Scott Barrier Talks Networking, Breaking Into the Majors, and Writing International Hits

From left, producer Michael Jay (Celine Dion, Kylie Minogue), artist Brooklyn Summer, Scott Barrier.

If you’re reading this and you’re in Nashville, you’re there for the same reason as thousands of other people: to find success in the music industry. But under that broad umbrella is a huge flow chart of little boxes: singer, songwriter, musician (with a dozen different instrumental subset boxes), engineer, producer, publisher, businessperson – the list is seemingly endless, and in the digital age it continues to grow and evolve and morph into areas that nobody had even thought of a year ago. And then there’s the huge number of us who come to Nashville with no real earthly idea of what we want to do with our lives, only that we want to do it in music.

When Scott Barrier pulled into Music City from his native Maryland, it was as a guy who knew how to sing and play instruments and had probably gone as far as he could back home. When it didn’t look like those skills would be very lucrative in a short amount of time, if ever, he started to explore other avenues, which is often how so many of us end up being, well, whatever we end up being.

“I cut my teeth being in bands, so I thought I was just gonna be a touring artist,” Barrier said. “My roommates at the time came here to be professional songwriters, and it was a funny conversation – I said, So let me get this straight, you sit in a room looking at somebody else and you come up with a song for somebody? And you make a living at that? And they were like, Yeah, and I said, Well, that’s okay, but I’m gonna go be a hired gun, be a band guy. And my one roommate turned out to be James Otto, who went on to have a number one as an artist with a project with John Rich (‘Just Got Started Lovin’ You’). And then, of course, he co-wrote ‘In Color’ with Jamey Johnson. And I saw that and I thought, Man, he’s doing great and I’m still playing for scale. So maybe I should try songwriting.”

“I’d been out with Gretchen Wilson for some shows,” he continued, “and I was kinda burnt out, so I thought maybe I should be an industry guy. I worked for a label called Rolling Way Records, I did some booking of artists, and that was all fun. But I was always writing on the side. So I joined NSAI, learned about Commercial Songwriting 101, about publishing, learned about that world, and started networking with people and moved out of the role of an industry guy to professional songwriter. And it took a while. And I had some things fall my way, thank God, so I’ve been able to do that now for five or six years.”

While Barrier has yet to score that elusive major label cut, he has managed to fashion a successful writing career by having placements with networks like Fox and Hallmark, and by taking full advantage of the fact that the world is much smaller than it was 20 years ago, enabling him to score cuts in other countries. He has had success on the Christian Music Weekly country charts, Ireland iTunes country music charts, the independent Canadian country radio charts and more. He’s also had cuts with acquaintances who became contestants on The Voice and American Idol, and with independent Nashville-based acts like Camden West and Allie Colleen. And he said it’s been due to one thing, the thing we hear repeatedly from anyone who’s successful in the business: It’s all about your relationships with other people.

“It’s networking,” he said. “It’s literally relationships and networking. It’s all about those opportunities with people I’ve known, about building relationships with people over the years, people who want me in the room. By working hard and building my skillsets, I’ve been able to get in better rooms and better situations with signed artists and signed writers.”

Barrier has made enough of a name for himself to attract co-writes with people like Steve Dean (Darin and Brooke Aldridge, Dierks Bentley) and other writers who have seen major success, though they themselves are nowadays increasingly fighting for that next cut. “I’ve had some songs on hold over the years,” he said. “I was hoping, as I was moving up the ranks, and starting to write with well-known hit writers, that that would translate into more interest on the major label side, but it’s not quite done that. And now those very people are trying to figure it out. And the publishers I’ve known over the years who had access to the majors no longer have access. The money’s not there like it was. It’s really daunting, people are really struggling to get these songs through to the major label artists because the majors have kind of closed ranks. They’re pretty much getting their signed writers to write for their signed artists, and pretty much closing out anyone who’s not at that level. It’s tough, it’s really tough.”

Wisely, Barrier has looked beyond Music Row for opportunities. “With my international cuts,” he said, “that’s been literally because of my co-writers who thought I should be in the room because they thought I could bring something to the table. I had two number ones in Australia in 2023 on the country charts. One was with an artist named Pam Hopkins, a funny song called ‘Squirrel Train.’ I didn’t even think it would hit the radio, and it went to number one on the Australian and Tasmanian charts. You never know. And I started working with a producer in Australia who has some signed artists who come to the United States to write with Nashville writers, and ended up writing with an artist named Andy Penkow, a song called ‘All the Ways’ that went to number one. So things are finally starting to happen. I feel like I’m crossing some invisible lines.”

So while Barrier is feeling the optimism that comes with success, he still plays unpaid writers’ nights around town, which many writers cease to do after a while because of the tedium of sitting in a club for three hours to play three songs, or because they don’t have the money for gas and drinks, or because they have to get up early for work. “I’m still meeting new artists and writers, and building new relationships,” he said. “So it’s partially networking for me to go do those (rounds). When I play places like the Commodore, a lot of times it’s because I want to go hang out with my friends, so it’s also social for me. I love playing music with my co-writers and my friends, so when someone calls me about a writers’ night I say I’ll do it just so we can hang out, spend some time together, enjoy music and life together. You have to have a social part of your life, it can’t all just be work and business.”

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