Alum Combines Literary and Musical Talent
Published: Friday, September 21, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 17:09
While many Georgetown alumni pursue traditional careers, Jim McCormick (COL ’90) turned his passion for music and his love of poetry into a career as a songwriter. While on the Hilltop, McCormick majored in English, an experience that informs his songwriting. This summer, his song “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” — which he co-wrote with singer Brantley Gilbert — stood at No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart for most of the summer. This New Orleans native has been working in the music business for years, with his byline on songs performed by big-name artists like Trisha Yearwood and Tim McGraw. McCormick plans to return to Georgetown on Oct. 2 to speak to the students in the music department’s “Seminar in Songwriting.”
What influenced your decision to change from a business major to English?
JM: The great English classes I was taking made me switch. I didn’t have one business class that held up to the English classes — no offense. There’s a depth, breath and scope to literature that even the best economics class doesn’t touch. I gave up on business and shifted over to English.
What inspires you to be a poet and songwriter?
JM: I always wrote songs. I always gravitated to music. Mostly, it was the radio as a child, and as I became a teenager, I was interested in poetry and songwriting.
My career unfolded for me in a strange way. It’s not like I decided I wanted to be a songwriter. I slowly found myself, as an adult, moving myself toward a serious love of music and a desire to make a go of it as a career. I can’t say there was one lightning moment that changed my life. I was always going to be a writer — I didn’t know what kind of writer I was going to be. I half expected that I would be a journalist or academic poet, and I really thought so. I got an MFA in poetry [from the University of New Orleans] and was teaching English composition and publishing poems when I started to go to Nashville. I could just see how attractive the life of a songwriter was then and would be to me because I love music so much. It was all the fun of people around music and songs and all the joy of wrestling with language.
Brantley Gilbert’s song “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” that you co-wrote was a big hit this summer. Was that the first song you wrote that saw big success? What was it like?
JM: That was the biggest hit I’ve had so far, though I’ve had some other successful songs and I’ve been very fortunate. It’s a pretty wonderful feeling to turn on the radio every hour and hear your song no matter where you are — every country music station in the country played that song every hour. It took a while for me to digest. I’m humbled by it and really fortunate. There are a lot of great songs out there that don’t go all the way to number one.
How did your time at Georgetown influence your career choice? What lessons have you taken with you?
JM: I think, to a large degree, Georgetown helped me build the confidence to do with my life what I wanted, rather than follow some predetermined or safer path that I might have clung to had I not been given the tools that Georgetown gives you … and I mean that. I think a lot of my self-confidence and self-awareness was developed there, and that was because of the great faculty and the fellow students and the good parents that I had. College is a place where a lot of us incubate the adult self. I think Georgetown’s effect on my becoming a songwriter is more its effect on my becoming the man I wanted to be. It’s a bigger picture, a more important one. Songwriting fits into that picture in the same way being a father or husband does.