Thomas Rhett’s Top 5 Songwriting Tips

Ron Hart / July 28, 2022
The country hitmaker shares his go-to songcraft tactics, from embracing criticism to striving to be uncomfortable.

"I never get to talk about that, this side," says country star Thomas Rhett. The side Rhett is referencing is his 13 years working as one of the most in-demand songwriters in Nashville, penning hits for himself, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, and Lee Brice, among others. 

Rhett, who was interviewed for our Songwriter Saturdays series by Alyssa Cotsalas, recalls being raised surrounded by music making, essentially "soaking it in" from Thomas Rhett Akins Sr., his famous country singer/songwriter dad. The younger musician has wasted no time since beginning his own career. He has released six albums in the last decade that have helped him rack up 17 hit singles, including "Make Me Wanna," "T-Shirt," "Marry Me," "Sixteen" and "Beer Can't Fix" to name five. Two of his albums, 2017's Life Changes and 2019's Center Point Road, earned him Grammy nominations for Best Country Album. 

With a resume like that, it's no surprise that he's also a great source of knowledge about the craft of songwriting. Watch part of his interview here, and read on for five of his top tips.   

1. You Can Handle the Truth

"One of my good writer and producer friends, Julian Bunetta, wrote a bunch of One Direction's hits back in the day," says Rhett. "We started this little group called the Firing Squad. We get into a room, we pass the phone around and we play demos that we think are really cool. The whole point of this Firing Squad is to absolutely lay into someone on what they can do better, how they can change it, why that doesn't sound like a hit." 

The experience inspired one of his key pointers. "Trust your gut for sure, but never, never repel the people that are speaking truth about a song... Being able to take criticism from someone that you trust may be the most important part of making it as a songwriter."

"If someone said, 'Hey, man, this is good, but I think you have better inside of you.' Don't get mad at that statement. Put your head down and keep going."

2. Write for Yourself When You Write for Others

"I write from such a personal standpoint," he says. "The majority of the songs that I've gotten recorded by other artists actually started out being written for my project. Then, when it came down to making the project, it wasn't [left off] because that song was not great. It was just because it didn't fit these 15... Like 'Round Here' for Florida Georgia Line. At that point in my life, I was working with Jay Joyce. I wanted to be Eric Church 2.0, and I did not want my stuff to sound super commercial. 'Round Here' sounded like a smash... Still to this day, my wife is like, that's my favorite song that you ever let go. But it found its home with FGL and it became my very first number one as a songwriter."

3. Don't Let Success Psyche You Out

"I remember when 'Die a Happy Man' came out and it did what it did. Then we had three or four more singles off that record," Rhett explains. "But when I started writing for the next record, I was like, jeez, is 'Die a Happy Man' like my identity. How will I ever write another love song that will be as big as that song was?... I would compare every love song to that, and if it didn't beat that, then it wasn't worth recording. 

It took encouragement from his songwriting collaborator Shane McAnally, who told him not to tune out inspiration that didn't match that hit, to nudge him past that blocker on the album that followed.

When Rhett took McAnally's advice to heart, they quickly "wrote a song called 'Marry Me.' So, sometimes it just takes sitting and just breathing and just being you... I think songwriting is so much of a random happenstance of catching lightning in a bottle. You can't really ever predict or prepare for that."

4. Show Up No Matter What

"I've learned so much from [my dad], but I think one of the biggest is just work ethic," he explains. "It's like he has this weirdly pessimistic but also super positive attitude about the way that he writes songs. So you can always count on him to show up, every time... I don't think he's ever canceled a write that he committed to, unless it was for an emergency. I think I just learned how to continue to show up from him. You could do a string of shows that were just not your best effort, but that doesn't mean you get to just lay down and quit for next weekend. That means you've got to pick yourself up and go do it better next weekend."

"My dad is always like, 'There's always another song to be written and you never know if that next one is the one that changes your life.'"

5. Strive to Be Uncomfortable

"I love to prove my worst self wrong. And I heard a quote the other day from my preacher at church and he said, 'You can either grow or you can be comfortable, but very rarely do both happen simultaneously.' That hit me like a ton of bricks."

"Those times where I've gone a different direction musically," Rhett continues, "it was a super uncomfortable position, but what was happening was growth. Because even in those really challenging situations --- those days where you want to quit, but you don't ... you're gonna be glad that you didn't quit because you're going to look back a year later and be like, 'Man, I grew this year. I learned a lot about playing a show, writing a song.'"

"So strive to be uncomfortable."

Spotify for Artists helps you to develop the fanbase you need to reach your goals.

Share this story