The Writers Round with Heather Morgan

Welcome to the Writers Round, a monthly column where Sounds Like Nashville sits down with Nashville-based songwriters and learns about each writer’s journey to Music City. This month, Heather Morgan sheds some light into her life as a songwriter as well as shares the stories behind some of her many hits including Brett Eldredge’s “Beat of the Music,” Dierks Bentley’s “I’ll Be the Moon” and Keith Urban’s “Love’s Poster Child.”

From a young age, Heather Morgan caught the music bug and she nostalgically recalls making up songs when she was just five years old. There is even a home video of her a few years later where she confidently introduces herself before singing a song she wrote. “This is a song by Heather Morgan,” an eight-year-old Morgan boasts in the clip.

“I’m waiting for the perfect moment to pop it up on Instagram one day and show off my horrible hairdo and teeth and songs,” she says laughing.

The Texas native confesses that her mom still has all the scraps of paper and paper towels that she scribbled her early song ideas on. Years later, her mother would urge Morgan to write a song for a creative arts contest at her elementary school. Morgan went on to win the contest in the first grade and was undefeated throughout the remaining years she was eligible to apply.

“I would win every year, because nobody else entered, and I don’t know that I knew that,” Morgan tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone. “So I just thought I was really great at writing these songs.”

As a child rehearsing for the contest, Morgan remembers setting up her boom box in her family’s dining room where there were good acoustics. She’d stay up late recording her song idea over and over again until she got the perfect take. Her wins gave the budding songwriter more confidence and soon she’d embrace performing at school talent shows and various establishments around Texas where she’d frequently run into fellow Texans Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves.

By the time she got to college, Morgan had a band and she’d spend her weekends traveling the Texas circuit opening for acts like Randy Rogers Band. She’d also expand her writing palate, as Morgan became the person to run to after you had a bad breakup. She remembers girls in her dorm frequently knocking on her door saying, “I have a song for you.”

“They would tell me what happened and then I would try to write them a song to make them feel better. All the girls in the dorm would come to my dorm room and listen to this new song, so I always had an audience,” she explains.

Morgan soon found herself with a manager and released a record with her band. When the gigs got longer, instead of playing cover songs she’d simply write more songs to perform. In her senior year of college she had several shows with Radney Foster, who told her about the songwriting community in Nashville. During one trip to Music City she was invited to play at the Bluebird Café for a special showcase of Texas artists. It was that trip in 2003, and some convincing from Jody Williams of BMI, that she knew she had to relocate to Nashville. When she returned to Texas, she worked several jobs to save enough money to make the move.

An early champion for Morgan was A&R professional Joe Fisher, who was Foster’s publisher at the time. Already having written 400 songs, Morgan was asked by Fisher to play him her favorites during their meetings. Impressed, he soon scheduled her first co-write with Jeremy Spillman (Eric Church’s “Country Music Jesus,” “Sinners Like Me,” “Before She Does”).

“I remember Jeremy sat with me for a couple hours after we were done with the song and gave me all this great advice. [He] told me what to be cautious of and what was important as far as enjoying the songwriting process,” Morgan recalls. “I still remember the curb we sat on and talked before anyone got in their car. It was so awesome to have that experience on your first day.”

Morgan heeded that advice and by 2005 had her first publishing deal with Warner/Chappell. Things came full circle in 2008 when Randy Rogers Band recorded her song “This Is Goodbye” for their self-titled album. From sharing the stage with RRB to having them record her song, Morgan was well on her way to a successful songwriting career.

Eventually, she’d sign another songwriting deal with Sony/ATV and form a friendship and writing partnership with Ross Copperman and Brett Eldredge. Morgan and Copperman first met at the Key West Songwriters Festival in 2008 and soon after began writing and even formed a duo called Roots and Wings.

“With Ross, it was this incredible songwriting friendship that happened. The way that he works and the way that I work creatively, we really were such a great match,” she explains. “Meeting him, in my story, was really significant. We had six songs in a row we wrote and Keith Urban had them all on hold and sent this email to Sony and was like, ‘Anything these two create, please send it my way. I’m loving what they’re doing.’ I remember meeting Keith at the BMI Awards and Nicole [Kidman] was with him, and he said, ‘Nicole loves this song you two wrote, and I love what you’re doing.’ It was so incredible, and such a surreal moment to have somebody you’ve listened to for so long know what you’re working on and be a fan of it. That was such a big moment for me.”

One of those six songs, “Love’s Poster Child,” became a track Urban recorded for his 2013 release, Fuse. The first of a string of cuts, Morgan would soon see plenty more on Eldredge’s debut album, Bring You Back, also released in 2013.

