The 2018 SESAC Awards were held on Sunday, Nov. 11, at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the evening honored country music’s biggest songs and most revered songwriters. Matt McGinn (Kane Brown’s “Heaven,” “What Ifs”) was named Songwriter of the Year while the 3x-Platinum “Heaven,” a song he penned with Brown, Shy Carter and Lindsay Rimes, was named Song of the Year.
“It’s pretty fun to have people honor and recognize the little guys,” McGinn told Sounds Like Nashville on the red carpet ahead of the awards show. “We don’t always get the spotlight [and] I’m just glad I’m here.”
Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott was also on hand and recognized for co-writing the trio’s previous single, “Heart Break.” She penned the song with bandmates Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley, alongside Jesse Frasure and Nicolle Galyon. Ahead of the ceremony, Scott confessed that she considers herself a songwriter first.
“SESAC was the first contract I ever signed. I was 18-years-old. It was before I signed my publishing deal, so I’ve been a part of this family for a really long time,” she explained. “Being here tonight to celebrate the songwriters, that craft . . . the miracle of just walking into a room with other people with nothing and coming out with something that people hear and can sing along to and can honestly change lives, is really an unbelievable thing. To be here and to be able to celebrate that, to get to do that for a living, I’m just so grateful.”
Margo Price and her husband Jeremy Ivey were also recognized for her 2017 album, All American Made. She described songwriters as “the overlooked piece of the music industry.”
“It’s really important to honor songwriters. When I first moved here I didn’t really know about writing songs even though I was trying to do it. We cut our teeth going to open mic nights and going out and seeing shows all the time,” she recalled. “There’s really a [high] level of talent in this town. It’s so inspiring and there’s really a magic to this city.”
Meanwhile Ryan Kinder described songwriters as the “lifeblood” of Nashville. “Without them there is no music industry, there’s no charts, there’s no No. 1s. Without them, this business does not exist,” he noted.
Lee Brice, who was on hand to perform his 2013 CMA Song of the Year “I Drive Your Truck” in honor of Veteran’s Day, agreed. He said Nashville wouldn’t exist as a music town without its songwriters.
“When I first came to town it was all songwriters and there were some artists who wrote but for the most part there were hundreds of songwriters and thousands of songs going around. Lately it’s been harder and harder for that to happen,” he reflected. “I came in during a time where I understood how important the songwriter was. I’m a songwriter myself but I also know that it’s all about the song. There’s been two to three songs throughout my career that without those songs that I didn’t write, who knows what my career would be.”
Songwriter Justin Ebach was also honored for his recent No. 1 hit with Jordan Davis’ “Singles You Up.” Having current singles by Dustin Lynch (“Good Girl”), Maddie & Tae (“Friends Don’t”), and Brett Young (“Here Tonight”) played on country radio, he credits 2018 as a “very blessed season.”
“I’m very grateful to be here. I’m always honored to be a part of this,” he said ahead of the ceremony. “Any success is a big success for me. I travel to a lot of places to write songs and there’s nothing quite like Nashville. We’re all rooting for the same prize, which is country music.”
Like Ebach, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Beth Nielson Chapman praised the songwriting community in Music City. While she’s written all over the world in England, Italy, Spain, Los Angeles and New York, she said there is an “incredible” sense of community in Nashville.
“There’s a sense of integrity around supporting each other that I think is unparalleled. People really want to come here and write because of that feeling and sense of support for each other,” she noted.
No one knows this better than the women of Runaway June. Hannah Mulholland and Naomi Cooke raved about Nashville’s “beautiful community of songwriters” and how they are the “heartbeat” of country music, while Jennifer Wayne admitted her initial intimidation upon first getting in a writing room when she relocated.
“I moved from California and the songwriters here are so good. I remember moving here and thinking, ‘Oh my God I need to go home’ after my first write because they’re so good! But they really welcome you with open arms and I learned so much,” she marveled. “I think being surrounded by the best songwriters in the world makes your songwriting go up a level.”
Olivia Lane also recalled moving to Nashville over five years ago as a green artist and songwriter. It was the city’s songwriting community that she says helped her become a better artist and songwriter.
“I’m so thankful for so many people in this room tonight who took me under their wing and taught me what I needed to know,” she said. “Honestly, as a songwriter, they’ve made me a better songwriter.”
Craig Campbell credits Luke Bryan for urging him to write his own songs. He recalled the singer telling him, “Nobody can tell your story better than you.”
“It’s great for us to take a night and honor and shine the light on the people that write the songs. I’m still blessed to be a part of it and the people I get to write with. There are people in this town who took me under their wing and showed me the ropes and said, ‘This is how you can write a song and make it better,'” he recalled. “If it weren’t for those people in my songwriting life, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
SESAC is a music rights organization that works to make sure its writers and publishers have both performance and mechanical rights. The SESAC Awards kicks off CMA Awards week on Sunday with the ASCAP and BMI Awards to follow on Monday, Nov. 12, and Tuesday, Nov. 13, both of which honor Nashville’s songwriting community.
Check out the full list of SESAC Awards Honors winners below.
Songwriter of the Year:
Song of the Year:
Publisher of the Year:
Written by: Casey Brown
Published by: Not Just Another Song Publishing, So Essential Tunes
Recorded by: Russell Dickerson
Written by: Hillary Scott
Published by W.B.M. Music Corp, EKT Publishing
Recorded by: Lady Antebellum
Written by: Matt McGinn
Published SMACKWORKS MUSIC, Kobalt Group Publishing
Recorded by: Kane Brown
“SINGLES YOU UP”
Written by: Justin Ebach
Published by: Wordspring Music, WBM Music, Memory Days
Recorded by: Jordan Davis
Written by: Josh Hoge
Published by: EMI Foray Music, Write to Be Free
Recorded by: Chris Young
“SHE’S WITH ME”
Written by: Seth Mosley
Published by: CentricSongs, Capitol CMG Amplifier
Recorded by: High Valley
“ONE NUMBER AWAY”
Written by: Sammy Mitchell
Published by Concord Music, Self Shrevident Music
Recorded by: Luke Combs
ALL AMERICAN MADE
Contributions by: Margo Price, Jeremy Ivey
Published by: BMG, Peach Pit, Fisheye
Recorded by: Margo Price
FROM A ROOM VOL. 2
Contributions by: Kevin Welch, Brice Long, Jaron Boyer
Published by: Send ME the Checks Music, Spur 66 Music, Universal Tunes, EMI Foray Music, BMG
Recorded by: Chris Stapleton
JOHNNY CASH: FOREVER WORDS
Contributions by: Jamey Johnson, Rosanne Cash, Robert Glasper
Published by: Polishit, Chelcait Music, Notable Music, Words of Cash Music, BMG, Big Deal Music
Recorded by: Various Artists
Contributions by: Anthony Snape
Published by: Anthony Snape Music Publishing
Recorded by: Tommy Emmanuel
THE LONELY, THE LONESOME & THE GONE
Contributions by: Andrew Combs
Published by: Concord Music, Chunk of Coal Publishing
Recorded by: Lee Ann Womack
Contributions by: Jim Lauderdale
Published by: BMG Cicada, Jim Lauderdale Music
Performed by: Jim Lauderdale
FREE YOURSELF UP
Contributions by: Rachael Price, Michael Olson
Published by: W.B.M. Music, 17 Lake Street Music
Recorded by: Lake Street Music