Hayden Joseph is from South Carolina, where for the most part, country music reigns. He was born in the mid-90s and that is still his favorite era of country music.
He was lucky enough to grow up with music by Shania Twain, The Chicks, and Garth Brooks. His dad was a serious collector of CDs and had everything labeled and categorized.
Joseph took guitar lessons as a teen but states, “I wish I were a better guitar player. I can play well enough to accompany myself and write music, but am certainly not a guitarist.”
As a child, he wrote his first song in 6th grade. But in 8th grade, he wrote a song that he performed.
He acknowledges, “The person who inspired me to start writing songs was Taylor Swift. Her first two albums were super confessional and honest and she was relatively close in age to me. I thought, ‘I want to do that.’”
Joseph didn’t go into country music with unrealistic expectations. By nature, he has a methodical approach to everything.
He attended Vanderbilt University and upon graduation went straight to New York to work in the corporate world.
He laments, “This was the first time in my life where there was no time for any creative outlets. There were no performing arts groups or time to write songs.”
He traveled all week; every week and it was exhausting. He left the company to work for a record label on the business side in their strategy and business development team where he did Spotify negotiations and strategized at how labels would deal with streaming platforms and social media apps.
It was at that point that he realized how easy it was for independent artists now to produce music and release it on the internet. That spurred the burgeoning artist into putting out his own music.
Unfortunately, this was about the time the pandemic hit. Nevertheless, he has been living in Nashville for the past year and a half writing songs and releasing new music.
Because of his past work experience, he knows what to do with artists once they are signed, but he was unaware of the whole creative side that must come first.
He confesses, “To be honest, the creative side has no process, which is very frustrating for someone who has a background in strategy, consulting, and business analytics.”
His training in organizing information and putting it into bullet points also works for songwriting. It helps in co-writes when another artist has a story to tell as he boils it down into something that can be turned into an actual song.
However, being an artist involves so much else after the song is written. Songs must be produced and recorded. Then you have to market the song, do album art, make music videos, and do press interviews.
“Until you are a megastar that has a team setting this up for you, you have to pick and choose what your priorities are in the beginning.” This normally keeps Joseph too busy to write much for others.
In all my years covering music, I don’t think I’ve ever seen country music embrace Pride month like it has this year. There is open support from multiple artists. Ty Herndon along with CMT is hosting The Concert for Love and Acceptance that will stream on all CMT’s social media platforms on June 30th.
Joseph agrees partially, “I don’t think that any country music listener has any problem that I am gay or with any gay artists being played on the radio. Where the problem lies is that there is an establishment for country music that what is played on country music is so narrow, how it sounds and what it talks about. Being an openly gay artist, trying to write stories that are remotely true to your experiences and true to yourself, doesn’t necessarily fit into that established country music framework. The problem is not that I am gay, it’s that I don’t write about beer and trucks. Getting [country] radio to take a chance on things that are slightly different, that is the risk.”
The women in country music share a similar problem in trying to get played and heard. The bottom line is music executives like what sells and so far, it appears to be music by straight, white guys. But if the industry doesn’t take a chance on these other types of music, we will never know if it sells or not. Country music is still marketed by mainstream terrestrial radio.
Joseph prides himself in the inclusivity of his lyrics, as an openly gay male pursuing a country music career. “When I write songs, they originate from experiences that are largely specific to personal trials, but I challenge myself to write them in such a way that they can be applied to varying circumstances, across many walks of life.” He strives to continue breaking industry barriers, both in terms of the music he makes, and the places from which he finds inspiration.
Written about his first breakup, “19 and Cryin’” painfully details the lasting impact of losing your first love. I remember the agony of my first breakup and could relate to his autobiographical song. Although he’s matured and learned from the experience, a part of him will always be saddened by it. He says in the song, “I’ve grown up / I’ve moved on / I’ve been telling myself for so long / But the truth is I’ve been lyin’ / Part of me is 19 and Cryin.”
The songwriter admits, “I wrote ‘Out’ about two weeks before I wrote ‘Different.’ “Different was about a time of your life when you are scared of something and you are not ready to embrace it. ‘Out’ is the exact opposite. It’s about completely moving past that and accepting who you are regardless of who that might be. I wanted ‘Out’ to be on my first album and I kind of chickened out a little bit. My original plan was to have ‘Different’ open the first album and ‘Out’ close it.
“Different” is a song that anyone who feels like they don’t fit in can relate to.
He states, “I try to write most of the music where the meaning can be open for interpretation. I want this genre to change and be more accepting of things and the best way for that to happen is to do it in a way where we can find common ground and our stories can connect. The concept of feeling different is very universal.”
The song “Out” is Joseph’s “I am” song. At its core, it’s a track about celebrating who you are. For him, it narrates coming out and fully accepting himself, but the meaning can change depending on the listener.
“I’ve sat on the song for three years because I didn’t want to ruffle country music feathers, but I have decided this Pride month is the time,” he explained.
As a songwriter, Joseph wants us to know that including himself and his new perspective is not excluding you. He wants to write songs that work for everyone. He is not a victim. But men often don’t show emotion in country music and he wants to change that.
He confirms, “I know who I am. I am proud of who I am and am very open about it. The music I write reflects that. I’m honest about the struggles I’ve had and honest about the celebrations I’ve had and none of those center around what would be considered ‘core country music’ topics. But to me, county music is about storytelling and my storytelling involves self-doubt, overcoming personal struggles and breakups, and moving away from home. Those are all country music topics. The industry has somehow convinced itself that men can’t show emotion.”
He was told by industry executives that his song “The Only One Who’s Praying” was “too sissy” to be sung by a man and that it needed to be sung by a woman.
“Doesn’t every little boy at some point want to settle down and have a family? he asks. “Especially those listening to country music. That’s the American dream.”
Joseph is the first to admit that streaming music is not a reliable source of revenue for most artists. He knows that if he wants to make a living as a singer/songwriter it is at least a seven-year journey. His goal is to eventually get signed where he can get a team around him to help him get his songs to country radio. He would like to eventually be a household name for country music.
As an openly gay male pursuing a Country Music career, Joseph prides himself in the inclusive nature of his lyrics and strives to continue breaking industry barriers. If his music shows us how to be more compassionate to one another, I will fully support him.