Ross Copperman has been playing the piano since he was a toddler, started recording songs in his childhood bedroom and began songwriting in college. Before moving to Nashville around 2010, the Roanoke, Va., native worked his way up from playing songwriters’ rounds in New York City, to a development deal with a major U.S. record label and then to a deal with the U.K.-based Phonogenic Records.
In London alone in his early 20s, Copperman found himself drinking a lot, feeling lonely and depressed and “becoming a bad version of myself.” Suffering from major burnout, he called it quits on life as an artist, went back to Virginia to live with his mom for a couple of months, and then decided to make the move to Nashville to work in the country music scene.
When he got to Music City, though, Copperman kept some of his experience hush-hush.
“I had this odd thing about me being an artist and other artists that I worked with knowing that I was also an artist,” admits Copperman, now a producer and songwriter with 30 No. 1 hits — for everyone from Darius Rucker to Kelsea Ballerini — to his name. He thought other artists wouldn’t want to work with him if they knew, “and so I had this weird thing of, like, I have to kill that side of me off completely.”
“I burned it down so far into the ground,” Copperman says. “It didn’t even exist to the point where I didn’t even sing demos for 10 years. People don’t even know that I sing because I worked so hard and diligently to kill that off.”
More than a decade — and “a lot of therapy and self-work” — later, Copperman sees that none of that mattered to anyone but him. In fact, as he prepared to release his There’s a Light On EP on Friday (May 21), he was receiving love and reassurance from several of his peers.
“Jake Owen [is] texting me, ‘Dude, I love your new music. I’m so happy that you’re doing it.’ Keith Urban said it must have been the most cathartic thing I’ve ever done, and I was, like, crying,” Copperman shares. “Dierks [Bentley] just texted me today saying, ‘Dude, I really love your new song.’ Like, these are the things that I was so scared of 10 years ago.”
Copperman had long held onto the idea of doing another solo artist project, but didn’t mention it to anyone else until after he co-wrote two songs, “Electricity” and “Therapy,” with pop singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol member Johnny McDaid. That was in late 2018 — Sheeran was in Nashville for about a month, songwriting and at least once singing karaoke at Santa’s Pub — and after both songs had been pitched around Nashville for about two years, Copperman went for it.
“It just didn’t seem like [those songs] fit in Nashville. And so I asked Ed for his blessing [to cut them myself],” Copperman remembers. “That was the hardest email I ever had to write … My gosh, that’s probably the biggest mistake of my career — I probably should have asked him to sing them. But he gave me his blessing and his full support, and that was a huge moment for me, and inspiring and giving me the confidence.”
The EP’s first track, “Not Believe,” and its title track are a few years old as well, while “Holdin’ You” came at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. His other co-writers — Jordan Reynolds, Emily Weisband, Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley and Josh Osborne — are all friends and frequent collaborators, but Copperman stresses that he’s not stopping his work as a songwriter and producer and doesn’t want other writers to worry that he’ll want a song they wrote for himself, “because, for them, a hit country song going to radio is what is really profitable.”
“I got into songwriting to be able to write songs to reach the most people possible,” Copperman says, “and having [star artists] do my songs is and always will be the biggest honor of my life.”
Working on a project of his own, though, has given Copperman a new perspective on life as an artist, and a new respect for them. “I have learned so much,” he says, “and it’ll make me a better writer, producer for others because of it.”
It’s also reminded him of a key piece of an artist’s decision to record an outside song: It has to resonate with them. Reflecting on how “Somewhere There’s a Light On” and his Sheeran-McDaid co-writes had been pitched often but never cut, Copperman notes, “Nobody knows their voice better than these artists … They know who they are.”
“I have such a new respect for that,” he adds. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”