Five years ago, songwriter Nicolle Galyon appeared as a contestant on NBC's The Voice, chasing something that, it turns out, she never really wanted. Looking back on that time, she says, "The Voice had nothing to do with songwriting, but everything to do with my songwriting career."
While she only lasted a short while on coach Adam Levine's team before being eliminated from the show, the experience had a lasting impact on her life in several significant ways. First, she befriended fellow contestant RaeLynn and went on to co-write and co-produce the young singer's first full-length album, WildHorse, which debuted on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart at No. 1 for the week ending March 30.
Second, she got to know Miranda Lambert, who was then married to The Voice coach (and RaeLynn's mentor) Blake Shelton. Lambert subsequently helped kick-start Galyon's songwriting career by writing with her and having a hit with their song "Automatic." Another Galyon composition, "We Were Us," was a hit duet for Keith Urban and Lambert. Kenny Chesney, Florida Georgia Line, Lady Antebellum and Thomas Rhett, among others, have also cut the Warner/Chappell Nashville-signed writer's songs.
The third benefit of her time on The Voice was a massive boost in Galyon's confidence in her craft that - in what would seem like a contradiction - convinced her she didn't want to be a recording artist after all. "The Voice kept me in forward motion at a time where I wasn't having any success and needed to keep getting up to the plate and swinging," she says. "Ultimately, it brought me back to what I've always wanted, which is to be a writer … More than anything, it gave me clarity [about] what I was and what I wasn't, and also gave me a lot of courage, because it took so much bravery for me to get up there and try to do that on TV."
Her real goal in initially chasing a career as an artist was simply to get her songs heard. Once those songs started airing on the radio and other artists' albums, Galyon felt she'd accomplished her mission: "Honestly, my desire to be an artist went away... I don't have a performance bug."
What didn't dissipate was her close friendships with RaeLynn and songwriter/producer Jimmy Robbins ("Lights Come On," "Think A Little Less"). Long before any of them had achieved success, they began writing and recording demos together, forming what Galyon calls "a songwriting unit … We all really believed in each other before anybody else really believed in us."
When RaeLynn briefly found herself without a record deal after leaving Big Machine Label Group and before signing with current home Warner Music Nashville, the trio doubled down on her music. They wrote and recorded the first five tracks for what became WildHorse on their own, giving RaeLynn something she could take to WMN as an example of the direction she saw her music taking. Her poignant hit "Love Triangle," was among them.
"In the time since we all wrote together for the first time, Jimmy got married, Rae got married, and I had two babies," says Galyon, who has been wed for a decade to fellow hit Nashville songwriter Rodney Clawson. "We've lived a lot of life together, so it felt really natural for us to help her tell that story, because we have walked through that life with her."
After RaeLynn signed with WMN, its executives allowed Galyon and Robbins to remain her producers. "They have been nothing but supportive," says Galyon of WMN. "We were all just so grateful, and we're still pinching ourselves that we got to make music with our friends."
In the studio, Galyon says Robbins was "the musical mastermind" while she focused on the album's concept and vocal production. "I didn't push a single button," she says. "I was more, I would say, the heartbeat behind it all." She also co-wrote eight of WildHorse's 12 songs.
When the set debuted atop the Top Country Albums chart, says Galyon, it reinforced the trio's conviction about its work. "What we kept saying to one another was, 'We believed in this music for so many years, in times when nobody else was really talking about it.' We felt validated in our beliefs that we're not crazy, this is good music … and we were just so happy for the world to hear [RaeLynn] as she's always wanted to be heard."
Galyon's WildHorse producer credit is a rarity for women in Nashville who aren't an album's artist. She joins a tiny club of female producer/songwriters that includes Lari White (Toby Keith's White Trash With Money) and Victoria Shaw (Lady Antebellum's self-titled debut). But Galyon is at a loss to explain why so few women step up to produce country projects, other than to note that she doesn't hear her fellow female songwriters expressing a desire to produce. "But I don't know if that's because they don't want to or because they don't think the opportunity is there," she says.
Perhaps Galyon's success will convince other women that such projects are available. Meanwhile, she keeps busy advocating for Nashville's entire songwriting community. She has made several trips to Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the Nashville Songwriters Association International to meet with lawmakers, something Galyon says is "so important." "When [lawmakers] hear that a songwriter wrote a song, that means one thing to them. When they [meet] that girl from Kansas who wrote songs for 10 years before she had a song on the radio and who has a family to support, that connects [with] them.
"I'm one of the younger writers that goes up there regularly, and I think that gets their attention, too, because I'm still on the front end of my career," she continues. "What's going to happen with copyright laws is going to affect me more than it's going to affect someone who had hits 20 years ago."
She calls her trips to Capitol Hill "really eye-opening when you see how few people there are fighting for all of us. Every person that can go up there and tell their story and put a heartbeat and a face behind the songs that these people in suits grew up listening to, or their kids listen to … every single person that goes up there has an opportunity to connect with someone that can make a difference for us."
Her children also motivate her lobbying efforts. "I see them running around the house singing songs or trying to pick up Rodney's guitar or play my piano, and I think about how Rodney and I have been really, really blessed," she says. "We've gotten to live our dreams. [But] with the way that things are going right now, with streaming and all the stuff with copyrights, there might be a world where our kids may not ever have the opportunity to be professional songwriters. So I just want to help in any way I can."
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