Kane Brown's 'Heaven' Sweeps SESAC Nashville Music Awards

 Jason Kempin/Getty Images for SESAC
SESAC VP of creative services Shannan Hatch, chairman and CEO of SESAC John Josephson, Matt McGinn and SESAC President and COO Kelli Turner attend the 2018 SESAC Nashville Music Awards at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Nov. 11, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn. 

The title earned song of the year, its co-writer Matt McGinn swiped songwriter of the year and McGinn’s publisher, SMACKWorks, took publisher of the year.

Kane Brown may be surprisingly absent from the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards' ballot, but he had a huge impact on the first of four straight Nashville music awards evenings this week, as his hit “Heaven” played a role in the top three trophies at the SESAC Nashville Music Awards on Sunday.

The title earned SESAC song of the year, while one of its co-writers, Matt McGinn, swiped songwriter of the year and McGinn’s publisher, SMACKWorks, took publisher of the year. It marked McGinn’s first time to reign in the awards and it came on the heels of his second major hit with Brown: McGinn also co-wrote “What Ifs.”

McGinn interrupted his acceptance speech to decline a phone call from Brown -- or, perhaps, act as if Brown was calling him -- then turned his attention fully on the benefits of his vocation.

“I love songs,” McGinn said. “It’s honestly the longest and healthiest relationship I’ve had in my life -- the only healthy relationship, to be honest. I love songs. I can’t believe I do this for a living.”

Held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the event kicked off Country Music Week in Nashville. Rival performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI hold their own country songwriter awards Monday (Nov. 12) and Tuesday, respectively, while the CMA wraps the parade of winners with its 52nd annual ceremony on Wednesday.

SESAC writer Josh Hoge snagged an award for co-writing the Chris Young hit “Losing Sleep,” and was joined in the winners circle by Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott (“Heart Break”), Justin Ebach (“Singles You Up”), Casey Brown (“Yours”), Seth Mosley (“She’s With Me”) and Sammy Mitchell (“One Number Away”).

Additionally, SESAC recognized members who contributed to a handful of significant Americana albums. Among them: Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, for their work on Price’s album All American Made; Kevin Welch, Brice Long and Jaron Boyer for songs on Chris Stapleton’s From A Room, Vol. 2; and Jamey Johnson, Rosanne Cash and Robert Glasper for material on the album Johnny Cash: Forever Words.

Viewers of the televised CMAs will be focused primarily on the artists, though the power of songwriters -- whom SESAC CEO John Josephson hailed as “one of America’s greatest treasures” -- was on full display during the SESAC event.

Johnson and John Carter Cash opened the awards with a performance of the stately “Spirit Rider,” the final track on Forever Words, and Lee Brice delivered a fierce rendition of “I Drive Your Truck,” his 2012 grief-filled ballad that pays tribute to a soldier wounded in action. The performance drew a standing ovation from the audience -- including a table of enlisted personnel invited to honor the Veterans Day timing -- while the moment also drew attention to Folds of Honor, a charity that looks after the families of veterans killed in service.

“It’s almost like there’s two celebrations going on tonight,” Brice observed on the red carpet.

Developing artists Runaway June, Tyler Rich, Michael Tyler and Seaforth performed, as well, though the confirmation of Kane Brown’s success was a dominating factor during the night. Coming two days after the release of his sophomore album, Experiment, the “Heaven”-sent attention highlighted what appears to be an extended transitional period for country, with its increasingly fluid styles and its evolving options for artist development.

“There are so many things unique about Kane,” McGinn said before the awards. “It’s a non-conventional country trajectory, just because radio didn’t initially break him. He had a fan base pre-radio, which is amazing. And I don’t know this for a fact, but I feel like a lot of those people don’t necessarily listen to country music. So he’s got one fan base and then once he broke on country radio he’s got a whole new fan base. There’s two different wells that he’s dipping from.”


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.