Making the transition from full-time songwriter to solo artist can be a grueling one, but one look at Ryan Hurd and you know it was the right choice. The "Lonely Tonight" co-writer is grinning from ear to ear on a relatively cold morning in Nashville with a cup of coffee, saying how much he loves where he's at right now. And 2016 looks like a big year for him.

The long-haired singer came to Music City to attend Belmont with Michigander pal Aaron Eshuis. He got a sociology degree and considered graduate school, but couldn't quite "pull the trigger" before switching gears to pursue songwriting with a group of talented friends (Eshuis included).

“The short story is, we kind of all just put our heads down and started writing songs together and would do some demos," he says, sipping his coffee. The demos led to songwriting deals for his pals, and eventually Hurd was signed as a songwriter to Universal. Although it sounds easy, it was a tough and sometimes lonely challenge for him.

“The hardest part is getting people to listen to you and being patient. I think one thing I’ve always focused on is getting better instead of getting somewhere," Hurd explains. “That’s a lonely place when you think that nobody wants to work with you but in reality, what it is is they’re just wanting to see you get good enough to get a publishing deal or to be a professional songwriter." He then laughs when he admits that "every day" there are song pitches that go wrong.

There are also pitches that go very, very right. He's now got a No. 1 hit under his belt that was also nominated for both a CMA award and a Grammy ("Lonely Tonight"), and cuts from artists including Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen and several others, but he's still out shopping songs -- and that's never been an easy process. Yet, he remains optimistic.

“That’s the beautiful part of this. Music hits everyone differently every single day. Certain songs mean a lot to you and they don’t really resonate with anybody else, and the ones you don’t necessarily love are the ones that become really meaningful to a lot of other people ... You feel like it'll never happen until it does."

I just wanted to do five songs that represent what I do as a writer and an artist and if I die tomorrow, we’d have that to leave behind.

Eventually it did happen, and Hurd got his first big cut with Owen. He wrote "Surefire Feeling," and the next day the Florida native "flipped out" over the song and cut it by the next day. “It meant a lot for my career and for me personally," Hurd notes.

Even though he's now growing to be a really important songwriter in Nashville, he wanted to leave even more of a legacy than that. He wanted to leave his mark as a musician.

“I just wanted to make an album. I just wanted to do an EP. I didn’t have any preconceived idea of how it would turn out, I just wanted to do five songs that represent what I do as a writer and an artist and if I die tomorrow, we’d have that to leave behind," he explains, beaming while saying that he "loves" performing.

"It’s so fun. We’re getting better, too. It’s something I’ve had to learn, obviously, but I don’t have anything to hide behind, I don’t have a guitar. I’ve really enjoyed getting better at that; I feel like we’ve played some really, really great shows and I think by the end to the year we’ll be really good live. I just have this feeling that it’s coming.”

He even says being an artist has helped his songwriting, taking some of the pressure off every day. That may be where "As Good As You Think I Am," a co-write with Maren Morris off his EP Panorama, came from. It's a love song that completely makes you feel, which is the way the majority of his songs hit you -- straight in the gut.

"To me, it’s a really interesting love song," he says. "It’s wanting to live up to the way that other people care about you, the way that other people see you when you don’t necessarily see yourself in the same light.”

That's just one of the great songs on his four-song EP (it was five until Bentley cut one of them for himself) that's available now on iTunes. Hurd's continuing to write, record songs and perform, and he's working his butt off in the process -- but he's not stopping any time soon. He's overjoyed to be a part of this industry, this town and this genre.

“Country music is in such a great place right now … I love being here at this time," he states.

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