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
Austin Hargrave

Songwriters Chris DeStefano, Josh Osborne, Luke Laird, Nathan Chapman, Lee Thomas Miller, Barry Dean, Marv Green, Natalie Hemby, Michael Dulaney, Nicolle Gaylon, Matt Ramsey, Jon Nite, Heather Morgan, Trevor Rosen, Liz Rose, Rhett Akins, Brad Tursi, Shane McAnally, Josh Kear and Ross Cooperman photographed June 23 at Layla’s in Nashville.

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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