In Demand: How HARDY Became Country's Hit Songwriter

Tanner Gallagher


When Michael Hardy was 17, he wrote his first song “to impress a girl,” he recalls. He continued to craft “John Mayer-sounding” originals until his older sister, who was attending Belmont University in Nashville, suggested he move to Music City and try to land a publishing deal. “If it wasn’t for her, I would’ve never known there was a whole industry behind [songwriting],” he says. “I learned there were more songwriters than there were artists on the radio.”

Hardy signed his first publishing deal in 2014 thanks to Dennis Matkosky, his cousin who had reached out on Facebook (in 2017, Hardy signed his current deal with Relative Music Publishing) — and soon after, his career took off. The 29-year-old (who releases music as HARDY) reconnected with Florida Georgia Line, whom he met at a party years prior, and started writing with the hitmaking duo.

Soon, FGL’s Tyler Hubbard was asking Hardy to sing the group’s demos while pushing him to record his own music. Six months later, the singer-songwriter had an offer from Big Loud for a record deal. In September 2019, the go-to country songwriter called on his connections for the star-studded Hixtape Vol. 1, and come Sept. 4, HARDY will release his solo debut, A Rock, which translates the writing ability he has used to score other hits. “We knew exactly what direction this record was going,” he says, “and didn’t second-guess ourselves at all.”

At the top of 2019, HARDY had “just come off of a week of deer hunting and hanging on property that has been in my family for 100 years” when he went into a session with the idea for a song called “God’s Country.” Within days, Matkosky sent the track to Blake Shelton’s longtime producer, Scott Hendricks, while HARDY texted Big Loud co-founder Seth England: “If Blake doesn’t cut this next week, I will. LOL.” Six days later, Shelton recorded the track, which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. Shelton later invited HARDY to his Oklahoma ranch to film the “Hell Right” music video. “We kicked it with him and Gwen [Stefani] for three days. It was crazy.


In 2014, HARDY, Brad Clawson and CJ Solar wrapped a songwriting session with just a verse and a chorus, “then never got back together to finish it,” he says. “The second verse got written over a text thread.” HARDY says he and Clawson tweaked the track for nearly three years until several demos of what eventually became “Up Down” were floating around. It wasn’t until Clawson performed it acoustically at the Key West Songwriters Festival that England wanted it for the label’s then-emerging artist, Morgan Wallen. “After all that,” says HARDY, “the only thing that struck [anyone’s] attention was hearing the raw version.”


One day, HARDY, Hunter Phelps and Ashley Gorley left a session with just a chorus; months later, while working with Jameson Rodgers (a friend of HARDY’s who lived in the apartment below him) and struggling to come up with an idea, Rodgers asked: “What happened to that ‘I Don’t Know About You’ song? It’s badass.” HARDY scrambled to find the work tape from that day, used his at-home track rig to build up the beat and lent his vocals to the demo. “We wrote the verses, and that was that — it was done,” he says of the track later recorded by Chris Lane, which became the artist’s first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

This article originally appeared in the August 15, 2020 issue of Billboard.