Nashville’s Biggest Songwriters Speak Out About the Lack of Women on Country Radio and the Songs They Wish They Wrote

Nashville Power Players 2015

Originally Posted on Billboard

Hitmakers are the lifeblood of country music. “Songwriting is sort of a 9-to-5 job in Nashville,” says Michael Dulaney, who has collaborated on singles with Tanya Tucker and Jason Aldean. Unlike in other genres, where artists and producers disappear into studios or rented mansions for months, Nashville’s most successful treat the craft more like a profession than a mystical experience. “I write at least 150 songs a year, so there’s really not a ‘writing ritual,’ ” says Rhett Akins, who has 18 career No. 1 singles. “You just hope and pray on the way to the writing session that you’ve got a good idea — or that the person you’re writing with does.”

Billboard’s First-Ever Nashville Top 50 Power Players List Revealed

Songwriters Key

1. Chris DeStefano*
Known for: “Good Girl” (Carrie Underwood); “Kick the Dust Up” (Luke Bryan)
A personal song I’ve written: “ ‘Something in the Water’ [Carrie Underwood]. When I’m singing it, sometimes I get a lump in my throat.”


2. Josh Osborne, 35
Known for: “Take Your Time” (Sam Hunt); “Sangria” (Blake Shelton)
Word I overuse in lyrics: “ ‘Ceiling fan.’ When [Eli Young Band’s] ‘Drunk Last Night’ went to No. 1, Rhett [Akins] sent me a text that said, ‘ “Ceiling fan” must be the new “tailgate.” ’ ”

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3. Luke Laird, 37
Known for: “American Kids” (Kenny Chesney); “Give Me Back My Hometown” (Eric Church)
Why there aren’t more women on country radio: “Some of the best writers are female, but as far as writers in Nashville getting paid to write songs, it’s still more guys. That may have something to do with it.”


4. Nathan Chapman, 38
Known for: “Better Than You Left Me” (Mickey Guyton); “Homegrown Honey” (Darius Rucker)
Why there aren’t more women on country radio: “I don’t know. I’ve had 16 No. 1s as a producer and songwriter — and 12 of my No. 1s have been with female lead singers. It’s an important issue for me.”


5. Lee Thomas Miller, 46
Known for: “Southern Girl” (Tim McGraw); “In Color” (Jamey Johnson)
A personal song I’ve written: “My grandfather was in World War II, and we did a whole verse of ‘In Color’ [“In the middle of hell/In 1943”] about it.”

Dierks Bentley on His Bumpy Road to Stardom: ‘I Didn’t See It Working Out for Me’


6. Barry Dean, 48
Known for: “Pontoon” (Little Big Town); “Where We Left Off” (Hunter Hayes)
Most surprising place I’ve heard my song: “[At] my wife’s high school reunion, they were doing karaoke, and somebody did ‘Pontoon.’ They didn’t know I’d written it.”


7. Marv Green, 50
Known for: “Amazed” (Lonestar); “Who I Am With You” (Chris Young)
Dream collaborators: Tom Petty, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Merle Haggard, Mick Jagger.”


8. Natalie Hemby, 38
Known for: “Tornado” (Little Big Town); “Automatic” (Miranda Lambert)
I wish I wrote: “ ‘Burning House’ by Cam. It reminds me of something the Dixie Chicks would sing.”

Nashville Power Players: The Billboard Cover Shoot


9. Michael Dulaney, 51
Known for: “The Way You Love Me” (Faith Hill); “Night Train” (Jason Aldean)
I wish I wrote: “[Chesney’s] ‘American Kids.’ The language is very smart, like a little movie.”


10. Nicolle Galyon, 31
Known for: “We Were Us” (Keith Urban featuring Miranda Lambert); “Automatic” (Miranda Lambert)
Why there aren’t more women on country radio: “It’s not a lack of talent. I wish there were more women involved at the high level in record labels to help develop new female artists.”


11. Matt Ramsey, 37
Known for: “Chainsaw” (The Band Perry); “Say You Do” (Dierks Bentley)
Dream collaborator:  “I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, but if I was ever put in a room with him I’d probably cry.”

