Allison Asks: Writing Up with Ava Paige

Allison Asks

Writing Up with Ava Paige

A Blog Series By: Allison Barrett



Welcome back to Allison Asks!  This month we will continue our cowriting adventure!  I was so excited to chat with Ava Paige.  She never fails to impress everyone with her down-to-earth attitude and amazing songs.  It's no surprise she has been getting in some big rooms lately, so we talked about that!




[ALLISON] So you’ve been writing songs since you were 13.  Is that right?


[AVA] Um, maybe 10.  I started doing music professionally when I was 12 or 13, but I’ve been writing songs… I released my first album when I was 12, so technically writing since I was 10.  Now those songs, I don’t look at and I don’t acknowledge, like Voldemort don’t say his name, but I did write them.


[ALLISON] When did you start cowriting?


[AVA] Probably soon after that, like 11 or 12.  It’s weird, growing up in Nashville was strange because I was already here and the logical thing- what do people do - oh they cowrite so let’s get started on that, so I joined NSAI.  Well, I couldn’t join NSAI, my mom had to because I was too young. I  just started writing with people and networking like crazy and trying to write more songs by myself, but just meeting other writers.  I jumped straight into cowriting.


[ALLISON] Obviously, everyone knows about Taylor Swift and Liz Rose and that pair.  Who were some of your earliest champions and are you still writing with them?


[Ava] Oh gosh, I wrote with so many people, that’s hard.  They always say find your circle, find your tribe, and you float in and out of those things.  Artist wise, Kent Maxson.  He’s great.  Steve O’Brien and Brian White - the songwriter not the artist, I always have to clarify!  They were some great influences and cowriters that helped me learn how to cowrite, their styles and everything and how to speak up during a write and all that. So, I don’t honestly write with a lot of them anymore just because our schedules have gotten so crazy and I’ve found a group of writers that I love to write with and we kind of have a little tribe now, but there’s a lot of different cowriters, it’s hard to remember names.  Just kind people in this town who took a chance.


[ALLISON] So how was it starting out as the 12 or 13 year old, and now you’re 18. So, 6 years, how has that changed for you in the room?


[AVA] A lot has changed.  Starting so young and starting cowriting at 12 or 13, it was hard to get into rooms, because people see the age first and rightfully so.  I had a lot to learn.  When I was 12 or 13 I was not a good cowriter, I mean I was just starting.  So, it was hard to break into some of those rooms and it was hard to make those connections, but I tried anyway and I would take every single write that I could and every single opportunity that I could.  I played every show and every writer’s round I could get in to, tried to negotiate with bar owners, and all that.  It was definitely hard.  Now, I like to think through years of networking and years of writing with people I’ve gotten better and I like to also think that I’ve built up a pretty good reputation around town of being a hard-working writer. So, it’s definitely easier now that I’ve made a little bit of a name for myself and people know I take my job seriously, but of course there’s still hurdles to jump and everything, but there will always be.  That’s just this town for ya.  It’s definitely been a heck of a ride for sure.


[ALLISON] What a great first job!


[AVA] It’s fun and awesome, but it is my job and what a heck of a first job.


[ALLISON] Well, you’re great at what you do and it’s obviously proving because you’re writing with some really big names right now.  How do you feel about that?  Is there someone special you’ve been writing with that’s been like a dream for you?


[AVA] Man, I’ve gotten to write with some really cool people over the last couple of years and honored to honestly. Now a really good cowriter and friend of mine is Marla Cannon Goodman.  She’s been such an incredible champion and just friend. I started writing with her about two years ago now.  I actually met her through an NSAI pitch!  It’s funny. It’s a long story of how we met, but her daughter’s best friend dated my brother which was a hilarious thing, so she saw me through his Instagram stories and then I pitched a song through NSAI here and she’s like hey we should write and so we started writing and the rest is history.  She’s been absolutely phenomenal and we’ve written so much stuff together that I absolutely love.  One of my singles, “If I Were You,” was a cowrite with me, her, and Corri English.  We’ve written with just some fun people: Kendel Marvel, Tony Lane, so many awesome people. She’s just such an incredible inspiration as well as just friend. 


