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'We're In a Hope Business' Says Josh Hoge, SESAC's Country Songwriter of the Year

Anna Webber/FilmMagic
Josh Hoge arrives to the 2016 SESAC Nashville awards at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Oct. 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tenn.

“My son doesn’t have a godfather, but Chris Young might become it after tonight.”

Josh Hoge was effusive Oct. 30 as he claimed SESAC’s Songwriter of the Year honor during the performing rights organization’s annual Nashville Music Awards, held at the Country Music Hall of Fame last night (Oct. 30).

Hoge wrote the first two singles from Young’s current album -- the title track, “I’m Comin’ Over”; and the Cassadee Pope duet “Think Of You” -- and he was a co-writer of Kane Brown’s gold-certified “Used To Love You Sober.” All three of those songs present an emotional take on life after a breakup, appropriate for Hoge, who ended his relationship with the road less than two years ago. Hoge was part of a duo, Jukebox Mafia, that toured with Miranda Lambert, but after years of chasing an artist’s career, he decided to chuck that pursuit and take up writing fulltime, allowing him to stay at home and be more present as a father.

The songwriting relationship with Young blossomed -- Hoge co-wrote six of the 11 songs on the album I’m Comin’ Over -- and it’s had a huge impact on his quality of life.

“I drive a nicer car, and I live in a nicer house,” Hoge said on the red carpet.

Hoge was one of numerous songwriters and artists who joined together at the SESAC event to celebrate a quirky career choice that’s paid dividends. At least four different writers and artists, including Pope and Kelsea Ballerini, said specific songs had changed their lives. The writers’ medallions merely hinted at their new attitudes and elevated status as the spotlight focused momentarily on a different part of the hit-making chain.

“To me, it seems like it should be reversed, the songwriters should be the big stars,” said Billy Currington. “It all starts with a song.”

Dierks Bentley made a surprise appearance to announce the song of the year -- “Somewhere On a Beach,” penned by SESAC members Jaron Boyer and Michael Tyler with three composers from other PROs -- in the first of three nights of songwriter awards in Nashville.

Zac Brown and Niko Moon were recognized for three songs -- “Homegrown,” “Castaway” and “Beautiful Drug” -- while Wyatt Durrette shared in honors for “Homegrown” and “Castaway.” Boyer added Dustin Lynch’s “Hell Of A Night” to his winning entries for the evening, and Justin Wilson logged two winners: Randy Houser’s “We Went” and Michael Ray’s “Kiss You In The Morning.”

While the country trophies got the bulk of the attention, SESAC continued to set itself apart from the competition by recognizing eight Americana albums during its ceremony, including Loretta Lynn’s Full Circle, Jim Lauderdale’s double-disc Soul Searching, Wynonna & the Big Noise and Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.

SESAC executive vp of creative & business affairs Dennis Lord noted that the agency began recognizing the American roots-music genre more than 15 years ago.

“Those of us who were involved in Americana in its earliest days deeply believed in this music,” Lord said, “and we believe in it today because for many of us, Americana music continues to capture the essence of who we are and what we hold most dear.”

Connecting emotionally is at the center of that pursuit, and SESAC’s event set a tone for the coming week, in which organizers expect to highlight country’s songs and artists that have been most successful at bridging the gap between Music Row writing rooms and audio speakers across the U.S. In addition to ASCAP and BMI’s soirees Oct. 13 and Nov. 1, the 50th annual Country Music Association awards, hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, will be presented Nov. 2 on ABC.

“We’re in a hope business,” Hoge told the room as he accepted the SESAC songwriter of the year honor. “You go in and you try to write the best songs you can, and you hope somebody likes it, you hope somebody records it, and that’s all you can do. But then when that happens and you’re fortunate to have a few No. 1s, I told Chris maybe a year ago when we started writing this record that I was out of the hope business when I knew I was gonna have singles on the radio. Then it became a want -- this is the one award that I wanted.”

Now, Hoge wants another.

“I hope,” he said, “y’all get so tired of hearing my name in 2017.”