We’re excited to announce that hit songwriter and blogger Brent Baxter is April’s featured songwriter on Frettie. Brent’s interview with us is full of great advice for songwriters at all levels. Learn how Brent first caught the songwriting bug, how he works songwriting into his busy schedule as well as the importance of staying lean so you can follow your dreams. As always, we hope that you enjoy this interview. If so, feel free to share it with others.
Q: Where do you call home?
I live just outside of Nashville, having been in Tennessee since 2002. But I grew up in Batesville, Arkansas, and that will always be home. It's a town of around 10,000 in the beautiful Ozark foothills.
Q: How did you get started in songwriting?
By accident, I guess. Growing up, I was always writing words- parody lyrics, bad poetry, short stories, making my own comic books, and even a song lyric or two. But it wasn't until my buddy, Tim Meitzen, put a melody to a lyric my sophomore year in college (1994) that songwriting hit me like a ton of bricks. I fell hard, and I've been writing lyrics ever since!
Q: Did you have any parents, siblings or was someone else in your family musical?
Growing up, my mom sang in the church choir and would do the occasional solo. Dad played a little piano. But that was about it. Of course, now that my folks are retired and have moved here to Nashville, Mom has her own band. I kid you not. They play shows. Maybe I should write with her...
Q: What is your songwriting process typical like?
Being a lyricist, I'm a title-first or idea-first kind of guy. Once I get a title that I think is interesting, I roll it around to see where it could go and if it would be a good fit for an upcoming cowrite or project. If so, I might map it out by deciding where the first verse, chorus, and second verse could go. I might have some specific lyrics written out. Then I'll take it in to a cowriter. I usually don't walk in with a complete draft of a lyric. I like to have a good nugget and leave things open enough for my cowriter to have a lot of melodic options. And once the melody starts happening, it'll inform the lyrics- the language, phrasing, tone, etc. But sometimes we'll work the other way around. My cowriter will have a melody or feel, and we'll look for a hook that fits that feel and go from there. I enjoy both.
Q: Do you have an ideal setup for writing music?
Laptop, cup of coffee, and a meeting somewhere on Music Row with a good trusted cowriter. I love the energy. Also having an artist in the room always helps!
Q: What book(s) or blogs are you currently reading?
Between the kids and work and everything else, I'm afraid I don't have much time for reading (though I love reading). Takes me forever to finish a book. I like non-fiction: Christian, economics, politics, business, and some history. When it comes to fiction, I usually grab a Vince Flynn or Brad Thor political thriller. Light reads, but fun books. As for blogs, I have my own blog on songwriting called, "Man vs. Row" at www.manvsrow.com.
Q: Who are your top three favorite artists or songwriters?
Man, I'm sure everyone says that's a tough question! My top all-time artists would have to include Garth Brooks, George Strait, Jimmy Buffett... and everyone who ever cut one of my songs! As for songwriters, there are some folks whose songs just have staying power with me. Bob McDill, the Garth Brooks crew: Pat Alger, Kent Blazy, Kim Williams, Garth himself. It was really the songs on those albums that made me such a huge fan. Same with those George Strait writers like Dean Dillon and Aaron Barker.
Q: What album are you currently listening to?
I like the current Eric Church record. I'm sure by the time this interview gets out that I'll be spinning the new Garth Brooks. And the new Ruthie Collins album on Curb. She's a buddy and cowriter. And awesome. Plus I have a song called “Vintage" on there!
Q: How do you stay inspired?
I don't! I mean, I'm not ALWAYS inspired. Even when it's time to write, sometimes the craziness of life and stress can take you out of your creative headspace. The challenge is to find a little quiet and to push past the "I don't feel like it right now- I just want a nap or to veg out" feeling. I know I'll be glad I did. Walking into the writing room with a trusted cowriter is always inspiring, though. I'm just happy to see them, and I'm excited to see what the session will hold.
Q: What's your biggest challenge as a songwriter?
Making time to write! I have two kids under 4 years old, a wife who (thankfully) likes me to be home, a full time day job... and I might try to sleep when the kids let me. It's hard. My job takes me on the road a lot, so I try to do some thinking in the truck and stay up after the family has gone to bed. And I get up around 5am to have a little time (although our baby likes to get up then so I end up with her a lot). Then I'll schedule a couple cowrites a month. I've had a full-time writing gig, and I hope this time away from it is just a season. But it's what I have to do right now to feed the family. I'll sleep later, I guess.
Q: What time of day do you prefer to write your music and where?
Anywhere and any place! Ideally, it's daytime somewhere on Music Row. But that's not an option right now. So I write at night at a cowriter's place or on the Row.
Q: What's your favorite memory as a songwriter or musician?
Hearing Alan Jackson's cut of "Monday Morning Church" for the first time. It was at the Billboard office in Nashville. One of their writers, Deborah Evans Price, had a reviewer's copy of the upcoming single. My roommate at the time worked there and told her I hadn't even heard the song yet. So she invited me in and played it for me. It was a GREAT feeling. I had her play it for me twice! If you want to hear the demo you can listen to it on Frettie.
Q: What are some of your greatest accomplishments to date?
Professionally... Having a top-5 hit with Alan Jackson. Getting to write a song with Randy Travis. Getting to be a full-time songwriter for several years.
Q: If you could provide any advice to an up and coming songwriter, what would it be?
Be in it for the long haul. Keep your monetary overhead low. The more money you have to bring in each month to pay for mortgage/rent, cable, credit card bills, etc., the harder it's going to be to make enough to be a full-time songwriter. Build a side-gig that brings in enough money and gives you enough flexibility to keep writing and ride out the highs and lows. And keep hungry, humble, and teachable. Always work to stay current. Write better songs, build better relationships, repeat.
Q: What’s next for you?
Well, I hope to continue with the growth of Man vs. Row, turning my teaching into a solid platform which will allow me to write more (it's that flexible side-gig I mentioned earlier). And I'll continue to write as much as I can with a few select folks, mostly artists. With limited time, you have to be a lot more careful about where you put your energy and effort.
Q: What value do you think Frettie can bring to the songwriters? What value have you received from it?
I wish there had been a Frettie when I was starting out! First of all, the site isn't spammy- it isn't about people just yelling "look at me!" Folks are willing to share their feedback on others' songs, and that's cool. I think that outside perspective is really valuable as we grow as songwriters. Thanks for all your work!
Q: Thanks for your time Brent. We look forward to connecting with you on Frettie. Where can readers find you online to keep updated on what you are doing?
My home on the web is my blog, www.manvsrow.com. From there, you can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. Drop by and say "hi!” You can also connect with me on Frettie.
We hope you enjoyed that. Let us know what you think in the comments below. Until next month.