We got to spend four days in Denmark together at a festival and it was great. She is somebody to really look up to because her writing style and everything is something that I really appreciate and try to take in as much as possible.  She always preached to me to never settle on lines and I was raised that way too, so we write really well together because we’re always knit picking at each other to make it’s the best line it can be, but I love her so dearly.  She’s been such a great friend, mentor, and just awesome person in general.  Other cool people though, Tony Lane, has been somebody that I’ve been writing with as well and he’s a mastermind. He’s awesome and has been super fun.  Then I have my core group of guys that I love to write with and that we’re all going together: John Mullins, Becca Rae, Kelly Johnson, all those guys I love very dearly.


[ALLISON] I love that because people always say ‘let’s get together and write’ but you guys said that and did it and it turned out so good! 


[AVA] Yah we’ve probably written 25 songs together since then?  20 at least because we’ve been writing for the past two years so we have a lot of songs together and I love her very, very dearly.


[ALLISON] So how has writing been different since you’ve started writing up?


[AVA] It always pushes you to be better and I love that about writing with these guys.  We are so anti-settlers, right?  If you have a line that works we want to make sure it’s THE line.  So, it’s very targeted writing and it’s passionate and we want the song to be the best it can be and I know my guys aren’t afraid to take a few writing sessions if it needs it.  The people I’ve been writing with, we just have a feel for each other.  We know what we’re going to say without saying it and if I say gibberish they understand what I’m trying to say and it’s great.  I definitely have felt in these writes pushing yourself more and more for the next song, pushing your vocal range, and the melody getting more unique, more unheard of.  Sometimes it’s been a whole new challenge of writing targeted stuff.  That was something that I had to learn a couple of years ago where if Kenny Chesney is looking then we have to write something in his vein, how to switch your gears to make it something that he would cut and so being that targeted and still writing a song that your passionate about but still targeting that artist.  That’s a whole other range of skills sets that you have to learn.  Writing with these people who get to these people and get these pitch sheets and indoor opportunities where you have to be able to adapt to that.  That’s been a whole new thing to learn and also learning how to write other genres because I’m a firm believer that if you’re just writing one genre in this town you’re missing out on 90 percent of the industry because every single publishing house has a sync division.  A lot of money is in that and were behind.  Nashville is super behind New York and LA when it comes to that department. It’s very valuable learning how to write that, and how to write pop, and write R&B, and write country, inspirational Christian, Gospel, and all those things to really round out your catalogue.  Writing up has really helped when pitching yourself and becoming a better writer.


[ALLISON] It's interesting you mention the more things you do the more cuts you’ll get because Ralston that I chatted with a few months ago said that it’s a numbers game and here it is again!


[AVA] Everyone’s process is different.  So, I think for a while I was writing twice a day five days a week and I was getting a lot of songs from that, but I sacrificed quantity over quality and so you have to find the thing that fits best for you.  I find that once a day is my spot.  Now some people think that’s too much and they’ll only write three times a week and it honestly depends on the quality rather than the quantity because if you have 20 songs, but only two of them are cutable then you know you only have two songs really.  But if you have seven songs but all seven are cuttable then that’s more valuable to a publisher.  So, focus on those quality songs and make sure they’re not just good that they’re great, always keep pushing yourself to write better, and don’t settle.  That’s my opinion at least.


[ALLISON] That makes sense!  But still be rounded out.


[AVA] Yes!  There are so many types of artists in this town and I think a lot of people forget, we’re not country music city, we’re songwriting city.  We’re songwriting capital of the country and I think people forget that sometimes and they just think that Nashville is country.  A lot of us are southern and a lot of us are country, but there’s so many different genres here especially since Nashville is becoming a big producing town too, so you know all of the record labels and all of the studios are here. There’s a huge market for that in LA as well, but here it’s just songwriting capital of the country, so write everything.  Our radio is filled with a bunch of different types of artists so go for it.


