Get to know the Martin Showcase class of 2024: Hailey Whitters

Get to know the Martin Showcase class of 2024: Hailey Whitters

Hailey Whitters is part of Martin’s Showcase class of 2024: find out more about the Showcase programme at, and in this year’s Martin Journal.
Born in a small town in Iowa, Hailey Whitters moved to Nashville when she was just 17. She spent the next few years honing her songwriting and performing craft – while also working odd-jobs in diners and hair salons and receiving, as she puts it, a “honky-tonk education”. If there’s a town to get one of those in, it is, of course, Nashville.
After over a decade of relentless work writing for other artists and performing her own music across Music City, Hailey broke through in 2019 with the reflective Ten Year Town. The song looks back on her time in Nashville, and the work she put into ‘making it’ – fitting, then, that it would launch the next stage of her career.
With her own material, she would go on to develop her sound into a playful take on country-pop with her albums The Dream and Raised – the latter spawning her biggest hit yet, the platinum-selling Everything She Ain’t. Most recently, she dialed up the heart-eyes on her 2023 EP I’m In Love.
We spoke to Hailey about taking the leap of moving to Nashville at 17, getting a crash-course in the music business when she arrived, and how she now approaches her creative process.
Where did it all start for you with music and the guitar?
I grew up in a small, blue-collar farming community in Iowa. I had a very creative family, but no one had made that leap to do it professionally. I always sang as a kid – when I used to ride the tractor with my grandpa and my dad out in the field, I was always singing these little songs to myself. It wasn’t until my mom got me my first guitar when I was 14 that I was able to start really playing along to myself. The guitar, for me, was when I really started taking it seriously.
What were you learning when you got your first guitar?
The first song I ever learnt on it was Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis. I don’t really know where that came from – I love Randy Travis, I’m a big fan of his, but it’s kind of an unusual pick for a 14-year-old girl!

But that was the first one I really remember properly diving into, and the first song I performed in public. But I was always really drawn to female songwriters in country music, too – I still remember getting Home by the Chicks, and reading the liner notes where it said they wrote a lot of their own songs. So I was learning lots of their songs, and Miranda Lambert, too, at the time.
What was your first performance?
I was like 15 at the time – I just found these old pictures of that, I have like, full braces. It was in some gym at a church or high school or something in Cedar Rapids. Just me and my guitar. That was my first show in front of an audience that wasn’t just my family.
When did you move to Nashville?
I moved to Nashville when I was 17. Right when I graduated high school, I was like, right, I’m moving, I’m gonna try and be a country singer. And that’s exactly what I did. The minute I graduated, I just moved to Tennessee!
Was it intimidating to move and try and enter such a competitive music industry so young?
For me, that’s where ignorance was bliss. I was just so young and dumb and naive, I didn’t know how great the talent pool was, I just knew that I wanted to do it. In my mind it was always like, ‘I don’t know when it’s gonna happen. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. But I just believe it’s gonna happen.’
Nashville was in a lot of ways my honky-tonk education. Coming here, it was the first time I put a band together rather than just played by myself. It was the first time I ever did a co-write. My first few days in town, I walked down to Broadway, and that was the first time I really saw it was a business. People working, playing the bars all day long, seven days a week. It was a crash course for me, learning how the whole thing worked.
Within a few years of being here, I wasn’t getting any meetings. It wasn’t like I had all these labels or publishers barking up my tree or anything! So I put together this EP, recorded it with some friends of mine and booked a show at The Basement. That was what got me my first publishing deal. I was working at a hair salon at the time – and I was taken out to breakfast before my shift started and offered the deal. That was year six or seven that I’d been in town.
Tell me about the writing of Everything She Ain’t. What about it do you think resonated with people?
Honestly, it’s the hand claps, those catchy little suckers seem to be the mystery drug in that song! But, I like to think a little bit of it is the sass, and the lightness, the fun. When we were writing that song, it was my first writing session back in person since the pandemic, and everything just felt so heavy – the world just felt heavy. And we were in this co-write, onto this heavier kind of idea. I was like, “guys, let’s just write something fun! This is too much right now.”

I threw out that line, “I’m everything she is and everything she ain’t”, and Ryan Tindall, my co-writer, started playing those chords to it. We wrote that song in like an hour and a half, it kind of just happened – it’s one that caught me by surprise. I thought my record was done already. But we played that song for the label and they were like, “this has to go on it”. So the whole thing has just been a complete surprise to me – just seeing how big it got. It’s my first platinum record, and my first single on country radio, which was something I’d always dreamed of as a kid.
How do you view writing songs for yourself against writing for other people?
I always go in, with the mentality of, like, let’s just write the best song. I’m not necessarily thinking, “who would sing this?” Or, “we should try and write a song for Kenny Chesney today” – to me, I feel like if we write something that feels true and authentic, something that we can relate to, then someone else has got to relate to it too.
There are definitely songs that feel personal to me, or part of my story, that’s where, know that I want to put the song on a record. And then there’s other ones where I love the song dearly, but I know it might be for somebody else.
I kind of treat it like a staff songwriter position. I love writing songs – if my artistry goes away tomorrow, I’m still gonna write songs because I just love the process. When I’m not on the road, I’ll show up Monday through Friday, and write five songs a week. Not every single one has to be this personal song about me or my life – I like to be able to put on a different hat, and write from somebody else’s perspective.
I just love all of it. I love writing things that feel like they might change the world, and then I love writing things that are just kind of dumb and silly, having fun in the moment.
What’s your relationship with Martin Guitars?
I went Martin and I never went back. I feel really drawn to Martin guitars. I got my first Martin guitar about eight years ago. They’re everything I love about music – they feel very honest. Authenticity is a word that comes to mind when I think about a Martin guitar. I’m drawn to voices like Vince Gill. To me, he’s just a pure, classic country voice – and Martin guitars are like that in instrument form.
Who are some guitar players you’re inspired by?
I absolutely love Dave Rawlings. He sends you on a musical Journey, he backs himself into a corner and then somehow gets out of it. Bryan Sutton, too, he’s played on a lot of my music, including Everything She Ain’t. Every time we go into the studio, I’m just like a kid and a candy store, getting to see what he’s going to do, you know? I’m just completely captivated by his playing. He tells stories with his playing, and leaves you wanting to read more every time.
So I guess I’m drawn to that pure, authentic thing – I’m a simple songwriter, I try to write simple songs. I think Martin is kind of a lot like that too. Not too many frills – it’s just about simple authentic music. That’s why I love them.
About Martin’s Spotlight programme
Artists are the lifeblood of Martin Guitar. From Johnny Cash to Joan Baez, countless influential musicians helped make Martin what it is today. Now, Martin has set its sights on the next generation of musicians with the new Artist Showcase. The program aims to celebrate artists who are making waves in the industry, and serves as a platform to connect the artists with Martin’s global audience.
Six artists are kicking off the Spotlight for 2024. They are Drayton Farley, Devon Gilfillian, Ian Munsick, Joy Oldakun, Nate Smith and Hailey Whitters, and together they represent the wide span of music being made on Martin guitars: from soulful vintage R&B to eclectically-influenced pop, and from uplifting country rock to raw, unflinching Americana. In this series of interviews, sits down with the six artists that make up the class of 2024.
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