The Writers Round With Caitlyn Smith

The singer-songwriter recently released her debut country single “I Can’t” featuring Old Dominion and has cuts by other artists including Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” Trisha Yearwood’s “Every Girl In This Town” and Miley Cyrus’ “High.”

Written by Annie Reuter
The Writers Round With Caitlyn Smith
Caitlyn Smith; Photo credit: Shervin Lainez

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, Caitlyn Smith sheds some light into her life as a songwriter as well as shares the stories behind some of her many hits including Trisha Yearwood’s “Every Girl In This Town,” Miley Cyrus’ “High” and Gabby Barrett’s “Goldmine.”

Caitlyn Smith has spent the past decade in Nashville honing her sound as an artist while enjoying a prolific songwriting career. Signed to Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville as a songwriter since 2020, Smith also has a label deal with Monument Records. She has released two albums, including 2020’s Supernova featuring her debut country single “I Can’t” with Old Dominion.

“When I’m not in a mode where I’m writing for my album, I love to try and [write for] other artists,” she tells Sounds Like Nashville.

Recent songwriting cuts include Trisha Yearwood’s “Every Girl In This Town,” Miley Cyrus’ “High,” Gabby Barrett’s “Goldmine” and Lindsay Ell’s “Space.” While she’s seen success with Meghan Trainor’s No. 1 duet with John Legend, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” and Garth Brooks’ “Tacoma” in the past, she credits those triumphs to simply showing up.

“It took me a little while to learn to not chase after the radio or what I think that this artist would want to hear,” she says. “The faster that you can become comfortable in your own skin and find your own voice and sing it as loud as possible, that was the best lesson I learned for sure.”

Soon after moving to Nashville from Minnesota, Smith met Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame member Don Schlitz (“The Gambler,” “Forever and Ever, Amen”) who took her under his wing and taught her about songwriting. Smith says she could write a book on the things she learned over the past decade.

“One of the things that sticks with me that he used to say [is], ‘If you can’t think of anything to write about, you’re just not paying attention,’” she says. “There’s always something to write about. I love that. It just shows the testament of showing up. Half the battle is just getting to your write.”

Patience is another lesson Smith learned as many of her songs sat on shelves for years before being recorded by another artist. This was the case for “Every Girl In This Town,” which Trisha Yearwood recorded six years after it was written by Smith, Erik Dylan and Connie Harrington. “Every Girl In This Town” peaked at No. 21 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in 2019.

“It had been pitched to so many artists,” Smith recalls. “Connie had the title. I grew up listening to Trisha Yearwood, so I remember thinking about her music while writing the song. It floated around for years and years. We even re-demoed it a couple times and it just didn’t present itself. When Trisha, who is a hero of mine, comes along and wants to record it I’m like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ She was the very first concert I went to at eight years old and then she recorded it.”

An empowering anthem for women everywhere, “Every Girl In This Town” is just one of Smith’s many recordings by female artists. Trying her best to pursue music in a male dominated industry, Smith and frequent collaborators Heather Morgan and Mags Duval started a seasonal residency titled Girls of Nashville. During each season, a collective of female songwriters and artists share the stage and their talents at a female-led writer’s round in Nashville.

What Smith says was created selfishly in 2014 to get their girlfriends together to hear everyone’s music in one place has swiftly turned into something much bigger. In 2020, Girls of Nashville partnered with Spotify and SONA to benefit the Songwriter Fund to help distribute emergency grants to songwriters suffering during COVID-19.

“There’s such a beautiful thing that happens where people feel encouraged in their dreams and people feel validated that they can keep going with it,” she says of the event. “It’s a wild career choice. It’s a beast of an industry and I find that there’s so much beauty that comes out of camaraderie.”

Smith says she mostly listens to female singers and each showcase fills her cup as a songwriter and an artist. While she’s had successful cuts over the years, she admits that she often wakes up wondering if she remembers how to write songs.

“I’m still learning and growing all the time and changing and trying to keep the creative well filled. I’ve written songs since I was eight years old when I just made stuff up. There are definitely parts of my journey where I feel like, ‘Wow, that’s a big win’ and you feel validated as you go along your journey,” she says. “Peers saying, they love your song, that’s exciting. Then you have artists that you love cut your songs and put them on a record. Radio success is another measure.

“The cut of all cuts will always be the Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers duet. I don’t think anything will ever beat that because Dolly is one of my songwriting idols and the fact that she is singing one of my songs is still crazy. … It’s a daily refresh and continual journey.”

In 2019, Smith tied Elton John for a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Original Song for “Glasgow (No Place Like Home).” Smith penned the song with Kate York and Mary Steenburgen for the movie Wild Rose and calls the award win “a bucket list thing.”

“That song is so special because it’s another way of writing. When you’re writing specifically for film, you’re usually given a copy of the script [and given] the scene, the emotion or given a lot of the parameters,” she says. “It’s a fun way to write because it’s a little harder.

“I didn’t even know that they used it in the movie until they were actually cutting the scene in Glasgow. There was a live audience for that, and people were tweeting, ‘This song is insane!’”

Miley Cyrus recently recorded “High,” a song Smith wrote with Jennifer Decilveo in Nashville. Cyrus rewrote some of the lyrics to fit her journey and what she had lived through and included it on her 2020 project Plastic Hearts. Smith notes that “High” is the most country song on the record and says she hopes the cut leads to a future co-write with the singer.

Smith also penned the only outside song featured on Gabby Barrett’s 2020 debut album Goldmine. She wrote the title track with Liz Rose and Nicolle Galyon while sitting poolside at Rose’s home.

“I had that little mandolin, and we wrote this little jam,” Smith recalls. “It sat around for a few years as well, which is such a testament to show up and trust that the song will find its home in the right time. I feel really grateful for that.”

This year marks new territory for Smith, who released her debut country single “I Can’t” to radio Feb. 22. The song debuted at No. 55 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and she’s hoping “I Can’t” will allow people to discover her album Supernova. Smith says the album is her cracking open with songs that hit so many levels of the heart.

“I’m trying to continually dig into how do I break my heart open even more and show people the different layers of my humanity. That was my goal with Supernova,” she says. “I feel very, very grateful that more people will get to hear it. … There are definitely goals that I still have and I’m chasing toward. If I look back and see the road that I’ve already walked down, it definitely is a dream come true. I’m not quite there yet and in other ways, I’m in places that I never would have imagined. I still wake up and there is nothing else that I would rather do.”