SHOF Masterclass with 2023 Inductee Liz Rose, at Belmont University

Phil Barton (songwriter/musician) and 2023 SHOF inductee Liz Rose, performing “White Horse,” a song she co-wrote with Taylor Swift.

On April 19 Belmont University welcomed 2023 SHOF Inductee Liz Rose — renowned songwriter and one of Taylor Swift's earliest collaborators — for a masterclass in partnership with the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The timing was perfect as the event coincided with release day for Swift’s highly anticipated 11th studio album.
Held in the historic Columbia Studio A, the intimate event provided attendees with the opportunity to learn from the newly inducted Songwriters Hall of Fame member. Rose's collaborations with Taylor Swift during the artist's early career played a crucial role in refining her songwriting skills, and the masterclass offered students invaluable insights into the creative process behind some of Swift's early hit songs.
Music publishing veteran Jody Williams served as moderator, and the two reminisced about Rose’s early days as a songwriter.  “We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for this man,” shared Rose. Williams and Rose first crossed paths during her time as a music publisher. Williams, in partnership with Sony, acquired the 600-song catalog Rose and her business partner owned. Impressed by her work, Williams subsequently hired Rose to continue pitching songs from the catalog. Lyric sheets with her name on them started floating across his desk. At first, she denied it, saying she was “just the publisher,” suggesting a word change here or there. Williams pushed, and so began Rose’s songwriting career.  As time passed, Williams noticed lyric sheets with Rose's name listed as a writer. Initially, she downplayed her involvement, insisting she was "just the publisher," only suggesting minor edits to lyrics. However, Williams saw her potential and encouraged her to embrace her songwriting talents, marking the beginning of Rose's songwriting career. “That right there is the mark of a true mentor and champion. He wasn't looking for the next big thing, but he saw pieces of me in the songs,” said Rose.  Rose kept "publisher” hours, even after shifting to songwriting, and was often the first to arrive and the last to leave the office. Her tireless work ethic propelled her to write two, sometimes three songs per day. One year, she had written some 300 songs; “crazy numbers,” as Williams remembered. Rose garnered cuts from a few big names, including Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood and Billy Gillman, but ultimately had a heart for young, aspiring songwriters.  

Admittedly not a performer, Rose played a writers round in the basement of RCA. After, a young girl walked up to introduce herself and asked if Rose would write with her sometime. That girl was Taylor Swift. Their relationship blossomed and Rose became Swift’s trusted co-writer. They found so much success because Rose listened to her and didn't try to tell her how to write songs. Rather, Rose embraced Taylor’s worldview as a “lens she hadn’t yet looked through,” helping her refine her songs and navigate the industry. She remembers when a room of executives asked Swift to change one word — “Drew” to “you” — in “Teardrops on my Guitar,” the second single off her self-titled debut album. For Swift, it was never up for discussion. The story is like a famous quote from Cindy Walker, one of Rose’s inspirations. “When I'm finished with the song and fight a room full of tigers to change one word, I know it's ready.” Rose saw the same unwavering commitment to songcraft in her collaboration with Swift. Like Walker, Swift's dedication to her craft is evident in every aspect of her career. At her core, before fame and stardom, Swift is a songwriter. “She is one of the best songwriters that will ever live, and I really mean that. It’s amazing to be in a room with her and watch her mind work,” shared Rose. “She said to me once, ‘I'm a songwriter first, but no one's going to cut my songs. So, I'm just going to be an artist so that people hear the songs I've written.”  

Rose imparted wisdom to students in attendance about growing a career in the industry, urging them not to let fear hold them back.  Sharing a few rules to live by, Rose leans on Harlan Howard’s famed quote, “Three chords and the truth.” Songwriters, she said, have the responsibility to tell the truth, open themselves up, and lay everything out in a song. “Otherwise, no one will believe you.”  
Rose, who began her songwriting career at age 37, told students that learning never stops and writing rooms have no room for egos. "Once you go in and think you know more than everyone in the room, the song is in trouble,” she cautioned.  For Rose, writer’s block isn’t real. “I don’t know what writer's block is. I think that’s just an excuse for why you’re not writing,” she said. “Write, journal, listen to music, go out and hear live music and other songwriters. Life will get you out of writer's block.”
It wouldn’t be a songwriting masterclass without a song. Rose, accompanied by Phil Barton on guitar, sang “White Horse,” the 2010 Grammy Best Country Song winner. As attendees joined her in singing the chorus, "Now it's too late for you and your white horse to come around," Rose was brought to tears, the moment's emotion palpable in the room. 
Through her stories, advice and heartfelt performance, Rose inspired and educated the next generation of aspiring songwriters and industry professionals.  

Belmont’s ongoing partnership with the SHOF has brought several benefits to students. This masterclass marks the second in an ongoing series, following an earlier event featuring Desmond Child. Additionally, SHOF's traveling exhibit, “The Power of Song,” curated by the Grammy Museum, was displayed in Belmont's Lila D. Bunch Library throughout the academic year. The organization also supports Belmont students with an annual songwriters scholarship, further cementing the strong relationship between the two.
written by Julia Couch Copeland
photos by Sam Simpkins