[ALLISON] And crossovers, for example, country isn’t just country anymore.


[AVA] Exactly.  Listening to pop songs can really help write a country melody as well.  It doesn’t mean you have to go straight pop-country with it, you can still do more traditional sounding country with more unique melodies.  So listening to different artists on the radio who are doing those unique melodies like Charlie Puth and Billie Eilish can really help expand your songwriting range and not make you a one-trick pony where all your songs sound the same.


[ALLISON] And it helps you sound less dated and possibly more commercially viable.  Great advice!  So what would you say to someone who is wanting to write up?


[AVA] I got told to always find your tribe and find people that you love to write with, and I always called BS on that because it always changes.  You think you found your people and it’s not your people, then you find your people, and it’s not your people.  I always thought that was stupid until I found my people and now, we write all the time together.  It’s a small group, but I can bring anyone into that writing room with that person and know that we’re going to get a good song. 


To keep writing up, find that person that you’re comfortable with and can rely on that you can bring in.  I always love three-ways, they make me happy.  That’s my perfect number.  And network.  That’s the biggest thing I think anyone can preach.  I got preached it when I was younger and it’s true.  In this town it’s all about connections and making relationships.  If you want to write with Chris DeStefano or Lori McKenna or Shane McAnally, you’re not going to send them a cold email saying ‘hey, I want to write with you.’  That’s not how it works.  They have these artists on their roster that are cutting and who are they going to cut to put an unnamed artist on.  It sounds harsh, but that’s how the industry and how their time is.  It’s the music business and we always forget about the business side of things. 


If you want to write up and write with people who are doing things now, then show your face and introduce yourself before you even make the ask.  Right?  If you have someone that you really want to write with and look up to, go to their rounds, go to the Bluebird rounds, go to their Listening Room rounds, meet with them, cover their songs, and tag them in it.  Now don’t be obsessive of course, that’s weird and will drive people away from you.  Use moderation!  But show your support and respect for them and then after you show them your talent the opportunity will come.  If the songwriter sees your videos or sees your face enough to be curious and look you up, and if they see your stuff and they like it, they might say ‘come play me some stuff’ or ‘let’s get coffee sometime.’  That’s another introduction for you after you make that relationship is say ‘I’d like to treat you to coffee and pick your brain about the industry.’  Don’t ask them to write.  Just ask them to go get coffee, and a lot of times they will be down for that, especially if you pay!  So, just reach out.  The worst they can say is no.  Just build that relationship and when the time comes, you’ll know when it’s right to ask to write.


[ALLISON] I love that!  What else do you think our members need to know?


[AVA] You have to learn it.  Cowriting is a skill and it takes time to grow and become comfortable with it because your basically walking into a room with a stranger and spilling out your heart to them.  It takes a lot of getting comfortable with people, getting to understand the ways of cowriting.  There’s a delicate balance I think to cowriting between being too obnoxious and too opinionated and then not being as opinionated as you should be and not being loud enough, so there’s a delicate balance that you will learn and it changes for different people.  I know some buddies of mine, they might look a little aggressive and they’re not you just have to speak your mind.  So, it’s like don’t back down.  Again, different styles fit different people. 


Also, another thing I got preached to when I was younger about cowriting and I still remind myself of this every day is your role in a cowrite will change every single day.  Some people do just lyric or just melody, but your role will change every single cowrite, every single day, every single song.  It’s ok if one day you write the whole entire thing by yourself and another day you’re just the scribe.  It changes every single time.  Sometimes if you have three people in the room, two people will be on a roll and will just be spitting out a great lyric and bouncing back and forth to each other and don’t feel left out.  You could just write down what they’re saying and that’s more valuable than anything.  Record a voice memo of everything they’re saying so you don’t forget it.  You can find a way to still be useful in a room even if you’re not directly contributing all of the lyric.  It changes every time and don’t feel ashamed if you don’t contribute as much as you do one time as you do another.  Every day is different, every song is different.


[ALLISON] That’s perfect.