Michael Hardy never intended to pursue an artist career, but when the opportunity presented itself he says he would have been a fool not to take it. Four years after garnering his first publishing deal, Hardy signed with Big Loud in October 2018 after the songwriter was approached by Big Loud partner and producer Joey Moi who offered to produce an album. Hardy is now pursuing an artist career under his last name and seeing success on his own terms. In the process, he has written seven No. 1 songs for other artists including Blake Shelton (ACM and CMA Single of the Year “God’s Country”), Florida Georgia Line (“Simple”) and Morgan Wallen (“Up Down,” “More Than My Hometown”).
Hardy recently received three nominations at the upcoming Academy of Country Music Awards for Songwriter of the Year, New Male Artist of the Year and Music Event of the Year for “One Beer,” his first No. 1 single as an artist featuring Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson. The accolades showcase a promising career trajectory for Hardy, 30, who began writing songs at 17.
“I would lay in bed when I was a little kid and I would imagine singing to help me go to sleep,” he tells me. “I would picture myself being a singer and singing songs that I had written, but I never applied any of that until I was a teenager.”
The Mississippi native attended college at Middle Tennessee State University, majoring in songwriting and soon sharing his songs with BMI’s Leslie Roberts and his cousin, Dennis Matkosky. Both Nashville executives took him under their wings and in 2014 Hardy signed his first publishing deal with Matkosky’s Watsky Music. At the time, Hardy saw how much work went into being an artist and says he simply wanted to write songs for a living.
Hardy penned his first song at the age of 17 and it wasn’t until a decade later, when Wallen’s “Up Down” featuring Florida Georgia Line was in the top 10 at country radio, that he felt like he turned a corner as a songwriter. Shortly after he learned that Florida Georgia Line recorded seven of his songs for their upcoming 2019 record Can’t Say I Ain’t Country and his song “Simple” would be their next single.
“There was a moment in the summer where everything just started happening and I started getting cuts left and right,” Hardy, who had spent two years on the road writing with Florida Georgia Line, says. “I think that’s when I knew that I was going to be all right.”
Through his writing connection with FGL, Hardy met Big Loud partners Seth England, Craig Wiseman and Joey Moi. He says he found himself under the Big Loud umbrella without being signed there as a writer. When he began seeing success as a songwriter, other artists and writers in Nashville suggested he try his hand at an artist career. Moi, who had produced Florida Georgia Line’s first four albums, then approached Hardy and offered to be his producer if he ever decided to cut a record.
Moi had been hearing Hardy’s name for a while and as he worked on songs for Florida Georgia Line’s Can’t Say I Ain’t Country album he listened to several of the demos featuring Hardy’s singing. “He has an incredible voice,” Moi says. “He convinced me with every song, and it was just a demo vocal. I was so convinced at the topic of the song and the lyric of the song and the story.”
After Hardy signed to Big Loud Records in 2018, the pair worked on his 10-song project Hixtape, Vol. 1 together. The collection includes his No. 1 single, “One Beer,” and features with Keith Urban, Cole Swindell, Joe Diffie, Thomas Rhett and Jake Owen. They teamed up again for Hardy’s debut album, A Rock, which includes his current single, “Give Heaven Some Hell,” which Moi calls a prolific write.
“It’s so beautifully written. The title is a little misleading, but when you get into it and you realize it’s about a death of a best buddy, it’s heart-wrenching,” Moi says. “Again, just another brilliant lyric.”
Co-writer Ashley Gorley agrees, admitting that the song “blows my mind. … His voice is so powerful,” Gorley says. “The idea of that song I never heard. I think it means something to people when they hear it. It’s about somebody passing away too early and the type of friend we all have thinking about being in heaven. It’s a unique one and I’m super proud of that.”
Hardy says recording “Give Heaven Some Hell” was emotional as he tried to put himself into the song, singing about a person that he had lost. It instantly connected with country radio, as the song was the most added the week of its release in January.
“I think the part of the song that has definitely held the most meaning is the bridge,” Hardy says. “The question that was raised throughout the entire song [is]: How do you know this guy is in heaven if he was such a wild person? Then the bridge explains that I was there when you had that moment to give your life to Jesus in church. It’s such a powerful part of the song. That’s definitely my favorite part of the song lyrically.”
While touring was put on hold in 2020 due to Covid-19, Hardy has been busy in the studio with Moi working on another project and promises new music is coming. His music has amassed over 668 million career on-demand streams to date, and he continues to see success writing for other artists with new singles from Matt Stell (“That Ain’t Me No More”) and Cole Swindell (“Single Saturday Night”) at radio.
“I’m just really thankful that I feel accepted [by the country] community, and hopefully that it’s the start to a long relationship,” he says.