Before he became one of Nashville’s biggest behind-the-scenes player, Shane McAnally was struggling to make ends meet.
In 2007, McAnally — an aspiring songwriter who had hustled 14 years without catching a break — was couch-surfing in Los Angeles after losing his home and having his car repossessed. But everything changed on a chance trip to Palm Springs, when he found his future husband, Michael Baum, 45.
“We met at a pool,” recalls McAnally, 44, who was struggling with his sexuality at the time. “I thought it would just be a weekend hookup.”
But the pair (McAnally in L.A., Baum in Atlanta) began dating long-distance, and the songwriter slowly started coming out.
“He was not a person that could be told, ‘I’m going to keep this a secret,'” McAnally says of Baum. “He was like, ‘If we’re going to be together, I can’t hide.’ At that point, I had had no success anyway. I had lost my house. I lost my car, and I met someone that was saying, ‘I love you anyway, except I can’t do this if you’re in the closet.’ So then I just came out.”
Adds the Mineral Wells, Texas, native: “Before, I was always worried about the pronouns I was using. I worried: ‘Will a good ol’ boy sing a song if a gay guy wrote it?’ I was in the closet. And it was represented in my work. That stopped because I met my husband.”
Indeed, after their meeting McAnally began being more honest in his music.
“One of the things that changed was the authenticity,” he says. “I was telling the truth.”
Finally, in 2008, McAnally got his big break when LeeAnn Womack recorded his song “Last Call.” He moved to Nashville to pursue country music full-time, then scored his first No. 1 hit in 2010, writing Kenny Chesney’s “Somewhere with You.”
Still, McAnally says he was nervous about how artists would react to working with him once he was out.
“I remember the first time I ever got asked to do an artist trip where you get on the bus with a big artist. It was Luke Bryan,” McAnally recalls. “I was so, like, ‘Does he know that I’m gay? He wants me to do this?’ I remember someone in our office that was setting it up just being like, ‘I don’t know. Should I tell him?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ So there was still a hangover of that. But he never said anything — we’re friends!”
Indeed, McAnally — who has won three Grammys working with Kacey Musgraves — is grateful coming out didn’t affect his career.
“It was like no one noticed,” he says. “I never had anything but open arms from the professional community. I was starting to have hits, that also really helps— people want to work with you because of your success. And so luckily that didn’t play into it.”
In the years since he came out, McAnally has penned 40 No. 1’s and become a go-to collaborator for Music City A-Listers, from Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini to Miranda Lambert and Sam Hunt.
He and Baum married in 2012 — the same year they welcomed their twins, daughter Dylan and son Dash, via surrogate, and started their Nashville publishing company Smack. Now, McAnally is stepping into the spotlight on NBC’s hit songwriting competition Songland.
“After all the success of songwriting and all the things, the producing in Nashville, there was something that I knew was never going to feel complete about what I was doing. I didn’t want to make records on my own or go out there and sing: That’s not the calling. But there was something performance-based that I was missing,” he says. “So I felt like [Songland] was an opportunity to be entertaining in a way that appealed to me.”
Today, the hitmaker and his family split time between Nashville and L.A. — and he couldn’t be happier.
“Being able to have a family and the career I wanted,” he says, “is way more than I dreamed of.”