Stephen Colbert Inducts Toby Keith Into Songwriters Hall Of Fame: Read His Hilarious Speech


12. Jon Nite, 35
Known for: “We Were Us” (Keith Urban featuring Miranda Lambert); “Beachin’ ” (Jake Owen)
Word I overuse in lyrics: “Right now, I am instructed by my publishers not to use ‘truck’ or ‘whiskey.’ The problem is, I drive an F-150 and I live in Bourbon Country.”


13. Heather Morgan, 35
Known for: “Beat of the Music,” “Lose My Mind” (Brett Eldredge)
Word I overuse in lyrics: “ ‘Baby.’ Is that too obvious?”


14. Trevor Rosen, 40
Known for: “Say You Do” (Dierks Bentley); “Sangria” (Blake Shelton)
Dream collaborator: “Eminem. I’m from Detroit, too.”

Nashville Songwriters Hall Adds Rosanne Cash


15. Liz Rose, 57
Known for: “You Belong With Me” (Taylor Swift); “Girl Crush” (Little Big Town)
Most surprising place I’ve heard my song: “I was with a group of girls, and we’d been drinking on the beach all day. ‘You Belong With Me’ came on, so I said to the bartender, ‘I wrote that.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Sure you did, lady.’”


16. Rhett Akins, 45
Known for: “I Don’t Want This Night to End” (Luke Bryan); “Boys ’Round Here” (Blake Shelton featuring Pistol Annies & Friends)
I wish I wrote: “ ‘Sangria’ by Blake Shelton. All my friends write these songs, so I’m like, ‘Dang, how come we didn’t write that together?’ ”


17. Brad Tursi, 35
Known for: “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” (Tyler Farr)
Dream collaborator: “Pharrell. He’s been a part of so many great modern hits, I’d like to see how that works.”


18. Shane McAnally, 40
Known for: “Merry Go ’Round” (Kacey Musgraves); “Take Your Time” (Sam Hunt); “American Kids” (Kenny Chesney)
I wish I wrote: “ ‘Teenage Dream’ by Katy Perry. I’m obsessed with that song.”
Most surprising place I’ve heard my song: “Kacey Musgraves had her album-release party at a Nashville bar called Play. She had drag queens come out and each do a song, so I watched nine of my songs performed by drag queens.”

Big Loud Record Label Hits the Ground Running With One Artist and a Motown-Like Philosophy


19. Josh Kear, 40
Known for: “Need You Now” (Lady Antebellum); “Drunk on a Plane” (Dierks Bentley)
Most surprising place I’ve heard my song: “I was in Sri Lanka last year. I was holding my daughter, waiting in the bathroom line inside a marketplace, and I heard ‘Need You Now’ over the intercom.”


20. Ross Copperman, 32
Known for: “Pirate Flag” (Kenny Chesney); “Tip It on Back” (Dierks Bentley)
Word I overuse in lyrics: “We’re all trying to stray from the bro thing, you know? So ‘truck,’ I guess.”

Listen to songs from Nashville’s biggest songwriters (and more music from this issue) in the Spotify playlist below:

This story originally appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of Billboard.

‘Yeah Boy’: Why Kelsea Ballerini Is Country Radio’s Gutsiest Songwriter

Originally posted on written by

Kelsea Ballerini

“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,” Tammy Wynette croons on the first line of her 1968 classic “Stand By Your Man.” In recent years that’s proven particularly true in commercial country, where a fairly anonymous army of beer-swilling dudes in plaid shirts have dominated the charts. The crest of so-called “bro-country” even earned seemingly infallible stars like Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton the dubious distinction of being the lettuce in the country “salad,” while the women are the tomatoes (far less plentiful, on purpose) — at least according to one guileless country radio exec, who recently used that ill-advised metaphor to explain the lack of women on his playlist.

