His work as an assistant to producer Matt Squire (Panic! At the Disco, One Direction, Kesha) and his own production with pop-punk acts like All Time Low and Motion City Soundtrack cemented his love for a rock sensibility that he often brings to his productions. “What I love about rock is you feel it and the choruses are big and they just hit you,” he says. “That’s what I try to do in my country [songs].”
But the songwriter in him ensures the lyrics remain upfront, even when he’s behind the soundboard: “I’m more cognizant of the lyric in my production and making sure that every word is heard and understood rather than just trying to get the coolest snare sound,” he says. As his songwriter career took off, Schmidt produced the demos and when other producers had trouble replicating the sound, he organically slid more into producing, first with Mitchell Tenpenny. “It was just like, ‘Hey, let’s just have you produce because I don’t want the song to lose whatever happened on the demo,'” he explains.
Now established as a writer producer, he’s gotten the call from artists like Brown, FGL, Old Dominion, Billy Currington, Locash, Ingrid Andress and many more to help craft their sound. Schmidt talked to Billboard about some of his most memorable productions — some of which he co-produced — plus one of his biggest songs as a co-writer. Here are the details he does recall, in his own words.
Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” (No. 2, Country Airplay)
We wrote that song like a year before we cut it and we pitched it around and it became very apparent that nobody wanted it because it’s a hell of a [hard] song to sing. Justin Wilson, the other co-writer, sang the demo. Mitchell and I were like, “S–t, we’ve got to beat Justin’s vocal.” Luckily, Mitchell is amazing and crushed it.
We just wanted to keep that song big and dramatic and spacey. It’s weird because it sounds like a ballad or downtempo, but it actually has some movement to it and at times picks up and almost sounds uptempo. That was just having great musicians in the studio and no plan, because I tried a bunch of stuff and threw stuff at the wall. It was one of those things where it just all came together the way it did, and it didn’t put up much of a fight.
Nelly & Florida Georgia Line, “Lil Bit” (No. 3, Hot Country Songs)
Most of that is just the demo. That wasn’t one that we went into the studio afterwards [to polish up]. We kind of just tweaked what we had done that day. We were all there just passing around a [Shure] SM-7 [microphone] in my writer’s room. That’s everything you hear on that. We did the demo and it had a vibe to it and Nelly was like, “I like it the way it is” and went out the door.
After that, I sent the track to Ilya Toshinsky, who is an amazing acoustic banjo, dobro, everything kind of utility player. I had a [banjo] part that I played in there and just told Ilya to base it off this, and he added to it and made all the sounds that you hear. He just sounds better playing everything.
Kane Brown, “Like A Rodeo” (No. 17, Hot Country Songs)
We were struggling that day. We couldn’t really find a vibe or what kind of song we wanted to write or anything. I’d made like a rodeo vibe — and it’s such a weird vibe, I didn’t even want to pull it up in my ProTools — but we were just desperate that day. I was going through folders and I found that vibe and Kane and J Kash [Jakob Kasher] were like, “Let’s write to that!”
It was writing and producing at the same time. We did a couple of things with [keyboardist] Alex Wright, who’s also on “Lil Bit.” Pretty much with every demo, I send him what I do and he adds a bunch of keys and then I sift through it all and throw it in how I like. From the second we’re working on the song, I’m trying to figure out what it’s going to be musically, and get a track going so I can send it to some of these players — and in a few hours, they’ll have something in my inbox that’s just amazing.
It kind of sucks because it takes the studio aspect out of it, but at the same time, it is a hell of a lot easier. Sometimes it’s best to go in with a full band because you get to hear from everybody at the same time, and then other times you’re just sending stuff out and getting stuff back and arranging it. It just depends on what’s best for the song.
Ingrid Andress, “Both” (Lady Like album cut)
[Ingrid and I] wrote it with Derrick Southerland. At one point Keith Urban wanted to cut it and Ingrid and her team [felt they] needed this for her record. The demo is very similar in vibe to the master. We sat around with the musicians in the studio, listened to the demo and all chatted about what we wanted to hear happen. I wanted it to be very churchy, and push and pull and kind of leave this uneasiness with the listener, because the whole song is about uneasiness with somebody and the push and pull of their relationship.
I thought that would be cool — for everything to hit really big, and then, cut and then hit really big again and cut, and this whole breathing it does. That’s what we were working on in the studio, and trying to retain that, because that’s one where the feel of the song matches the lyrics of it, and it’s awesome when that happens.
Blake Shelton, “God’s Country” (No. 1, Country Airplay)
From day one, [producer] Scott [Hendricks] was like, “Hey, I don’t want to mess with what you guys had going.” The demo was very similar to the master. They definitely added a few more bells and whistles and players and whatnot, but our demo is just as dark, just as dirty, stomp and clap, and this O Brother, Where Art Thou? vibe.
That’s one I’m glad I wasn’t asked to [produce], because they killed it and I wouldn’t change anything about it. Even if it would have sounded like dog turds — just to know that it was Blake Shelton on a song I wrote, that can never be taken away from me.