Once her song was included on Urban’s album, things began to fall into place. While Morgan admits that there were moments she questioned if she did the right thing by moving to Nashville, she says each time an artist recorded her song there was a surge of belief in knowing she was pursuing the right dream.

“Writing those songs and getting to see them on liner notes — that was so crazy. When the Keith record came out, I remember going to buy it and having that moment of sitting in your car and reading all the liner notes and seeing your name on it,” she marvels. “I used to sit in my bedroom in Texas and see what Hillary Lindsey had written and follow what Marv Green or Aimee Mayo had written because I was just obsessed, like we all are, with where songs come from.”

Morgan had her first No. 1 with Eldredge’s “Beat of the Music,” which also happened to be the most played country song of 2014. With the release of Eldredge’s third self-titled album in August, Morgan now has 12 cuts on all three releases from the singer. She recalls writing “Beat of the Music” with Eldredge and Copperman one cold day in January and almost didn’t make it to the writing session as Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman was at her house filming a portion of her TV show, Simply Southern.

“She was making chicken pot pie in my kitchen and I left 20 people in my living room to write with Brett and Ross. I kept pushing back the write 30 minutes because I wanted to see the TV taping and I love Kimberly, so I was feeling pulled in two directions,” she recalls. “When I got there, Brett had been telling Ross about this beach vacation he had just had at this place where they have swimming pigs, Staniel Cay.”

Morgan, still standing, had her bag with her computer on her arm when the guys played the beach track they had been working on and an idea immediately hit her.

“I was like, ‘Oh, it sounds like, ‘Falling in love to the beat of the music,’” she sings. “And they were like, ‘What is that?’ And I was like, ‘That’s what it sounds like it should say.’ I remember one of them said, ‘OK, you can stay. Put your bag down.’”

Morgan has gone on to have another No. 1 hit with Eldredge and Copperman with “Lose My Mind” in 2015. When asked if there’s a song Morgan has written that she is surprised became a success she names Dierks Bentley’s “I’ll Be the Moon,” featured on his latest album Black. Morgan co-wrote the song with Ryan Hurd and Matt Dragstrem and says she never thought anyone would give the song a shot because it was about cheating. When the three writers got in the room together they decided they would chase where the song was leading them but no one thought the song would ever see the light of day.

“[‘I’ll Be the Moon’] was really cool to write and I’m glad we did. I remember loving the demo, and then Ryan Hurd put it on his project that he was working on before he had his record deal. We all got a call that Dierks wanted to hold the song, and it was like, ‘Wow, that would be amazing. I mean, it’s probably never gonna happen,’” she says. “He’s such an amazing artist. He’s usually so consistent, and he takes chances, and I had my fingers crossed that he really would take a chance on this one.”

For over a decade, Morgan has been writing songs for some of country music’s biggest artists and come later this year she will release an album of her own. She says she’s wanted to do her own project since first moving to Nashville and while she spends most of her days co-writing, she still manages to set aside some time to write by herself. She calls her solo work night writes, where she’ll stay up all night until she hears the birds chirping.

During her night writes, Morgan will record the entire process and sometimes go back and find a song in the recording or she’ll be struck in the moment and record the song as fast as she can. She recalls bringing one of those magical moments to producer Paul Moak, who helped her finish the song. Another track she wrote, “We Were Fire,” was inspired by a breakup that Morgan says ripped her heart out in a beautiful way in that she had so much to write about. When Morgan brought her 18-minute song idea to Moak, he helped her whittle it down. He sent the final demo to her before she boarded a flight from Nashville to California where she spent the entirety of the plane ride listening to it on repeat.

When Morgan asked Moak if he’d help her with a record he answered with a resounding yes and the two got to work. Determined to set aside more time for her solo project, Morgan went to Joshua Tree, California on a whim after the ACM Awards last year to write the songs she needed by herself.

“I put my emotions and all these feelings I had after this relationship I’d been in to the side because I wanted to try to help other people write their stories. I had mine on the back burner,” she reflects. “To be able to have all this quiet and space and this guitar, I remember sitting on the porch thinking, ‘Here’s your chance.’”

Morgan wrote five songs by herself while in Joshua Tree with a borrowed guitar from Jason Mraz and she played each song for Moak once she returned. He instantly gravitated to two of the tracks, which she put on the record along with songs she’d written with Lori McKenna and Copperman.

“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Who are you doing the record for?’ And I think about that video of myself – I’m eight in the video [and say], ‘This is a song by Heather Morgan.’ I think about the kid version of me that started writing and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m doing it for you,’” she says. “I know it’s something that my soul needs. I love watching Lori McKenna’s success and her path and how she’s writing these incredible songs that we hear on the radio, but she’s also making these incredible records. I really am passionate about fitting that path into my story with this album.”