But this past week, it’s been the women who are making the news. Kacey Musgraves, darling of blogs and mainstream country fans alike (how many artists can say they debuted their Redbook cover and did an in-store performance at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade the same day?) released her highly anticipated sophomore album Pageant Material to generally glowing reviews, and KelseaBallerini‘s very first single “Love Me Like You Mean It” hit the top of the Country Airplay chart. This is the first time a woman’s earned the top slot with her debut since 2006, when Carrie Underwood (who had just won American Idol) scored a hit with “Jesus Take The Wheel.” The last time a solo (indie, no less) female artist reigned? None other than a pre-crossover Taylor Swift, with “Ours” in 2012.

At first glance, the two artists seem to represent completely opposite visions of what being a woman in country means in 2015. Kelsea, with her long blonde hair and perma-cutoffs, could easily be the “Girl In A Country Song” recently described by Maddie & Tae in their tongue-in-cheek single. Her commercial appeal is matched by the textbook Nashville production on her debut album The First Time(released this May), a shiny veneer that almost (but not quite) disguises the depth of her songwriting talent. Kacey, on the other hand, has a nose stud, brown hair, and a decidedly “not like the rest” attitude — and it’s earned. Her standout songs about everything from friends with benefits to how small-town life can be a little rougher than the barbeques and bikinis made her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park one of 2013’s most acclaimed, across all genres. Though she’s not “Miss Congenial,” as she told Billboard, her songs are bright enough to bring her a mainstream audience as well as indie cred.

But they’re actually much more similar than first impressions would suggest — both got their start with songwriting deals in Nashville, precocious talents who wrote hits for other people before eventually proving they had the appeal to take the stage themselves. And Ballerini’s songs, even with their commercial bent, have the same level of depth and thoughtfulness that brought Musgraves to the forefront — depth that seems to, for Musgraves, fallen victim to the notorious sophomore slump.

“Oh hey,” Ballerini sings in the opening to “Love Me Like You Mean It” — “Boy with your hat back/Mmm I kind of like that/if you wanna walk my way.” This is “Call Me Maybe,” minus the hedging (no “this is crazy” here). Ballerini is reigning country radio with a song about being a young woman who’s openly expressing interest in a man — something that shouldn’t be a declaration of radical feminism, but kind of is, even in 2015. The song continues like a country version of the TLC classic “No Scrubs” — “I don’t have time to waste on the boys/That are playing the games/And leaving the girls crying out in the rain.” This is the genre’s much-needed pro-hollering/anti-asshole anthem.

Ballerini’s next single, “Dibs,” is another song about hitting on guys, which Ballerini seems to do almost effortlessly. Instead of seeming insane or desperate, which women who make the first move are often portrayed as, it’s a welcome addition to the country come-on canon. “Hey baby, what’s your status, and tell me are you tryna keep it?” she sings to some anonymous man, whom she sums up as tidily with her “blue jeans and ball cap” description as all those oft-lauded country heroines in cutoffs and sundresses. She is, more or less, Cam’ron on “Hey Ma.” “Yeah Boy” is yet another variation on the theme — “Yeah, boy, I wanna take a little ride with you/Yeah, boy, I wanna spend a little time with you/Yeah, boy, I wanna sip a little wine with you,” she asks with a wink. It’s not that she’s consciously rebelling against the status quo, it’s that she’s smoothly stepping over it with so much skill that no one’s the wiser. She’s not perturbed by the idea of approaching a man — why should you be?

Her frankness and honesty are rooted in country’s long tradition of storytelling, a tradition that she deftly adapts to both 21st century and timeless concerns. “First Time,” “Sirens,” and the album’s strongest track, a post-divorce lament called “Secondhand Smoke,” have powerful narratives and are sung with the kind of conviction that’s earning Ballerini comparisons to her biggest cosign yet: Taylor Swift.

Musgraves, by contrast, seems to have let Pageant Material get away from her. Stuffed full of poor knock-offs of songs she’s already written (the only “mind your own business” anthem anyone should be listening to is “The Trailer Song”) and smug odes to coupledom (there’s a reason being happily in love is a topic most songwriters avoid), the new album lacks the bite of her earlier work. She commented during her Bonnaroo performance that the lead single “Biscuits” had been “pulled from radio” — considering the song’s fairly innocuous (if chiding) content, it seems unlikely to have been a moral issue.

