Ten years after Laura Veltz moved to Nashville something remarkable happened. Driving around Music City in 2018, there were days when the songwriter would hear three songs she wrote on country radio: Maren Morris’ first Billboard Country Airplay No. 1 “I Could Use a Love Song” and top 5 hit “Rich,” and Dan + Shay’s multi-week chart topper, “Speechless.”
“It’s a really special thing,” she tells Billboard over the phone from her home in Nashville. “You start to hear what you’re actually contributing to on the radio. You hear the differentiation of what your mark is. You start hearing yourself, whether or not you meant to write yourself into the song. It does make me feel a little bit like what an artist might feel when they hear [themselves] on the radio.”
Signed to Big Machine Music, Veltz is leading the charge in the writing room in what appears to be a dire time for female songwriters in country music. A recent report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative cited that just 12 percent of the top 200 country songs over a two-year period were penned or co-penned by females.
When Veltz moved to town in 2008 to pursue a career as a songwriter after years traveling in a family band, she says the lack of females in the writing room and on the radio was the starkest. Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift were the only three females seeing steady radio success. “If you wanted to have a job [as a songwriter], you better figure out how to do this for everybody,” she says.
She remains hopeful though, adding that the topics discussed on the radio today are very different than they were several years ago. “The subjects that boys are willing to talk about are evolving,” she notes. “Boys are talking about their feelings a little bit more than they used to be. People are willing to talk about their feelings in a way that wasn’t happening when I moved here. My job security got a little bit better because that’s how I approach songs — emotionally — and that’s our gift as women.”
This shift can be heard on Dan + Shay’s 2018 career-defining single “Speechless,” which Veltz penned with the duo and Jordan Reynolds. “Speechless” spent four consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart — making Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney the only country duo to achieve this feat in the past five years. “Speechless” also led the charge for country streaming, and received pop airplay.
The song came together late in the writing session as Veltz recalls Smyers suggesting they write the “wedding song of the century.” She says his instincts were “spot on.”
“It’s really easy to take a subject like that and strip it down to just the way a woman looks on a certain day. That’s kind of the old-school approach to women,” Veltz says. “It really makes me feel so great being in a room with three men who understand why it’s important to involve why you love a woman by incorporating all of the parts of a woman, all of the aspects of a woman rather than just the texture of how short her shorts are. That’s not the game I’m in.”
She adds, “Sometimes our [female] characters can come out a little bit weak and I will never put my hand to that. I will never write a song where a woman is a weakling. I can’t do it.”
Veltz then discusses writing with Morris, who is also well known for her strong female characters and unique storylines. Morris’ “I Could Use a Love Song” was another 2018 chart topper for Veltz. The poignant ballad, which she penned with Morris and Jimmy Robbins, was written on difficult day: She was pulled over.
“I was pulled over for expired tags, so it wasn’t even for something cool like speeding,” she recalls, laughing. “I arrived pretty late and everyone was grumpy that day. I’m really not sure exactly why, but Maren had a tough morning and Jimmy had a tough morning and we were all commiserating on that. At some point someone was like, ‘Why don’t we just go grab a drink?’ It was 11:30 or something. A bit early, but we went and grabbed a drink or three.”
Veltz says Robbins steered them back to writing a song, and asked Morris if she was missing anything for her debut album. “She thought for a second and was like, ‘I could really use a love song.’ I immediately wrote that down because I thought that was beautiful,” Veltz says. “On the way back to the studio we wrote the entire chorus. We were just singing in the air and it fell on us. Before we even got back to the studio, which was like a block away, we had the chorus and the verses came out real quickly as well, and then Maren sang the shit out of the demo. It was an amazing day. It was really special.”
Despite the song not coming from its co-writers’ strongest personal moments, Veltz swears that the song doesn’t break her “weakling” code. “‘I Could Use a Love Song’ is not weak — it’s vulnerable,” she clarifies. “There’s power on the other end of the spectrum.”
In addition to penning “I Could Use a Love Song” and “Rich,” both featured on Morris’ debut album Hero, Veltz co-wrote five tracks on her latest project, Girl. She also penned Ryan Hurd’s latest single “To a T” as well as Lady Antebellum’s new single “What If I Never Get Over You.” The latter is a track Veltz wrote with Hurd, Sam Ellis and Jon Green. She admits that the writers initially thought it’d be a song Hurd might cut for his own project.
“I am so overjoyed about that song. We were weeping all day writing the song,” she says. “The emotion of that song, I could feel that. I’m happily married but when I even [think about] the feeling of my husband not being here or dying or anything like that, if I listen to that song, I cannot get through it without breaking down.”
Veltz says the feeling of the song is relevant whether the listener is in love, lost love or simply wants to be in love. “The last chorus we changed the chorus lyrics. The line, ‘What if I end up with nothing to compare it to,’ just breaks me down,” she says. “The fear of having love, knowing you have it, and losing it and then wondering — will you ever have the courage to try again? That’s such a genuine human fear.”
For Veltz, the past 10 years as a songwriter have had their fair share of ups and downs. She credits her success to the fact that she feels music “at a really intense level.” It’s this intensity that she hopes translates to the listener.
“I hope I’m doing my job as a songwriter to help people explain how they feel. When people say things like, ‘Oh my God, that’s exactly how I feel,’ I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think it’s our job as songwriter human beings to help people who might not know how to express all of their emotions exactly,” she says. “I hope we’re helping them pinpoint something that they feel on every end of the emotional spectrum. That’s the dream. I’m living my dream for sure.”