Country Camaraderie: BMI’s Jody Williams on the 2017 BMI Country Awards

Posted in The Weekly on November 6, 2017

BMI will be celebrating its 65th annual Country Awards tomorrow night, with Nashville songwriting legend Bob DiPiero being named a BMI Icon for his unique and indelible influence on music. Additionally, chart-topping singer/songwriter Keith Urban will be recognized with BMI’s Champion Award for his work supporting the next generation of songwriters, as well as his tireless commitment to numerous music education programs. Beyond presenting these two prestigious accolades, BMI will also be honoring the songwriters and publishers of the most performed songs of the year, as well as the BMI Country Song, Songwriter and Publisher of the Year, in what promises to be yet another star-studded evening of music and celebration.

Last week, we sat down with Jody Williams, BMI Vice President, Creative, Nashville, to get his insider’s take on the significance of this gala event.

What do you look forward to most about the night of?
The thing I like the most about the night of is when I hear our theme song, “Gentle On My Mind,” play. That means we’re about to get going. We take the stage, we give out the awards and we honor the Icon. And that’s when you don’t think about all of the preparation anymore, you just go do it. I have to tell you, it’s the most fun when I hear “Gentle On My Mind.” I know I’m about to have a great time for a couple hours. It’s really a lot of fun.

What’s it like to work with a writer and see them get their first award?
It’s great. This year I’m looking forward to giving out Maren Morris’ first awards. Maren is someone who wandered into my office about five years ago. We got to introduce her around to the music industry here in Nashville, and things really, really worked out for her, and I’m proud to say that we were there first. We were her first professional relationship here in Nashville, and we remain close to her. So, to give Maren her first awards this year will be extra special.

What does it take to write a song that gets one of these awards?
To write a song that wins one of the “50 Most Performed Songs” at the BMI Country Awards, it takes writing something that is a universal truth that is said in a different way. It has to be relatable, but it has to be different at the same time.

How does the Icon selection process work?
Mike O’Neill and I will get on the phone together, and it’s not hard to agree on who to honor. This year, for Bob DiPiero, it was very easy. He has an almost 40-year career here in Nashville with so many number one records and so many more Top 10 records. He’s really a songwriting ambassador out of Nashville and travels all over the world talking about songwriting and putting on shows, and to me that’s what sets him apart and makes him an Icon. It’s not only his body of work, but the fact that he’s an ambassador for songwriters.

What do you think it is about the country songwriting community that is so mutually supportive? What is it about this music that forges these bonds?
You know, I don’t think it’s the music as much as I think it is the people and the proximity here in Nashville. We’re on a “college campus.” We’re all co-writing with each other, so writers from Sony ATV are writing over at Warner Chappell or over at BMG or over at Big Loud Shirt or wherever. We’re all in each other’s offices all the time. We’re competing, yet we’re supporting each other. On a songwriter’s worst day, when he gets some bad news or he just doesn’t feel inspired or feel like it’s going his way, his co-writer will usually lift him up out of that funk so he can write again and press on. And then the next day, that writer who was a little down and out will do the same for a buddy of his. We have this support system here that’s unlike any other music community in the country.

Related: Watch Jody Williams’ in-depth interview with Nashville songwriter and BMI Icon Bob DiPiero by clicking here.