Songwriter Profile: J.T. Harding

Growing up in Detroit listening to the furthest thing from country (favorites included Skid Row’s “18 & Life,” Mötley Crüe’s “Dr. Feelgood,” and “Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”), J. T. Harding wore KISS make-up religiously as a youngster, telling girls that his father was David Lee Roth. He credits his adoptive parents with encouraging him from the start. “My dad worked at ESPN. My mom was the President of Little League. I was an MTV junkie trapped in an episode of SportsCenter, but they encouraged me [and] let me put bands together.”

Friend, Rich Waller (a member of his childhood band) was also an early mentor, explaining important elements of arranging (drum drops and song bridges), and leading Harding (albeit unknowingly) to create memorable, attention-grabbing songs. Realizing that every CD he owned listed offices in Los Angeles, Harding secretly fled to California, landing a job at Tower Records (counting on landing a record deal). Music Connection’s former editor Kenny Kerner (d. 2014) encouraged him to add additional verses and A&R Rep Brian Koppelman (who he met at Tower) got Harding his first deal. When the record wasn’t released, Harding shopped his material around. Recruitment by a touring rock star as an assistant brought a whirlwind of international five-star adventures, a request to assist Linkin Park, and a publishing deal with Jonathan Daniel (of Crush Management). 

Moving to Nashville (on Daniels’ suggestion), Harding met Rusty Gaston (now head of Sony), who signed his next publishing deal. Harding says to knock on doors and keep meeting people, even after signing a deal.

Describing himself as a basic guitarist, Harding usually starts his songwriting with a title. “Someone will say something, or I read something (Jake Owen’s “Alone With You” was originally inspired by the book Running With Scissors), I start strumming the guitar—a melody, lyric, and chord—kind of like a sneeze. Sometimes it appears, but it's usually the title.” At a recent wedding, a man was waiting for his wife hugging everyone goodbye and said, ‘she can't stop saying goodbye.’ Harding turned it into “We Can't Stop Saying Goodbye.”

“I've had success [because] I've always been myself,” says Harding. “Camping to me is a hotel and a hairdryer. If you are writing songs that mean something to you, it makes all the difference.” 

You also have to write something the artist hasn’t done yet. “'Somewhere With You' was passed around like a vape pen at a Willie Nelson concert - everybody turned it down,” he shares. “But when Kenny Chesney heard it, he knew it was different. It became a monster hit.”  When it comes to songwriting, Harding suggests:

 • Keeping a positive attitude and being on time;

 • Finding a space to create freely (not forcing yourself to work around roommates);

 • Changing things up to avoid repeat sound and feel (co-writing helps artistic growth);

 • Flipping concepts around (Douglas/Shamblin’s “The House That Built Me“ flips the idea of a house you build, building you).

“The world is always going to need new hit songs. Artists don't exist without songs. Sports teams are going to run out on the field to a song. Movies are going to have a song. It's going to be somebody… Make it be you!”

Penning hits for Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Kenney Chesney and Uncle Kracker, Harding’s memoir, Party Like A Rockstar, is out now.

Contact Morgan Canclini-Mitchell - [email protected]

Experience J.T. Harding at instagram.com/jtxrockstar