Videos by American Songwriter
Having worked with talented songwriters like Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey, Lady Gaga, Josh Ritter—and earning Grammys to show for it—McKenna’s advice is invaluable. Throughout the episode, she shares tidbits from her own career and how they’ve shaped her as a member of the music community.
For example, while passing the musical baton to her two sons, McKenna explains that she would give all aspiring songwriters the same advice she gave her sons: just keep writing.
“I have two sons that are writing songs in Nashville and neither one of them have publishing deals yet, they both have side gigs to earn money. And I tell them every single day, ‘You are successful in the music business because you’re writing songs every day.’ That is what being successful in the music business is; you work just enough on these other things, like being in a restaurant, or driving or whatever you’re doing to pay your bills, and you are doing the work—that’s success,” McKenna tells Kuhn.
McKenna also shares that she is a living testament to her own advice. She landed her first publishing deal “late” by the standards of the music industry at 36, and began co-writing at that age despite others telling her it would “mess her up.”
Since that deal, McKenna has penned hits such as Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” Tim McGraw’s “Humble And Kind,” and “Always Remember Us This Way” from A Star is Born. Even with such monumental highs in her career, McKenna always remains strictly grateful for all of the success she’s been able to acquire doing what she loves.
“I’ve always had those surreal moments in music. I remember the first time I was on tour with Tim [McGraw] and Faith [Hill] in this arena we were rehearsing in the circus was coming in the next day. My manager, Amos Newman at the time, and I were walking around with tigers and lions everywhere. And these moments have always happened to me in music. Like, ‘Is this a dream? Or is this real?’ Because it’s so wild.
“But the greatest thing about music, and this sounds really corny but I mean it with all my heart, is I have met the greatest people. My family, we’ve been so blessed by the people that have become part of our family because of songs. I wouldn’t have my Love Junkies without music and I wouldn’t have Barry Dean without music and Natalie Hemby and Brandy Clark and the people that I love because of songs,” McKenna concludes.
For more on McKenna’s career highlights, co-writing advice, how she wrote some of her biggest hits, and more, listen to the rest of the episode on The Zak Kuhn Show.