Her laidback vibe, a strength in the consistently overwrought realm of Nashville, turns laissez-faire with didactic tracks that rely on dusty cliches, but shy from giving them any real-world context. All that on top of the fact that Musgraves insisting she’s not “pageant material” is about as believable as Beyoncé saying “pretty hurts.” “Die Fun,” “Dime Store Cowgirl” and her duet with Willie Nelson (which he wrote) “Are You Sure” show her spark — which will hopefully be brighter on her next release.

The very fact that there are two such incredible women leading the country discussion (maybe for just a week, but even so) is ultimately a sign of the genre’s vitality, and that it deserves more credit than the broader music community has been giving it. Kacey isn’t an anomaly, she’s one talented artist out of many — so it’s probably time to stop treating her like one.

Watch: Lee Brice Joins Garth Brooks for Surprise ‘More Than A Memory’ Duet

At a recent tour stop in Boston on Saturday (Jan. 26), Garth Brooks brought out a surprise guest for a performance of “More Than a Memory.” It was Lee Brice, who wrote the song, and Brooks took it to No. 1 back in 2007. This was Brice’s very first hit as a songwriter.

After the show, the guys had a love fest on twitter:

30 Lines Proving 2014 Was The Year Of The Singer-Songwriter

originally posted on Buzzfeed

No matter the genre, these thoughtful lyrics will get you right in the gut. Celebrate the Year in Music and get the last of your 2014 discoveries in now with Spotify!

First Aid Kit

Rob Ball / Getty Images

Vance Joy

Getty Images / Ryan Pierse

St. Vincent

Getty Images / Larry Busacca

1. “I’m an open book, clear and white as a morning skyline. I’ve got no candy-coated lines, no pretty words, no compromise…”
 – Elizabeth & The Catapult, “Open Book”

2. “Something good comes with the bad, a song’s never just sad, there’s hope, there’s a silver lining…”First Aid Kit, “My Silver Lining”

3. “This cowboy’s running from himself, and she’s been living on the highest shelf. Oh, and they come unstuck…”Vance Joy, “Riptide”

4. “Coldest winter for me, no sun is shining anymore, the only thing I feel is pain, caused by absence of you…”Milky Chance, “Stolen Dance”

5. “You got me here, locked in this bathroom full of tears, and I have begged for you and I have borrowed, but I’ve been the only sister to my own sorrow…Jenny Lewis, “Just One of the Guys”

6. “Don’t you know me? No family is safe, when I sashay…”Perfume Genius, “Queen”

7. “I had to go through hell to prove I’m not insane, had to meet the devil just to know his name…”Ella Henderson, “Ghost”

8. “I know my words will dry upon the skin, just like a name I remember hearing…”Sylvan Esso, “Coffee”

9. “People turn the TV on, it looks just like a window – digital witnesses, what’s the point of even sleeping? If I can’t show it, you can’t see me…”St. Vincent, “Digital Witness”

10. “There is a way to be yourself, I assure you this; there’s a way to catch your dreams without falling asleep; you might as well get it while you can, babe…”Seinabo Sey, “Younger”


Getty Images / Bertrand Guay

Sharon Van Etten

Getty Images / Steve Jennings

Benjamin Booker

Erika Goldring / Getty Images

11. “A friend indeed, come build me up; come shed your light, it makes me shine; you get the message, don’t you ever forget it; let’s laugh and cry, until we die…”Mapei, “Don’t Wait”

12. “The truth could never come without your smile; but life should’ve warned you, a limit known is a limit left behind…”How to Dress Well, “Repeat Pleasure”

13. “How I learned not to care, if you’re not the story that’s easily seized; and how can you treat me so badly, if you love me don’t treat me so mean…”Foxygen, “How Can You Really”

14. “At the bottom of a well, I’m reliving my own hell, someone throws the ladder down, still don’t know what I have found, in our love…”Sharon Van Etten, “Our Love”

