MTSU-trained nominees await word of writing, singi...

MTSU-trained nominees await word of writing, singing, engineering Grammys (+VIDEOS)

Songwriters, engineers and singers who refined their talents at Middle Tennessee State University are waiting to hear who’ll be tucking the golden gramophones into their carry-ons to come home after the winners of the 65th annual Grammy Awards are announced this Sunday night, Feb. 5.

The nominees’ list includes:

Music business alumnus Rob Williford, right-hand band man and songwriting partner of reigning two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year Luke Combs, who’s nominated as a co-writer for best country song.

• Grammy-winning Master of Fine Arts in Recording Arts and Technologies alumnus Aaron Raitiere, whose songwriting and singing are integral to Ashley McBryde’s best country album nominee.

• Grammy-winning recording industry grad Brandon Bell, whose mixing work on Brandi Carlile’s “In These Silent Days” earned him multiple nominations, including album of the year and best Americana album, plus record of the year for “You and Me On The Rock.”

• Multi-Grammy winner and recording industry grad Tony Castle, who’s nominated for engineering icon Willie Nelson’s newest country album.

• Multi-Grammy-winning former student Hillary Scott, who’s won her awards as part of the band Lady A and for her solo contemporary Christian music performance work and is back in that category with the sibling duo for KING & COUNTRY.

The 2023 Grammys will air live Feb. 5 from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Central on CBS and the Paramount+ networks from the Arena in Los Angeles.

MTSU once again plans to take a contingent of College of Media and Entertainment students, faculty and administrators to LA for a long weekend of gathering with local alumni and attending backstage and pre-show Grammy events.

Platinum-selling songwriter

Robert “Rob” Williford, 2016 MTSU music business alumnus
Robert “Rob” Williford

Williford, a 2016 MTSU graduate from Gastonia, North Carolina, was nominated for song of the year for co-writing Combs’ platinum-selling “Doin’ This.”

Serving for the last several years as Combs’ guitarist and bandleader, Williford earned his first No. 1 single, “One Number Away,” in August 2018 and the 2019 CMA Song of the Year award for the quadruple-platinum-selling “Beautiful Crazy.”

He’s also co-writer of Combs’ double-platinum cuts “Forever After All” and “The Other Guy” and is currently working on his own studio project.

The official video for “Doin’ This” is available below.

From ‘A Star is Born’ to ‘Lindeville Gazette’

2009 alumnus Raitiere won his first Grammy at the 2020 ceremonies for co-writing “I’ll Never Love Again” for “A Star is Born” in the best song for visual media category.

MTSU alumnus and Grammy winner Aaron Raitiere
Aaron Raitiere

The Danville, Kentucky, native co-wrote all but one of the songs and sings on two on McBryde’s “Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville,” a concept album about a fictional small town and its inhabitants. McBryde, Raitiere and a friend created “Lindeville,” and their musical pals, including Brandy Clark and Caylee Hammack, join them to make up the “cast.”

Raitiere also has a song each on this year’s country album nominees by Miranda Lambert and Maren Morris and co-wrote two cuts on McBryde’s Grammy-nominated 2020 second album, “Never Will.” He also recently released his newest album, “Single Wide Dreamer.”

The lyric video for “The Missed Connection Section of the Lindeville Gazette,” which Raitiere and Clark perform, is available below.

Multiple artists, nominations

Bell, a 2004 graduate, also was busy at the 64th Grammys. Carlile’s album’s lead single, “Right on Time,” released in 2021, earned three nominations for last year’s ceremonies, including record of the year. Bell also mixed the 2021 best country album nominee “The Marfa Tapes” by Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall.

Brandon Bell, Grammy-winning MTSU recording industry alumnus. (photo by Karan Simpson)
Brandon Bell

Bell, who’s engineered projects for artists ranging from Amythyst Kiah to The Lonely Island to the Zac Brown Band, plus Raitiere’s new album, won the bluegrass album Grammy for mixing “Nobody Knows You,” the Steep Canyon Rangers’ 2012 release.

He also has been twice-nominated for the Grammy for best nonclassical engineered album: “Like Red On A Rose,” Alan Jackson’s 2006 CD, and Sarah Jarosz’s 2011 release “Follow Me Down.”

Under Grammy rules, awards for best album and record of the year go to the winning artist, producers and/or engineers. The song of the year award goes to the songwriter, and performance awards go to the artist.

The official lyric video for Carlile’s “You and Me On the Rock” video is available below.

Longtime partnership with Willie

Castle, a 1995 MTSU recording industry production and technology alumnus, has won two Grammys for engineering Nelson’s projects featuring the songs of George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra, respectively.

MTSU alumnus and mutliple Grammy winner Tony Castle
Tony Castle

This nomination is for engineering Nelson’s 72nd studio album, the country release “A Beautiful Time.” Nelson also is nominated in the best roots gospel category for “The Willie Nelson Family,” a collection with his children and sister that Castle didn’t engineer.

Castle was nominated at the 64th annual Grammys last year for engineering Nelson’s second Sinatra tribute album, “That’s Life,” and for the top traditional blues album for engineering Blues Traveler’s latest release, “Traveler’s Blues.”

He’s crafted projects for a range of artists during his career that includes Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Sheryl Crow and Dr. John.

The official audio for the title song of “A Beautiful Time” is available below.

Temporary trio earns acclaim

Scotts collaboration with for KING & COUNTRY, “For God is With Us,” is part of the duo’s album “What Are We Waiting For?”

Brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, who comprise for KING & COUNTRY, have won four Grammys in the best contemporary Christian music album and performance categories.

Hillary Scott, former MTSU student, multi-Grammy winner, member of the country trio Lady A and nominee at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards
Hillary Scott

Lady A — Scott, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley — won the first of their seven Grammys in 2009 for “I Run to You,” then commenced a two-year sweep through the country album, performance, group, song and record of the year categories that also earned 1980 recording industry alumnus L. Clarke Schleicher three engineering Grammys.

The trio, originally called Lady Antebellum, changed its name in 2020 in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests to remove slavery-related connotations.

Scott’s 2016 independent album “Love Remains” also won her solo Grammys for best contemporary Christian music album and best contemporary Christian music performance/song.

The official “For God is With Us” video is available below.

37 Grammys and counting since 2001

The Department of Recording Industry at MTSU, part of the College of Media and Entertainment, trains song creators and performers in its Commercial Songwriting Program, experts in recording live music and audio in its Audio Production Program, and music entrepreneurs, including managers and publishers, in its Music Business Program.

NBC News in 2019 began calling MTSU a “Grammy-winner factory” in the wake of its alumni, students’ and staffers’ multiple nominations and wins.

Department of Recording Industry logo

MTSU alumni, former or current students, and faculty from across the university have been a part of more than 134 Grammy Award nominations in the last two decades.

The number of MTSU-connected Grammy winners since 2001 currently stands at 15 people with a total of 37 Grammys, including nine repeat recipients, in categories from classical to pop to rock to country to gospel.

The Department of Recording Industry and the College of Media and Entertainment are currently marking an eighth year on Billboard‘s latest international list of top music business schools, once again earning acclaim for the program’s diversity, depth and longevity.

For more information about the Department of Recording Industry at MTSU, visit

More details about the 65th annual Grammy Awards are available at

— Gina E. Fann (