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Meet the Team Behind Morgan Wallen’s Chart-Smashing Hits

Few artists ever have had a year on the scale of Morgan Wallen’s 2023. The crossover country star broke multiple streaming and radio records — such as having his smash “Last Night” become the longest-running solo No. 1 in Billboard Hot 100 history, with 16 weeks atop the chart — all while picking up the millions of new fans that helped sell out shows nationwide. His success is reflected in Variety‘s Hitmakers 2023 Top 25: Not only does “Last Night” hold the No. 1 slot, but five other songs are in the tally.

But it takes a village to create a brand as big as Wallen’s, and Team Wallen turns out to be an insular, tightly knit group of friends in Nashville consisting of managers, songwriters, producers and A&R people.

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“There is a really strong group of songwriters that have been using the Big Loud studios as their hub and base, and Charlie Handsome is one of them,” says Wallen’s manager and Big Loud partner and CEO Seth England. He’s talking about a key co-writer on “Last Night,” as well as the possible source of the hip-hop-tinged “secret sauce” of Wallen’s recent streaming hits. (Handsome also co-wrote “You Proof,” “Wasted on You,” “Thinkin’ Bout Me” and “One Thing at a Time.”)

“Charlie has created long-lasting friendships out of our Big Loud building,” England adds. “They ride our Big Loud writer bus together a lot of weekends and will show new songs to Morgan in real time.” Handsome’s publishing A&R person, Sony Music senior VP Katie Welle, adds, “Charlie knows the difference between good and great when it comes to songs. He keeps the bar super-high with his own writing and in the room with his co-writers. He’s a gifted producer with a range — his sound has influenced a lot of popular music today.”

And while songsmiths such as Hitmakers songwriter of the year Ashley Gorley, Nicolle Galyon, Miranda Lambert, Jacob Kasher Hindlin, John Byron, Ernest Keith Smith, Taylor Phillips, Handsome and Wallen himself helped craft many songs from Wallen’s 2023 double album “One Thing at a Time,” the glue that holds it all together is co-writer and producer Joey Moi.

“Behind the scenes in Nashville, Joey is known as ‘the Wizard,’” says England of the producer who oversaw the recording and production of “One Thing at a Time.” “His sensibilities and expectations of singers and musicians are second to none, and he is willing to be the only guy in the room who likes a certain part, for example, and leans on his gut. Joey is so much more than just a record producer.”

For Moi, who worked with rock acts such as Nickelback before becoming Wallen’s go-to studio partner and a fixture at Big Loud, Wallen’s authenticity shines through on songs like the album’s title track.

“I love that song so much,” says Moi, who is also a partner and president of A&R at Big Loud Management. “You can really hear Morgan’s alternative rock influences there. We honestly thought at first this song was gonna be more of a contemporary beat song, but when we went in with the band to cut it, they got so inspired that we all got overwhelmed with creativity. The energy was so right — it has this weird rock element.”

Moi says one of the special elements that helped Wallen’s songs resonate beyond country fans was his less-is-more approach to production. “Last Night” is stripped down and raw, and on “Thinkin’ Bout Me,” he says, “we had a full version of it made and then cut it back.” Similarly, “Wasted on You” — a song from Wallen’s 2021 “Dangerous” album that is still racking up big streaming numbers — features understated production over a shuffling hip-hop heart.

“Country fans just love it,” Moi says. “We were kind of worried initially and wanted to make it more country, because the production is so out of genre. But the fans just really went for it, maybe due to the new a la carte state of the music industry. I don’t really think people listen to the genres anymore — they just listen to what they like.”

England adds, “‘Wasted on You’ was truly ahead of its time sonically in a lot of ways. We’ve shared a lot about Morgan’s deep love of hip-hop, and he always wanted to build some fusion songs and has been talking about it from the day we met.”

The hit “You Proof” actually had some country elements reduced. “You can always edit down, but it’s hard to edit up,” Moi says of the song. “We took it back into the studio and edited down the country parts and added in more contemporary production, and ended up in this hybrid spot.”

However, on “Thought You Should Know,” Moi’s experience led him to step back and let the song speak to true country fans: “As far as production is concerned, we knew this was a country song, so we just made it a straight-up blatant country song.”

England says he couldn’t be happier with the way 2023 shaped up for Wallen and Big Loud. “Going from nothing to having it all, like Morgan did, is very involved, so it works best when there’s a tight-knit bond,” he says. “I’m lucky I have a lot of that in my life right now. Morgan’s vocal delivery on every song he does is truly his superpower. His ability to emote certain lines and phrases the way he does is unique.”

Moi adds, “He always sounds authentic, no matter what genre he does, and a lot of other people relate to it as a result.”

HITMAKERS
Tyler Arnold (president, Mercury Records)
John Byron (songwriter)
Alex Coslov (EVP of marketing strategy, Republic Records/ head of marketing, Mercury Records)
Seth England (manager/partner and CEO, Big Loud)
Michael Giangreco (VP of A&R, Big Loud)
Ashley Gorley (songwriter)
Charlie Handsome (aka Ryan Vojtesak) (songwriter/co-producer)
Joey Moi (producer-songwriter/partner, Big Loud)
Lucas Romeo (SVP of promotion, Republic Records)
Manny Simon (SVP adult formats, Republic Records)
Ernest Keith Smith (songwriter)

Last Night (No. 1)
Written by John Byron, Ashley Gorley, Jacob Kasher Hindlin, Ryan Vojtesak
Published by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp./Big Loud Mountain (BMI), Sony Cross Keys Publishing/Master Of My Domain Music/Poppy’s Picks (ASCAP), Rap Kingpin Music/Prescription Songs (ASCAP), Sony Songs LLC (BMI)

You Proof (No. 7)
Written by Morgan Wallen, Ashley Gorley, Ernest Keith Smith, Ryan Vojtesak
Published by Big Loud Mountain/Bo Wallace Publishing (BMI), Round Hill Songs II/Caleb’s College Fund (ASCAP), Songs of Universal, Inc./Ern Dog Music/Big Loud Mountain Music LLC (BMI), Sony Songs (BMI)

Thinkin’ Bout Me (No. 13)
Written by John Byron, Ashley Gorley, Taylor Phillips, Ryan Vojtesak
Published by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp./Big Loud Mountain (BMI), Sony Cross Keys Publishing/Michael Scott Paper Company Publishing Company (ASCAP), Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp./Hits From the Tape Room/TDP Publishing (BMI), Sony Songs LLC (BMI)

Wasted On You (No. 18)
Written by Ernest Keith Smith, Josh Thompson, Ryan Vojtesak, Morgan Wallen
Published by Songs Of Universal, Inc./Big Loud Mountain Music LLC/Ern Dog Music (BMI), Red Bandana Publishing/MV2 Music (BMI), Sony/ATV Songs LLC (BMI), Big Loud Mountain/Bo Wallace Publishing (BMI)

Thought You Should Know (No. 19)
Written by Morgan Wallen, Nicolle Galyon, Miranda Lambert
Published by Big Loud Mountain/Bo Wallace Publishing (BMI), A Boy Named Ford/Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. (BMI), Sony Tree Publishing/Pink Dog Music (BMI)

One Thing at a Time (No. 24)
Written by Morgan Wallen, Ashley Gorley, Ernest Keith Smith, Ryan Vojtesak
Published by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp./Big Loud Mountain/Bo Wallace Publishing (BMI), Sony Cross Keys Publishing/Michael Scott Paper Company Publishing Company (ASCAP), Songs of Universal, Inc./Ern Dog Music/Big Loud Mountain Music LLC (BMI), Sony Songs LLC (BMI)

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