15. “You could be my favourite faded fantasy, I’ve hung my happiness upon what it all could be, and what it all could be, with you…”Damien Rice, “My Favourite Faded Fantasy”

16. “When your legs don’t work like they used to before, and I can’t sweep you off of your feet, will your mouth still remember the taste of my love? Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?”Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

17. “Take me to church, I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies, I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife, offer me that deathless death, Good God, let me give you my life…”Hozier, “Take Me to Church”

18. “Even though computers are taking up my time, even though there’s satellites roaming in space, even though my phone predicts the weather, we still can’t help you, the future is slow coming…”Benjamin Booker, “Slow Coming”

19. “I took a seat by the sea and I laid beneath the evergreen trees, and I decided I’d just try to be me, and I stopped seizing up, and so the season’s up, flavor your heart and your soul…”Twin Peaks, “Flavor”

20. “Nothing lasts, nothing stays, caught in this procession of unchanging days; what’s new is old, what’s old is gone; you’re pushed up to the edge, so put your wingsuit on…”Phish, “Wingsuit”

Jack White

Getty Images / AFP

Courtney Barnett

Getty Images / AFP

Sturgill Simpson

Getty Images / Erika Goldring

21. “Met Buddha yet another time and he showed me a glowing light within, but I swear that God is there every time I glare in the eyes of my best friend…”Sturgill Simpson, “Turtles All the Way Down”

22. “You were raised on a promise to find out over time, better come around to the new way, or watch as it all breaks down here, under the pressure…”The War on Drugs, “Under the Pressure”

23. “What Mom don’t know has taken its toll on me; it’s all I’ve seen that can’t be wiped clean; it’s hard to believe what it’s made of me…”Mac DeMarco, “Passing Out Pieces”

24. “They wanna burn down the prison, they’re lighting fires with the cash of the masses, and like the dough I don’t fall down; I’m so Detroit, I make it rise from the ashes…”Jack White, “Lazaretto”

25. “Now we don’t have to take it to extremes, we’ll keep our hands, our legs, even our lips apart; but I’m giving you my heart, my whole heart…”Angel Olsen, “Hi-Five”

26. “I’m so tired of being alone, these penitent walls are all I’ve known; songbird calling across the water, inside my silent asylum; blue, blue moon; oh don’t leave me on my own…”Beck, “Blue Moon”

27. “I cannot come back to this neighborhood, without feeling my own age; I walk past these houses where we once stood, I see past lives but somehow you’re still here…”Real Estate, “Past Lives”

28. “It must be tiring trying so hard, to look like you’re not really trying at all; I guess if you’re afraid of aiming too high, then you’re not really gonna have too far to fall…”Courtney Barnett, “Out of the Woodwork”

29. “Can’t find the lust, blown things on the bed; where is the heart? I walk with love. Death brings us close, death brings a ghost, with light and with love, tell me what to do…”Woods, “With Light and With Love”

30. “What a thing to be a witness to the sunshine, what a dream to just be walking on the ground, what a time to live among the ashen remnants of our love, it came before and I’m still looking for that now…”Conor Oberst, “Hundreds of Ways”

Don’t forget to check out what tracks are in your 2014 musical diary, and stream these talents starting right now on Spotify.

34 Brilliant British Singer-Songwriters To Discover

via Buzzfeed

Daniel Dalton / BuzzFeed
2. James Bay, Hitchin.

James Bay , Hitchin.

Alex Shahmiri / Via Facebook: jamesbaymusic

Folk pop. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

7. Minnie Birch, Hemel Hempstead.

Minnie Birch , Hemel Hempstead.

“Mend your heart songs.” iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

9. Billie Marten, London.

Billie Marten , London.

Nicholas Thompson / Via Facebook: billiemarten

Ethereal pop. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

10. Jon Gomm, Leeds.

Jon Gomm , Leeds.

Roland Wichser / Via Facebook: jongommofficial

Acoustic blues/folk. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

12. Davy Knowles, Isle of Man.

Davy Knowles , Isle of Man.

