Josh Osborne, Cole Swindell, and Other Top Songwriters Share Their Best Advice

When it comes to songwriting, there is more than one way to make it in the business. If you ask 10 songwriters for advice, you’ll get 10 different answers. But each answer shares a little more insight into the long road it takes to make it in the music industry.

So American Songwriter chatted with a few top songwriters, asking them, what is the best piece of songwriting advice you can give to aspiring songwriters? Here’s what they said.

Josh Osborne:

A few of his hits: “Merry Go Round” by Kacey Musgraves, “Take Your Time” and “Make You Miss Me” by Sam Hunt, “Sangria” by Blake Shelton, “Vice” by Miranda Lambert and “7 Summers” by Morgan Wallen.

“The industry is always evolving. I think there are opportunities now where young writers are getting in bigger rooms faster. The whole business has sped up. When I first moved to Nashville, there was a songwriter that I loved and admired who was very successful, and I met his publisher and asked “how long before I can execute in a room with that guy because if I can write with that guy, I could write a hit song.” He said, “Honestly, it’s gonna be a while.” When the time is right, when you’ve earned to be in that room, you’ll be in that room. And eventually, that did happen. And to be honest it was seven years later. It was a long time before I got in that room with that particular writer, and the funny thing is, it was fine. So the thing I’ve learned from all of that was if you are a person who thinks I write my best songs by myself, then focus on that, and really work on that. I would really encourage you to find joy in creating without people. That’s why I love being a co-writer.”

Ben Johnson:

A few of his hits: “Beers On Me” by Dierks Bentley Ft. Hardy & Breland, “Holy Water” by Michael Ray, “New Truck” by Dylan Scott, “Best Thing Since Backroads” by Jake Owen, and “Take My Name” by Parmalee

“If you don’t love the process, you’ll burn out really quickly. Be happy for others’ success, and don’t get discouraged when you aren’t moving at the same pace as someone else.”

JT Harding:

A few of his hits: “Smile” by Uncle Kracker, “Somewhere With You” by Kenny Chesney, “Sangria” by Blake Shelton, “Different For Girls” by Dierks Bentley, and “Alone With You” by Jake Owen.

“Be yourself. Don’t try to copy what’s popular, be the next trend. I wrote “Somewhere With You” which Kenny Chesney recorded and turned into a massive hit. At the time it had a unique fast singing melody that wasn’t on country radio and a unique breakup angle. If I had tried to write a beach song or a sexy tractor song, Kenny would never have noticed it. My song stood out from the crowd. I didn’t know it was unique but I wasn’t trying to be anyone else either. Also, co-write. Your ideas become better when looked at from different angles, and your network of people that can get your songs heard grows as well when there are a few writers on a song….all write, all write, all write!”

Mary Lambert:

A few of her hits: “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and “She Keeps Me Warm” by Lambert

“You don’t need to self-destruct or create chaos in your life to be a good songwriter. I used to think I needed to be unmedicated, unhinged, and reckless to have a good story, but I see now that pain is not the same thing as passion. Chaos is not art, it’s chaos.”

Poo Bear:

A few of his hits: “Where Are Ü Now” and “What Do You Mean?” by Justin Bieber, 10,000 Hours by Dan + Shay, “Burning” by Sam Smith, and “I Don’t Care” by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.

“Just to be brutally honest as a songwriter. A lot of songwriters feel like everything they write is amazing and I think it’s important to realize not everything you write is going to be great. It’s also important not to surround yourself with “yes men”, but with people who will give you honest criticism. That is the only way to grow as a writer and become better. I would also say listen to the radio to see if the music you are creating is on the same level as what you hear. If you are brutally honest with yourself as a writer and understand not everything you write is going to be amazing, you will be able to keep growing.”

Steve Perry:

A few of his hits: “Faithfully,” “Open Arms” “Separate Ways” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” by Journey, “Oh Sherrie” by Perry,

“I was watching The Beatles doc Get Back, and John [Lennon] says the best time to sort them [songs] out is when you’re doing them [says Perry in his best John Lennon accent]. I always agreed with that.

Don’t put it off, because the best time is when they first show up. That’s when they’re alive. And you can sort them out pretty well at that moment.”

Philip Peterson:

Producer: Artists he’s worked with: Lorde, Ed Sheehan, Portugal.The Man, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, Pink, Cashmere Cat, and Kehlani

“Make friends. Collaborate. Share your toys. The spoiled kid plays by himself in the sandbox while all the other kids are having fun in the other sandbox. If you think you can do everything yourself, you are not giving the universe a chance to help. Release material that other people worked on with you. If you hang onto it, you are not only doing yourself a disservice, but you are insulting everyone who touched your project. Nobody wants to be last year’s dress.

“If I work on something with you, put it out as soon as you can while the art is fresh, don’t let it be last year’s dress, that’s just embarrassing. Don’t be so scared of all the horror stories that it inhibits your ability to break bread. I’ve been ripped off a lot, but I don’t let myself get jaded. More than not, when I put my neck out there, I make stronger and deeper relationships. Also when I put my neck out there, it’s easier to see when the snakes show their fangs. They can’t help it, and it becomes easy to know who you can trust.”

Cole Swindell:

A few of his hits: Florida Georgia Line’s “This Is How We Roll,” “Get Me Some of That” by Thomas Rhett, “Roller Coaster” and “Out Like That” by Luke Bryan, “You Should Be Here,” Chillin’ It,” “Middle of a Memory” and “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” by Swindell.

“The people I looked up to told me to write, write, write. The more you write, the better you get. That was my approach to it. But also, you wanted to write the best song. You are always thinking that. For me, it was just getting the experience. Looking back, there are probably some ideas that I wish I would have saved till where I know now how to write ’em. Back then I don’t know that I fully got the point across. It’s definitely not easy.”

John Nite:

A few of his hits: “Boy” by Lee Brice, “Break Up in the End” by Cole Swindell, “Gonna Wanna Tonight” by Chase Rice, “I Hope” by Gabby Barrett, “Strip it Down” and “Knockin’ Boots” by Luke Bryan, and “Tip It On Back” by Dierks Bentley.

“ I encourage you to write with artists because a lot of the new artists are fantastic writers and started as writers, but I also think you should just write by yourself and write with other writers that are great, that do things you can’t do because then you really are chasing the song and not the career. You’re just chasing a great piece of music that the world had in there. So that’s what I’ve done. A lot of times, I used to do ‘Friday songs,’ and it was like, ‘Friday, we do one for us. Whatever the hell we want to do, we write it.’ And then all the Friday songs started getting cut. And I was like, well, maybe we’ll do Wednesday and Friday and Tuesday, you know? So I really think there’s something to just having fun.”

“You have to be the guy who’s cool and a chameleon and is pretty agreeable, and gets along with pretty much everybody. And if you can do that, they can put you in any room. And at the end of the day, there’s going to be a great song. And that’s all really anybody cares about. They want a great song with their friends that they love, and the more I write, the more I feel like I don’t know as much as I thought I did,” he explains.

Hailey Whitters:

A few of her hits: “A Beautiful Noise” by Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile, “Happy People” by Little Big Town, “The Older I Get” by Alan Jackson

“I did have someone tell me this—and it literally is the thing that kept me going. It was: ‘Find your people. Find the people that love what you do and focus on that.’ That helped me so often. It’s so easy to look around and be like, ‘What is everyone else doing, and why am I not doing that? I’ve got to do better.’ But I think it’s just important to focus on your art and your craft and what you do well and what you do that stands out. Just focus on that and make it as great as you can and just don’t give up.”

Cole Swindell photo by Robby Klein


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