‘Songland’ Winner Halie Talks About Being A Woman In Country Music, Using Instagram to Network and Her Cousin Jimmie Rodgers

For songwriter Halie Woolbribge — who just goes by ‘Halie’ — music is a long-standing family tradition.

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“It runs deep in my family,” she told American Songwriter. “I’m actually related to Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music. He’s my great-great-grandfather’s cousin. It’s pretty deep in there but he’s still on the family tree.”

On Monday night, Halie became this week’s winner on NBC’s ‘Songland,’ the show which features songwriters pitching their songs to a panel of celebrity ‘producers’ — Shane McAnally, Ryan Tedder and Ester Dean — and a guest artist. This week, the guest was country icon Martina McBride, who ultimately chose to record Halie’s song, ‘Girls Like Me.’

“It was crazy,” Halie said. “I grew up listening to Martina McBride and to perform in front of her was life-changing. I almost felt like I was out of my body during it all. I was so excited, so nervous, so ready for her to hear the song — I just had a million emotions running through me. We actually found out on the Monday of orientation that I would be pitching to Martina. We were all sitting in a line and when they announced it I was like ‘wait, Martina McBride?’ I jumped up out of my seat and was like ‘no way!’ When I wrote that song I never thought in a million years that I would be pitching it to Martina McBride — I don’t even have a publishing deal so I never thought I’d get an opportunity like this.”

While Halie is young — only 19 years old — and is a relative newcomer to the world of country music, she’s no novice when it comes to the industry. Moving to Nashville two weeks after graduating high school, she quickly jumped into the city’s legendary writing scene.

“I always knew I wanted to go to Nashville,” she said. “I knew that I had to go somewhere where I could get connections and write with other writers. I moved there so I could be with the industry. I was nervous and it was a little overwhelming at first, but I was definitely excited. I have an older brother who’s signed to Peermusic, so he’s a songwriter too. I moved when I had just turned 18, so I was fairly young, but I did have connections through my brother.”

And it was with her brother that Halie’s song “Girls Like Me” originated.

“I actually wrote ‘Girls Like Me’ just a month before I went on ‘Songland,’ so it was fairly new,” she said. “I wrote it with my brother at his house. We started to write it because I realized that there’s not a lot of songs that say to girls that they can be okay with insecurities and that it’s okay to not be perfect. I wanted to write something like that. We started it at my brother’s house and then I took it to the studio with my producer and finished it there.”

“Girls Like Me” tackles some of the issues faced by many women around the world, offering them a sense of solace that they are not alone in their hardship. The thematic message of “Girls Like Me” encapsulates a wider philosophy carried by Halie. Being a longtime fan of country music and a talented country writer, she has a natural affinity towards the genre. Yet, breaking into the world of country can be quite a challenge for a woman.

“A song like ‘Girls Like Me’ could change people’s perspectives on how country music needs to be,” Halie said. “It needs to change. Especially when you’re in it as young as I am, you see labels turning away females just because they don’t want so many females on a label. It’s crazy. I can’t even wrap my head around it sometimes. Only 10% of country radio is female, and it needs to be higher. Some radio stations won’t even play female artists back-to-back.”

Which is a big deal. Despite the rise in streaming services, country music radio is still a significant market that can determine whether an artist makes it or not. 

“They say that what makes a country artist these days is doing the radio tour and getting stations to play your song,” Halie said. “That’s what makes or breaks a country artist these days. Record labels put millions of dollars into that. I hope ‘Girls Like Me’ makes it to country radio because if it did that would change a lot of stuff for me in the industry. Like I said, I don’t have a publishing deal, so if that hit the radio that could open a lot of doors. When you start to hear a lot of positive songs like ‘Girls Like Me,’ it could really start to change the industry.”

While Halie is right that the treatment of women artists in the country industry is wildly unfair, she’s also right to have hope in the community’s ability to change. From the early days of the Carter Family to the rise of Garth Brooks, country music has gone through changes upon changes. Even the surge of social media is having a tremendous impact on how the country world operates.

“Now with social media, you’re accessible to hit up any writer or any artist you want,” Halie said. “That’s how a lot of people in Nashville without a publishing deal write. They’ll just DM folks on Instagram asking them to write. Some people are like ‘oh, I don’t even need a publishing deal because I know this person and I just ask so-and-so to write’ and then they get their song pitched. It’s just crazy. If you want to know anything about any artist, go on their Instagram or their website and you can learn about them. I believe that Instagram has really helped with my music career. For starters, I wouldn’t have any fans if it wasn’t for Instagram — I post covers on there all the time that people seem to really enjoy. All of the friends I’ve made in the music community I met off of Instagram. Without it, I wouldn’t even have a music career.”

While the aesthetics of Halie’s music career may look nothing like that of her distant cousin, Jimmie Rodgers, it still captures the same magic which makes music the powerful thing it is. While publishing deals and radio contracts have come a long way and changed how the industry operates, at the end of the day it’s still the love and passion for music which makes it so special — and you better believe that Halie’s got love and passion for her music.

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