At three separate No. 1 parties recently, there has been a recurring sentiment made by all three artists—“I should cut more outside songs.”
When songwriters Jesse Frasure and Josh Thompson celebrated their outstanding song “Whiskey & Rain,” which is performed by Michael Ray, the artist-writer said, “I love writing songs. I feel like I’m getting into my best years of writing; I feel like I know who I am as an artist, and I know what I want to say. That being said, we wouldn’t have the foundation of Nashville if it wasn’t for songwriters, and I feel like they’re the last person on the totem pole a lot of times.”
Ray added, “When I go back to my heroes—Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Jason Aldean, Lee Brice, and Merle Haggard—they cut outside songs. My heroes cut outside songs. We’re a town that was built on songwriters. It means more to me than y’all know to say that I did not write this song.”
I’ve heard a similar sentiment from Maren Morris, who along with her hubby Ryan Hurd, delivered “Chasin’ After You” to the world. The well-traveled Music Row song and masterpiece written by Jerry Flowers and Brinley Addington rose to No. 1 and became Hurd’s very first chart-topping hit as a recording artist.
At the No. 1 party for “Chasing After You,” Morris said, “Once in a blue moon, an outside cut will go No. 1. I need to listen to this advice, too: artists can write songs, but every once in a while, for God’s sake, can you just let the professionals do it for you?”
As a long-time publisher, I will give a “Hallelujah and an Amen” to that statement.
Nashville is Music City USA—home of the best songwriters in the world. That has always been Nashville’s identity and a big part of Music Row’s legacy—the Songwriter is King & Queen here.
I vividly remember the days of tracks coming together after thousands and thousands of songs were pitched to create the perfect project for that artist. “Best song wins” was a phrase on everyone’s lips. Landing that perfect pitch and listening to the finished record while driving around Music Row was about the best high you could get as a publisher.
If you look at the charts, you’ll see that over the last few years, about 75% to 80% of the singles released in country music were co-written with the artist. Now, obviously Nashville is blessed with tremendous artist-writers that have strong voices and something to say, but it does seem that the ecosystem is out of balance.
To all industry friends—you wanna talk consumption?
Hurd & Morris’ “Chasin’ After You,” written by Flowers and Addington, earned more than 500 million streams. Jon Pardi’s “Dirt On My Boots,” written by Rhett Akins, Jesse Frasure and Ashley Gorley, notched over 800 million streams. Morgan Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses,” written by Ben Burgess and Kevin Kadish, garnered over 1 billion streams. And of course, the biggest streaming song in country music is an outside song—artfully chosen and performed by one of the best songwriters ever—Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey,” written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove, has achieved over 2 billion streams. Yes, those are billions with a B, and guess what? All of these songs are still racking up impressive consumption numbers years after their initial release.
It’s not easy to make a living as a songwriter these days. You are depending on your words and your music only—there are no ticket sales, merchandise or sponsorships providing you with income like an artist has.
If you really want to think about what it’s like to be a songwriter, imagine that every day when you show up for work you are tasked with creating something completely original… every damn day. The men and women that unlock this mystery are some of the most uniquely gifted human beings walking this planet. Period. End of sentence.
Cody Johnson understands. He was effusive in his praise of the Ben Stennis and Matt Rogers-penned mega hit “‘Til You Can’t.”
“Thank you for writing it,” Johnson said at the No. 1 party. “There are thousands of people out there that it’s changed. I realize that I got to be the microphone for it, but it’s changed me. It changed who I am at my core—the way I view my stress, the way I view my anxiety or whatever is going on in my career.”
Michael, Maren, Ryan, Cody and their teams, thanks for digging deep and finding these great songs. The Songwriters and Publishers of Music City appreciate you.
*Streaming Data from Luminate of total On-Demand + Programmed Audio Streams