Songwriter Josh Osborne Discusses His Musical Journey and Writing Hits for Country's Biggest Stars

Josh Osborne
Fred Hayes/Getty Images

Josh Osborne photographed on Jan. 27, 2016 in Park City, Utah. 

You may not know Josh Osborne's name, but you know his songs. Since Chris Young gave the Kentucky native his big break with his "Neon" single, it’s been a career that ranks as one of the biggest in the Nashville songwriting profession. He’s had his songs cut by many of the top artists in the format – ranging from current critical favorite Kacey Musgraves to Country Music Hall of Fame member Reba McEntire.

At this past Sunday’s 53rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, he was well-represented. He drew the prize for song of the year for his contribution to "Body Like A Backroad," was also nominated for single of the year for his role in producing Midland’s "Drinkin’ Problem," and was also listed in the songwriter of the year category.

All in all, the native of Pike County, Kentucky has done quite well for himself -- so well that his hometown has named a part of the historic Kentucky Music Highway in his honor. He beams with hometown pride when talking about the honor, saying "That was probably the biggest honor of my career -- them putting me on the Country Music Highway. I grew up on that highway, and listening to everyone on it," he says of artists such as Dwight Yoakam and Keith Whitley.

Music was everywhere during Josh’s growing-up years, and he tells Billboard that it was only a natural evolution for him. "My father’s mother had been in a singing group when she was young from Virginia. When I was humming along with music, she would tell my parents that they needed to encourage that and get him to sing more. It just developed after that, and I remember being five years old, and going to sing the National Anthem at some of the basketball games in the area." 

He knew he was hooked on singing, as he would start a band when he was barely a teenager. But, it was a musical passion of his father that led him to discover a fascination with composition. "Then my dad introduced me to The Beatles’ music, and it really made me fall in love with the craft of songwriting," he recalls. "Then, I started to write songs. My dad was a huge driving force in that -- both my parents were, but my dad said, 'You love this. You should chase it.'  My parents were big believers in anything being possible. I came to Nashville for the first time when I was fifteen, and knew that it was something that I wanted to do with my life."

Osborne would make periodic visits to Music City, and less than a week after graduating, he moved to Nashville. That was 1998. His first cut -- the aforementioned "Neon" -- didn’t happen for a dozen years. Twelve long years. But, it seemed that year by year, he could see the end goal in sight -- which he says kept him going.

"The thing about the music business that’s great is that you get just enough carrots dangles in front of you to think 'I’m almost there. I can see it,'" Osborne relates. "It’s one of those things where if you had told me in the beginning that it would take 12 years to get a cut, or 14 to have a No. 1, I don’t know whether I would have had the strength to keep doing it. Because it’s that great unknown -- today could be the day, this song could be the song -- that’s the magic of it. I think that in that twelve years, it just really made me learn -- as cliched as it sounds -- that I truly had to love the process of doing it." 

That corner was "Neon," which hit No. 23 on the Country Songs chart for Young in 2012. Just a few months later, Osborne would turn on the various country music countdowns, and hear his song as the No. 1 record in the nation for the first time -- Kenny Chesney's "Come Over," which he penned with Shane McAnally and Sam Hunt. That was a moment that he will never forget.

"It is very much like an out of body experience. When it happens, as much as there’s excitement, there’s also a lot of relief. 'OK, I am not insane. This all has not been for nothing. I was right to keep chasing this.' A sane person would’ve stopped, but I just kept going after it. All these things that you’ve been trying for, and all the dreams that I’ve had in my life. I can at least -- if nothing else ever happens -- I’m one of a select group of people that can say I was the writer on a No. 1 song. It changes everything."

That is a definite understatement. Since Chesney took "Come Over" to the top, Osborne has been represented on the airwaves with such titles as "We Are Tonight" (Billy Currington), "Sangria" (Blake Shelton), and "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16" (Keith Urban). He currently has writing credits on six songs on Billboard's Country Airplay chart -- Chesney’s "Get Along," Old Dominion’s "Hotel Key," LANCO’s "Born To Love You," Morgan Evans’s "Kiss Somebody," Jerrod Niemann’s "I Got This," and Midland’s new single, "Burn Out." 

He says he tries to approach his career the same way that he did when he was struggling in the early 2000’s."I think because I had so many years of trying to get to this success, I never take any of it for granted," he offers. "The fact that six of them are out at the same time is a miracle. It means everything had to go my way. There are other songs that are in contention to be singles, and deserving songs. For whatever reason, the luck of the draw went my way. I don’t sit back and think 'This is because I wrote the best songs.' I just wrote songs that are right for that moment, and for whatever reason, they were chosen. I try not to get too full of myself."

Osborne – who also is a partner at the Award winning publishing powerhouse SMACKSongs recently tried the production hat on for size with his work on Midland’s critically lauded On The Rocks. "It’s very different for me," he says of his new role. "I don’t think of myself as a producer. That’s never been an aspiration of mine. I will say that I got to work with two of the best in all of music in Shane McAnally and Dann Huff... you had the three of us working together, it just felt very collaborative and creative. If I was going to produce something, I think that I jumped in on the right project."


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