored a Song of the Year nomination.

Lonnie Fowler charted his first No. 1 single with “Slow Dance in a Parking Lot,” written with and recorded by Jordan Davis. Fowler’s other cuts include additional songs recorded by Davis, as well as a Bucky Covington single.

Zachary Kale’s collaboration with newcomer Gabby Barrett resulted in her breakout No. 1, “I Hope.” Kale co-wrote and co-produced the track which was certified Platinum by the RIAA and is now a crossover hit on the pop charts. Kale also has writing credits on Barrett’s follow-up single “The Good Ones,” and Matt Stell’s new song “If I Was A Bar.”

Randy Montana has a solid track record of major label cuts, but it wasn’t until 2019 that he scored his first No. 1, as co-writer of Luke Combs’ “Beer Never Broke My Heart.” Montana’s golden touch continued into 2020 with another No. 1, “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” recorded by Carly Pearce and Lee Brice, and with Parker McCollum’s single, “Pretty Heart.”

Drew Parker earned his first No. 1 hit as co-writer of “Homemade,” recorded by Jake Owen. Parker adds this success to a string of Luke Combs cuts including “This One’s for You,” “Nothing Like You,” and “1, 2 Many” ft. Brooks & Dunn.

Hunter Phelps scored two hits during the eligibility period: “Talk You Out Of It,” recorded by Florida Georgia Line, and “I Don’t Know About You,” recorded by Chris Lane. Phelps co-wrote “Talk You Out of It” with fellow Breakthrough Songwriter nominee Alysa Vanderheym. Phelps also has credits on Chase Rice’s current single “Lonely If You Are.”

Paul Sikes earned his first No. 1 with “Make Me Want To,” co-written with fellow Breakthrough Songwriter nominee Jennifer Denmark, and recorded by Jimmie Allen. Sikes follows that success with writing credits on “Everywhere But On,” the new single by Breakthrough Artist nominee Matt Stell.

Derrick Southerland teamed with Sam Ellis and Ingrid Andress to write the No. 1 hit “More Hearts Than Mine.” This talented trio are the only Breakthrough nominees who are also nominated for Song of the Year. Southerland’s catalog is home to more cuts by Andress, Seaforth, High Valley and Kane Brown.

Alysa Vanderheym earned her first Top 10 as a co-writer of “Talk You Out Of It,” penned with fellow MusicRow Awards nominees Hunter Phelps, HARDY and Jameson Rodgers, and recorded by Florida Georgia Line. Vanderheym also has writing credits on the singles “Lose Somebody” (KYGO ft. OneRepublic), and “Fight” (Tayla Parx ft. Florida Georgia Line).

Allison Veltz-Cruz celebrated her first No. 1 hit as co-writer of “Prayed For You,” which she penned with fellow MusicRow Awards nominees Ash Bowers and Matt Stell. Among Veltz-Cruz’s other cuts are songs recorded by Carly Pearce, Kalie Shorr, Ross Ellis and Chris Bandi.


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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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