What a Hit Song Feels Like at First

You already know what a hit song sounds like. It’s on the radio every five minutes, and you can’t get it out of your head. But don’t you wonder how the artists know it’s a hit song before any of that comes into play? I do, so when I had the chance to ask about it at the BMI Country Awards in Nashville last week, here’s what the singers and songwriters told me.

Lee Brice, whose “I Drive Your Truck” won the CMA for song of the year, said you don’t ever know you have a hit song on your hands.

“Every now and then, there are times when you feel something deep inside you,” he said. “When I wrote ’Crazy Girl’ [for the Eli Young Band] and ’More Than a Memory’ [for Garth Brooks], I just knew. Some songs just really dig into your gut when you write them because they’re special.

“I’m more about changing the world and doing something magical. That’s what I’d like to write all the time, but sometimes you need to have a balance. And so ’Parking Lot Party’ was one of those ones I just couldn’t get outta my head.”

Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild knows a song is destined for greatness when she can’t stop listening to it.

“When I want to play it over and over again, I just know,” she said. “When it’s compelling enough to go back to and back to and back to, it’s a feeling you get when everything really comes together and a story is told just right.”

And when does Dean Dillon, who was honored with the BMI Icon Award know he’s writing a hit song?

“About four lines into it,” he said.

Country newcomer Lucy Hale said she knows that big-idea feeling because she knows how it feels to have a not-so-big-idea feeling.

“We’ll start writing a song, and if we’re not feeling it, we start over,” she said. “Like when nobody says anything for 10 minutes, or people are texting, or we’re like, ’When’s lunch?’ That’s when you know you need to give up.”

Thomas Rhett noted, “When you write enough bad songs, you know what a good one sounds like.”

I doubt he’s ever written a truly bad song, but he said that all the songs he wrote in middle school were terrible, awful love songs, like “I Love You, I Miss You, I Wanna Kiss You.”

Kip Moore said he has only felt that hit-song feeling with “Hey Pretty Girl.”

“After I wrote that, I knew undeniably that I had a hit,” he said. “I just knew it would resonate if it ever got out.”

Another country newcomer, Cole Swindell, said he knows he’s done something right when he wants to share it with everyone immediately.

“I don’t know that you ever actually know 100 percent,” he said. “But if you can’t stop singing it, and you get really excited, and when you get to where you wanna call somebody right away and sing them the verse and sing them the chorus, that’s the start of it. And those songs don’t come along very often.”

Josh Thompson is cautiously optimistic about his songs, whether he’s writing them for himself or someone else.

“If I know that this is a song that feels good and is gonna make people raise a glass or hug somebody next to them, then that’s how I know,” he said. “But if you feel like that every single day about every single song, then chances are you’re fooling yourself.”

But I think Dustin Lynch summed it up best when he talked about the feeling he had when he finished writing “Cowboys and Angels.”

“I think that if after a couple of weeks, you wake up singing it and you don’t get tired of it, you might have a hit on your hands,” he said. “There’s almost like an aura. And you long for that. But if we all had it on every song, we’d all be Dean Dillon.”