As writers, we are always looking for the next flash of inspiration, searching for the next crumb of an idea, and seeking out that edge of what it takes to get our songs heard. These things are sometimes elusive and hard to find, but I believe we grow by listening and learning. We mold into better songwriters and humans by being affected by others around us. We get better by working with the best.
So, I am sitting down with the best this business has to offer. I am on a mission to ask some of the top songwriters in the business what inspires them, how they paved their own road to success, and what advice they have for up and coming songwriters.
I bring you Songwriter Insider, an inside peek of what some of the best of the best are up to, inspired by, and what’s next for them. We start this amazing journey with Jon Nite who was born in Amarillo, Texas. Jon Nite is a Grammy nominated, CMA and ACM award winning singer/songwriter who has written 15 number one songs in multiple genres. Jon has earned three CMA Triple Play awards for writing three #1 songs in a single calendar year.
Jon’s songs include 2020 Billboard Hot Country song of the year 2020 and Pop number one “I Hope” by Gabby Barrett, NSAI song of the year “Break Up in the End”, by Cole Swindell “Whatever She’s Got” by David Nail, “Knocking Boots, Strip it Down, and What She Wants Tonight” by Luke Bryan, “Living” and “Tip it on Back” by Dierks Bentley, “Smoke” by A Thousand Horses, “We Were Us” and “Break on Me” by Keith Urban, “Beachin” by Jake Owen, “Noise” by Kenny Chesney, “Think A Little Less” by Michael Ray, “If I Told You” by Darius Rucker, and “Boy” by Lee Brice.
Jon’s songs have crossed genres with cuts on pop artists like Phillip Phillips and Brandi Carlisle. He’s scored a number one billboard Christian song with Dan + Shay’s “Pray for you.” He has produced for artists like Brett Eldredge. Brett Young’s sophomore album Ticket To L.A. features seven songs written by Jon, including the title track. Dierks Bentley’s ACM-nominated album The Mountain, features four Jon co-writes.
He currently lives south of Nashville with his wife and their two beautiful children.
Here is my interview with the incredible, Jon Nite…
Jon, what is the Cliff’s Notes version of how you became a songwriter? Is there a pinnacle moment that shaped you as a songwriter?
I wrote a song on a dare with my friend Brandon Bolin when I was maybe fifteen. When I was in my mid twenties, I became a professional songwriter. In between I was a plumber, a fry cook, a teenage dad, a finance guy in a hand me down suit. I was so lost in life because I knew what I wanted to be (in music), and I knew the cards fate dealt me with extreme poverty, anxiety, and insecurity made that dream all but impossible. So, for three or four years I gave up and wrote songs for a small bible study at my neighbors house. My wife said one day, You look like a ghost. You are pale and unhappy, and you need to write songs. She gave me a weekend NSAI seminar as a gift, and a year later, I had written enough songs to get offered a deal. After I jumped back in, I began to co write, and it really helped me learn. It took me 12-15 years and hundreds if not thousands of songs to really begin seeing the success come in.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere and nowhere. Sometimes, I just push record and play and never think about it, and it comes from somewhere. I read, I voraciously listen to other’s conversations, I write a little list of ideas daily. Many come in the room when we talk about life before the songs start. The ones that become hits are full of real actual personal pieces of my life or my friends.
What are the most successful songs that you’ve written and who cut them?
The Gabby Barrett song “I hope” has been the most impactful song of my career from a numbers stand point. It’s on track to be one of the largest country crossover songs in the last couple of decades as it continues to be in the top 5 Top 40 and over a year at country radio still being played as if it were a current hit. It’s blown our minds. It got Gabby and Zach basically signed to publishing deals and record deals, and it has opened more doors for them and me than any song I’ve been a part of. I was so absolutely stoked about the idea behind the hook, that the moment we finished it I told them that it might be the biggest song I’ve ever been a part of. They laughed. Haha.
I had watched “Break Up in the End” by Cole Swindell just go number one a few months before we wrote “I hope”, and that song is what I love most about country music. It was beyond amazing to be a part of that, and the eventual grammy nomination for it. Still some of my favorite memories were around “Break Up”. I love so many of the songs almost like my children. Songs like “Living” and “Boy” and “We were us” and “whatever she’s got” because they feel like we caught a moment of truth about our lives and the truth pours through.
Who or what has been influential in your writing career?
My parents and family were so talented musically. They had me up in church at five singing harmony to Gospel songs. I learned instruments early and fiddled with the piano in the house. I listened to my older siblings’ wild musical graffiti through bedroom walls, but it wasn’t popular music except for a little Willy Nelson or Thriller through the passing FM dial until my sister started driving me to school and playing me country records on the way. I fell fast and immediately as the songs were so vividly real to someone who grew up in the plains of west Texas. It was story before the melody, and that has shaped so much of my writing.
When I came to Nashville, the Bob Dipper’s and Jeffrey Steele’s of the early 2000’s were writing master level songs that obliterated the level of songs I was capable of writing early. The bar was so much higher than I dreamed, but instead of giving up, I just kept grinding.
What would you tell your younger writer-self if you could tell him anything?
It’s impossible, but do it anyway.
What is your most memorable co-write?
I was part of a recent co-write with Brett Young where he called up Boys to Men at 11pm and made me sing them the song we had written. Two days later, Wanya, sang a verse on our song.
What is your favorite song you’ve ever written?
I haven’t written it yet…
What advice would you give to up-and-coming songwriters?
If you write only for what the world sees as successful now, then you are writing yesterdays songs that nobody will ever hear. If you write what you see as cool, you’ll be writing tomorrows songs.
Do you have any kind of process or prep work that you do before a write?
Early bird staring out the window in my studio writing little snippets and playing guitars with the phone ready to catch anything. I forget more than I care to remember, so always push the big red button. Otherwise, it’s gone forever. I never remember the middle of the night song ideas that seemed so perfect in the dream unless they are on the phone in the morning.
Are you working on any big projects that you can share about? What’s next for you?
One of my favorite songs ever is on the Gabby record… It’s called “Footprints on the Moon”. Hoping Elon Musk can blast it on his next X flight. haha. Next spring, I’m excited to help write and do a record with some buddies in a remote location for two weeks. Hopefully, we’ll be through the covid enough to make it real.
What do you think comprises a great song these days?
When you hear the hook, and you think…. “That is my life!” or you just can’t not sing it two days later.
If you could step into my shoes, what would you have asked yourself that I didn’t?
Why is America the Greatest land for kids wanting to try this dream?
The answer …. is because it’s the land built for these dreams.
Spitfire questions. Don’t think – just answer.
Salty or sweet?
Ballad or Up tempo?
Dylan or Hendrix?
Beach or mountains?
Netflix or YouTube?
What’s worse… Laundry or dishes?
Coffee or tea?
Beer or Wine?
Favorite flavor of ice cream?
Dulce De Luce
Favorite place you’ve ever visited?
What would you be doing if you weren’t songwriting? (Think second dream job if you could do anything else.)
Ski instructor or Building Wind Turbines haha