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.

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