Alex Mealin / Via Facebook: DavyKnowles

Breakneck blues. Albums | Facebook | Twitter

13. Sinah, London.

Sinah , London.

Andreas Hornoff / Via Facebook: sinahofficial

Electro-pop. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

14. Jack Garratt, London.

Jack Garratt , London.

Soulful alt-pop. iTunes | Twitter | Facebook

16. Douglas Dare, London.

Douglas Dare , London.

Dusan Kacan / Via Facebook: douglasdaremusic

Alt-pop. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

17. Robyn Sherwell, Guernsey/London.

Robyn Sherwell , Guernsey/London.

Hannah Smiles / Via Facebook: robynsherwellmusic

Electro-pop. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

18. Adam French, Cheshire/London.

Adam French , Cheshire/London.

Blues rock. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

19. Kirsty Merryn, London.

Kirsty Merryn , London.

“Sad songs that make you feel better.” iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

21. Polly Paulusma, Cambridge.

Polly Paulusma , Cambridge.

Acoustic folk. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

23. Nina Nesbitt, Edinburgh.

Nina Nesbitt , Edinburgh.

Acoustic rock. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

24. Longy, London/Essex.

Longy , London/Essex.

eYe $eE y / Via Facebook: whoislongy

Blues/Rock. Music | Facebook | Twitter

25. Lauren Aquilina, London.

Lauren Aquilina , London.

“Reverby piano magical stuff.” iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

27. Little Rach, Manchester.

Little Rach , Manchester.

Acoustic folk. Music | Facebook | Twitter

28. Jamie Walker, Hertfordshire.

Jamie Walker , Hertfordshire.

Uplifting piano pop. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

29. Hana, Penarth/Cardiff.

Hana , Penarth/Cardiff.

Electro pop. Soundcloud | Facebook | Twitter

30. Harry Harris, London.

Harry Harris , London.

Acoustic folk. iTunes | Facebook | Twitter

33. Aaron, London.

Aaron , London.

Dreamy pop. YouTube | Facebook | Twitter

This is by no means a definitive list. If there is a British singer songwriter you want to tell the world about, add a link to their work in the comments.

Watch Tove Lo’s Intense ‘Not on Drugs’ Video

Tove Lo, is a Swedish singer, songwriter and musician from Stockholm, Sweden. She gained attention for her 2013 single “Habits”, and later mainstream success with a remix of the track by hip hop producers Hippie Sabotage titled “Stay High”. Her debut EP, Truth Serum, was released in March 2014 featuring both versions of the song as well as singles “Out of Mind” and “Not on Drugs”. In September 2014, Tove Lo’s debut album Queen of the Clouds, is set to be released in the U.S. through Island Records.

This week, she premeiered her latest video for “Not on Drugs.” Here is what she had to say about the experiance, “I choked on the paint, the smoke made me half blind and here is my three-minute trip that shows the intensity and weirdness I feel when falling in love,” Tove told Rolling Stone, via e-mail. “The main theme we had in mind while making this video was ‘What just happened?’ It was quite amazing making something with the happy piece of my heart this time!”

What We Know About Taylor Swift’s “1989”…

  • The new LP is titled 1989 and will drop Oct. 27 via Big Machine.
  • That’s the Polaroid-inspired album art up above.
  • There will also be a deluxe edition of the album including three bonus tracks — all voice memos recorded to Swift’s phone that turned into actual songs.
  • Check out Billboard’s review of 1989′s Max Martin-produced lead single “Shake It Off” here. The team that created I Knew You Were Trouble and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. Their goal, she said, was to created something that sounded “like nothing like anything I had done.”
  • “Shake It Off” has already topped Billboard’s Trending 140.
  • Taylor revealed that she’s been working on the new album for the past two years. “I woke up every single day that I was recording this album not wanting but needing to make a new style of music. What ended up happening was that we made the most sonically cohesive album I’ve ever made – my favorite album I’ve ever made”
  • The idea, Taylor revealed, was to “get a huge group of professional dancers and throw me into the middle of them and see what happens.”
  • This will be her “first documented, official pop album,”


Tweets of the Week