Country has never been as open to experimenting as it is right now – from Kacey Musgraves singing about same-sex kissing to Florida Georgia Line cruising with Nelly. But the Nashville songwriting complex still operates on a series of codes and traditions you won’t find in rock, pop or any other genre. We talked to four of the industry’s hitmakers – a whopping 34 Number One songs between them — who have managed to find the proper balance. So far they’ve yielded winners for Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton, Diamond Rio, Cole Swindell, the duo of Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert, and many more. Here’s some advice if you’d like to try, too.
Reporting by Christopher R. Weingarten, Beville Dunkerley and Joseph Hudak