Update: Liz Rose was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2023.
Grammy-winning songwriter Liz Rose had no plans of being a tunesmith. The former stay-at-home mom moved to Nashville with her husband in 1994, and after her children started school, she landed a job as a songplugger. Later, she started a small publishing house where she and eventually began to pen songs with some her writers.
“It took me I don’t know how many years and cuts for me to be bold enough to say I’m a songwriter,” Rose said. “There are people who do it for years and years and years and know so much more than I do. I wrote with great writers that taught me a lot, and I just kind of fell into it naturally. For some reason, I was pretty good at it. It was just crazy.”
“I don’t play, and I’m not really a singer,” Rose said, “but I’m a talker, if you get me talking. At the time when I started, I had a lot of drama in my life, so I had a lot to talk about,” she adds with a laugh.
“I do it [songwriting] in so many different ways we seem to get songs out of it. I’m a good editor. If you start playing me this, things just start coming out of my brain, and I don’t even know where they come from.”
Rose can make up and sing melodies which she does a lot. Mainly, she is known as a lyricist except with her most well-known co-writer, Taylor Swift.
“I can’t be the lyricist with Taylor Swift because I’m 30 years older than her,” she said laughing. “That would be weird. What I do with Taylor is completely different than what I do with other people, She’s very lyrical. She’s very brilliant. She’d say a line and I’d say, ‘What if we say it like this?’ It’s kind of like editing, but you hate to say it. In some cases it is. We just bounce ideas off each other really well.”
The two tunesmiths first met at a Nashville club when Swift was 13 and had a development deal with RCA Records. “It was funny for somebody who doesn’t sing. I actually did a songwriters round and sang two songs, and she came up to me and said, ‘I really like that song. Would you write with me?’ I think at the time I had “Songs About Rain” (Gary Allan single) out, a Tim McGraw cut (“All We Ever Find”), and another song, “Why I Hate Pontiacs” (Rebecca Lynn Howard), and she knew those songs. We wrote and figured out that it really worked. She figured out she could write Taylor Swift songs, and I wouldn’t get in the way. I didn’t say ‘Oh, this would be more commercial’ or ‘You can’t say that. You want to say that. Cool, we’ll say that.’ I’m not 14. We’re not writing Liz Rose songs. We’re writing Taylor Swift songs.”
“I would just help her. We just had a great mutual respect for each other and had a lot of fun.”
Their fun turned into a hit-making factory with the twosome penning together 16 of Swift’s songs, including seven co-writing credits for Rose on Taylor’s self-titled debut album. The cuts included the first two singles, ‘Tim McGraw’ and ‘Teardrops on My Guitar,’ which helped Rose win a Songwriter of the Year award from SESAC in 2007. They also wrote the Grammy- winning Country Song of the Year, ‘White Horse.’ and the 2010 BMI Song of the Year, ‘You Belong with Me,” which also was nominated for a Grammy.
“We just work well together,” Rose says of her successful collaboration. “She knows what songs to bring to me. The first time I wrote with her I was like ‘Whoa.’ At the time she had songs she had written by herself.”
Her favorite co-write with Taylor is “All Too Well” from Swift’s latest album, Red. “It was more of a story,” Rose explains. “It was probably 10 minutes long in her head. She called me and started bouncing it off me, and we whittled it down quite a bit into a song. It was a very emotional time for her, and I’m honored that she trusts me with her feelings to make sure we get it right because it was an important song to her.”
Rose writes songs with a stable of other writers besides Swift. The results include a 2012 ACM Award for ‘Song of the Year’ for the Eli Young Band’s ‘Crazy Girl,’ Bonnie Raitt’s “I Don’t Want Anything to Change,’ Billy Gilman’s “Elisabeth,” which was written for Rose’s niece, Elisabeth Wagner, and songs for Alison Krauss, Hunter Hayes, Little Big Town, LeAnn Rimes, and Jewel to name a few. But one day Rose would like to write a song by herself.
‘I got it in my head that I want to write some tunes by myself, but when I start doing it, it’s not as much fun,’ Rose admits. ‘It’s way more fun to be in a room with one of your best friends talking about something than to beat it out of your own head,’ she adds with a laugh.
‘I start on a song. I write about half of it, and I know I can finish it. But I’ll go, ‘I’ve got to go call somebody!’ I’ll call somebody like Lori McKenna and say listen to this. We’ll get on Skype and finish it. I get bored with talking to me.’
Rose is excited with her latest venture. She and her publishing company, Liz Rose Music, entered a worldwide co-publishing agreement with Warner/Chappell Music, the global music publishing arm of Warner Music Group Corporation. ‘What I’m really looking forward to is the partnership with them and them putting me in different rooms and writing a whole new catalogue of songs, going places I’ve never gone before with different artists and co-writers and other opportunities.’
‘Liz Rose Music and Warner/Chappell complement each other well, and together we’ll continue to create impactful music and meaningful careers for our songwriters,’ said Ben Vaughn, Executive Vice President, Warner/Chappell Nashville.
Rose and her son, Scott Ponce, launched Liz Rose Music in 2010. The roster includes her daughter, Caitlin Rose, Emily Shackelton, Jeff Middleton, Jesse Walker, Chuck Wicks, and Stephony Smith. Also on the staff are Creative Director Natalie Harker and Catalog Manager Alyson McAnally.
‘My main goal is to see them all up on a BMI/ASCAP/SESAC stage,’ Rose said. ‘I want them all to get to that stage in their careers that I have been and just experience that. Knowing the recognition from your peers in Nashville, there’s just nothing better. I know there’s money and all that, and that’s fabulous. That comes with it. But my best day is going to be to see my son, who helped me start this company, and Warner/Chappell whose helped me keep it going and enhance that, and see one of my writers get up on BMI/ASCAP/SESAC stage and get a songwriters award. That’s going to be my day.”
“I feel like I’m starting over again kind of. I’ve been revived, and I’m hungry again. Most people will look at me and go, ‘Man, you’ve had all these hits. Why don’t you calm down?’ I’m more driven than I’ve been in a long time.”
Along with her self-determination, Rose likes to encourage other aspiring songwriters to persevere. She offers a couple of pieces of advice. “Write the truth,” she said. “If you write the truth and the true emotion of what’s going on with you, whether you’re happy or sad or whatever, chances are it’s going to resonate with somebody.”
“It’s a job. Get up and do it every day. Show up. Don’t say no. Taylor Swift was the third write of my day every week. If I had gone home or said “Ah, man. I’m tired today. I’m not going to write at 4 o’clock in the afternoon with a teenager.’ If I had done that, just think. Keep an open mind. Everybody has something to come into the room with and when you’re starting out, try everything. You might find your magical writing partner.”
Bill Conger is a freelance writer for various publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, GACTV.com, Bluegrass Music Profiles and ParentLife. He can be reached at [email protected].He is also on Google+