Writer’s Room: Stay Sane in Nashville by Erik Dylan

Written by Erik Dylan

Videos by American Songwriter

Songwriting is subjective. Some people love my songs. Some people hate them. Others tolerate them with the occasional social media heart or the dreaded music industry email response… “cool.” On Music Row, that is the polite way of saying, “Your song doesn’t sound profitable, but we appreciate that you wrote it.” 

In order to survive this industry I have to remember that Nashville never invited me. No one ever asked me to become a songwriter. I chose this path because I wouldn’t be truly happy doing anything else with my time on Earth. If that wasn’t the case, I would have left Nashville years ago. Luckily I didn’t leave. I stuck it out, got a Tennessee driver’s license, kept listening to Guy Clark, played a million open mic nights, and eventually got a publishing deal in 2011, after five years of trying. 

The only thing I can truly control as a songwriter is writing the song. I can’t control where the song wants to go, or when it wants to go there. Sometimes it ends up on a publisher’s hard drive, never to be heard from again. Sometimes it ends up on one of my projects. Occasionally, it is discovered by a country artist, and I hear it on my FM radio. I find comfort and prevent frustration in knowing that it is not up to me. 

I have always tried to stay between the highs and lows of this unpredictable industry and celebrate the little victories along the way. I have learned to walk through every door that opens and sometimes knock really hard if it is closed. I love making my own independent albums as an artist. I love writing for commercial country artists. I love making lifelong friends in writing rooms in Nashville. I don’t know that I could have weathered the personal and professional storms without those friends. 

In 2016, I recorded an album titled Heart of a Flatland Boy. I call it my “Stay Sane In Nashville Project.” Sometimes I think it was out of pure frustration. I had absolutely nothing going on as a songwriter. The cuts were few and far between, and I was watching the last bit of gravel fall off the edge of my first publishing contract. So I decided to spend twenty thousand dollars I didn’t have to make a record. I will admit, it wasn’t my brightest idea. 

Luckily, the songs on Heart of a Flatland Boy were heard by several great rookie artists who had just moved to Nashville or were on their way to Guitar Town. I met up-and-comers Luke Combs, Riley Green, Elvie Shane, Ray Fulcher, and so many other great young artists by releasing that album. They liked the songs I had released and I began co-writing with them. 

Years later, the recording contracts arrived, and my friends kept me along for the ride in the writing rooms. My first country radio No. 1 was a song I co-wrote with Green titled “There Was This Girl.” I co-wrote Fulcher’s first radio single “Girl In It.” My most recent single as a songwriter at FM radio is titled “Drinkin’ Problems” by Dillon Carmichael. This song was written alongside Combs, Fulcher, and Thomas Archer early in Luke’s career. In addition, several of the songs from Heart of a Flatland Boy have been recorded and released by other artists. I never saw it coming. And would have never witnessed these opportunities without Heart of a Flatland Boy. I’m certain of that.  

Since 2016, I have continued to release music as an indie artist while I write for other country artists in Nashville. It helps maintain my identity. It also provides me with a path for songs that I really want the world to hear. It has allowed me to see the world, put thousands of miles on vans, and get away from Nashville long enough to appreciate it when I get back home. 

The longer that I am here, the more I realize that no one really knows what is going to happen with a certain artist, a writer, a song, or even the music format as a whole. If I take that kind of worry into a writer’s room, the song will always suffer. The only thing I can control is the art that I create and maintaining a positive attitude when no one cares that I created it. I want to take honest chances and really focus on writing for me and not the money, and pray they intersect at times. Hopefully, my songs will inspire younger writers down the road to take a chance on a song and see where it takes them. I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to do something I truly love and make a living doing it. I am never sure where the songs will lead me. And I’m finally all right with not knowing. 

My new album, Stray Dogs & Homegrown Calamities, comes out on September 1. I’ve always been a sucker for the sad ones and the deep cuts. I hope you are too. 

Photo by Alejandro Medina

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