I first “discovered” Justin Wilson during this year’s Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival in Nashville, Tennessee and felt immediately drawn to the passionate, comedic performer who graced the stage at Hard Rock Cafe. Without realizing I was familiar with Justin’s work, I was already enthralled, but once he began sharing the names of the artists for whom he had written, I was enamored. Tyler Farr, Randy Houser, and Craig Campbell were just a few of the artists who currently have cuts with Justin’s name credited to them, and it turns out he also has a song on hold by someone whose name any country music fan would recognize.
I recently had the opportunity to make my interviewing dream come true and talk with Justin about his career — from its birth, to its climb, to its slight detour, to its beautiful resurgence — and it brings me great joy to “introduce” you to a man you are unaware you already know.
Justin’s career didn’t exactly take the expected path, as he originated as a Georgia artist who often toured around with singer-songwriter Mallary Hope (Lauren Alaina). Once he got his bearings as an artist, Justin made the trek to Nashville, signing a deal with Sony. With the eventual merger of Sony and BMG, Justin lost his record deal, which would discourage most young artists. However, the optimistic aspiring country music singer saw the silver lining in the situation and simply considered the adversity a career-related growing pain.
That kinda sucked, but what that did was introduce me to co-writing, ’cause up to that point, I was just writing everything by myself. So a good thing that came out of that was finally writing with some professional writers and so forth. So, I feel like I had my fill of being an artist from all the stuff through high school, which was just grueling, and then this co-writing thing happened and I was like “this is a challenge.” I loved it a lot. It was new. It was something challenging.
With his newfound sense of excitement over a different musical venture, Justin decided to stay in Nashville in pursuit of a songwriting career. He enrolled into “the most expensive hotel I could find, which was Belmont,” and attended classes either early in the morning or late at night, leaving vacancies in his schedule to write during the day. Between relationships still existing at Sony and his honed writing skills, Justin was referred to Stage 3 Music (where he met his wife, Missy) and began writing with the company.
The hard work and focus ultimately paid off, as Justin began getting cuts on albums, but when BMG bought Stage 3 Music, his stint with the company came to an end. Despite the difficulties, Justin plugged away furiously to continue progressing as a songwriter, finally calling Magic Mustang in a last ditch effort to find a job in his trade. Within a week, Justin had a song on Joe Nichols’ album (“Y’ant To”) and was signed to a publishing deal.
A last minute decision to call Magic Mustang proved to change Justin’s life, especially considering his current catalog of singles. Right now, Justin has credits on Randy Houser’s “We Went,” Craig Campbell’s “Tomorrow Tonight,” Michael Ray’s “Kiss You in the Morning,” John King’s “On Your Lips,” and Dean Alexander’s “Life Ain’t Fair.” That list is extensive, but not exhaustive, as it only names the songs that are now in rotation on FM and XM radio, excluding the many tracks Justin also has on new records.
Even with such an impressive list of writers who have released Justin’s songs, he still has a dream artist he would love to have record one of his pieces of work.
Tim McGraw. Tim McGraw … that’s my guy that I’ve never had a song, I don’t know that I’ve even had a song on hold for him yet. And if there is someone I would love to have sing my song, it would be him, because he had an album called “A Place in the Sun,” it’s one of my favorite albums of all time, top to bottom, song from song. I used to sit and listen to that album top to bottom over and over. I think I bought like seven copies because over the years, I’d lose one, or one would get scratched, and I always went back and bought another. It is my favorite album.
While he waits on that fateful day when he gets the call that Tim is ready to record one of his masterpieces (and he will!), his future is looking awfully bright.
There’s a song I have on hold for Keith Urban right now and I really really hope it makes it through. I wrote it with one of my closest friends, and it’s a song called “I Don’t Need Nothin’,” and it’s just a simple, simple heartfelt song.
Though he is hopeful that Keith will record that specific song, Justin is proud of every piece he writes and has quite the low maintenance frame of mind when it comes to the destiny of his songs.
I really hope that all of my little children get cut!
With the amount of thought, feeling, and emotion that goes into the songwriting process, it is no wonder Justin would prefer to see no song left uncut, as he explained that his job is incredibly mentally vigorous. This is because professional songwriters have to remain in a constant state of inspiration, absorbing everybody and everything around them, to adequately prepare for scheduled sessions. Also of utmost importance is the fact that songwriters like Justin solely make their livings on the products of their sessions being recorded by artists and sold to the public.
I wish that everyone out there in the public that listens and buys these songs and makes them hits, I wish they could understand how volatile of a situation the downloading “free” music they want, how much that is hurting . . . that really hurts us. Really, really hurts us. We work very hard to do what we do and deserve the money that comes along with that. Just as someone who goes to work at their every day desk job or manual labor job works hard and collects a paycheck at the end of the week, we deserve the same thing with our music that we write. And we deserve to be paid fairly . . . That’s a very big issue with our industry right now and it could be in a lot of trouble and I’m hoping that we get it solved.
Ending the interview with Justin stepping off his self-proclaimed political soapbox, he encouraged everyone to head to iTunes and download his current single, Randy Houser’s “We Went” (which I reviewed for Country Music’s #CMchat) and keep an ear open for Craig Campbell’s upcoming single “Tomorrow Tonight” (June 8th).
Thank you to Justin for a wonderful and colorful conversation. I learned so much about the songwriting perspective of the music industry during our time together, and I look forward to many, many more songs stamped with “Justin Wilson” on the credits. If you are in Nashville and able to see Justin perform at a songwriters’ round, do not miss the opportunity. He is a wonderful showman and one of the most extraordinary talents I have seen in Music City thus far.