If you’re even a casual radio listener then songwriter Dan Couch needs no introduction. While he – and creative colleague Kip Moore – may have seemed like overnight successes with 2012’s #1 “Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck,” which hit double platinum this past December, Couch’s story is a triumph of perseverance 15 years in the making.
“I got really lucky,” he tells me.
Couch moved to Nashville in 1995 and earned himself a couple publishing deals, staff writing for BMG for three and a half years then signing with Malaco for another three. When Malaco closed its doors and Couch lost his publisher, he made a risky decision: to continue writing without seeking a new publishing deal. Though this meant he’d retain 100% of the publishing royalties from any songs of his that were recorded, publishers pay advances, pitch songs, handle royalty collections, and arrange co-writes, tasks that are much more challenging for a writer to tackle without a team.
“God definitely smiled on me and my wife,” he says. “My wife is a labor and delivery nurse, so she was able to sort of keep us floating. Then it just happened that I started writing with a guy named Kip Moore that nobody knew anything about and the rest is history. I just got really, really lucky.”
Though “Truck” was Couch’s first #1, it was by no means his first taste of success. He had singles recorded by Joshua Steven and James Wesley, as well as Moore’s “Mary Was The Marrying Kind,” a co-write with Moore and Scott Stepakoff that peaked at #45 for Moore but ultimately didn’t make the introductory splash they’d hoped.
“You have enough good things happen to make you think that it can happen,” he says. “You see good things happening for the guys around you, and you see the heartbreak of the music biz happen around you too, where somebody gets a song recorded, everybody’s excited about it, and by the time the record’s done the song doesn’t even make the record.”
“You learn that when that happens to you, if you’ve been paying attention and talking to everybody else, it happens to everybody,” he continues. “It’s just part of it. You just have to accept that it’s tough to get songs recorded, it’s tough to get songs on records, and it’s really hard to get songs on the radio.”
“Everybody that comes here came here chasing a dream, just like I did,” he adds.
While the music industry and its politics can be frustrating, Couch’s optimism ultimately paid off. Aside from numerous songs with Moore – including singles “Hey Pretty Girl,” “Young Love,” and “Dirt Road” – he’s had songs recorded by artists including Tracy Lawrence, Craig Campbell, Cody Johnson, Lauren Alaina, and Canaan Smith, as well as Jamey Johnson’s current single “You Can.”
“You’ve gotta make each song so you love it, get it to a place where you love it,” Couch says. “And if you love it, maybe somebody else will love it, whether it’s today or ten years from now. But if you get it to a place where you really love it and truly feel good about it, somebody else is gonna be into it too.”
It’s a belief that informs the way he writes, whether it’s with other writers or with the recording artist themselves, the latter of which can be a rare opportunity for writers but is a circumstance in which Couch has thrived.
“We’re always just trying to get the best possible song that we can get, get the most out of a hook, the most emotion, and just the best lines, really make it make sense, and hopefully impact somebody. So that might mean a little different things because these guys speak different languages. But I enjoy very much getting to know these guys and helping them say what they wanna say.”
It’s a skill he’s honed well, whether it’s along wittier lines – like his clever Canaan Smith co-write, “Hole in a Bottle” – or a more direct approach, like the sweet and subtle “Hey Pretty Girl.” With so many cuts with Moore in particular, it may seem obvious that the two were destined for co-writing success, but at the time, it didn’t feel like a given.
“When Kip and I wrote “Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck,” we didn’t know if it would ever get played on radio because of the format of the song – four verses before you get to a chorus that pretty much repeats what we’ve already said,” he says.
“But we wrote that song and we wrote it the way we did ‘cuz we were like, ‘This is how it needs to go, this is how this story needs to be told. And somebody’s probably gonna want us to write this two verses and a chorus.’ But that’s not the way we did it, we sorta stuck to our guns, and thank God they gave it a chance and got it out there and it worked. So I feel super lucky, super blessed that it did work, but I was proud of me and Kip too for sticking to our guns and saying nah, this is how it needs to go.”