At the outset of his career, Cole Swindell learned his first lessons about the music industry by watching other country artists from behind a merch table.

"When I moved to Nashville, my first job was merchandise," the country singer explained at a recent press conference with The Boot and other media outlets. "I was able to be on the road and see how it all goes down, and what a new artist has to do."

Although Swindell was out on tour with the artists whose merchandise he was selling, becoming a performer himself wasn't his goal at the time; rather, he wanted to be a songwriter.

"I didn't move here to be an artist," Swindell adds. "I fell in love with the writing part."

Three and a half years after moving to Nashville, however, Swindell had finally written enough songs to start playing them publicly, and he landed his first publishing deal with Sony. The way he saw it, his dream of writing songs full-time was coming true, and he stopped performing entirely in order to focus on the writing aspect of his career.

"I didn't book shows. I just wrote songs every day for three years," Swindell recalls. However, when some of the artists cutting his songs -- such as Luke Bryan and Thomas Rhett -- began suggesting that he should perform some of his songs himself, Swindell's career took a turn.

"They were like, 'Why aren't you trying to sing these?'" Swindell remembers. "So I thought that maybe I should book a show just to see. I remember that first show I did, I was about halfway through when I realized that this was what I was supposed to be doing.

"At that point, I had three years' worth of songs that I'd been trying to get other people to record, and praying that someone would record them ... and who knew that it was me that needed them all along?!" he adds with a laugh. "That was a big turning point for me."

Although Swindell's path to success has taken some unexpected turns, the singer says he doesn't regret any of the phases his career has gone through: "I moved here thinking I was ready for a record deal," he admits, "but I would have screwed it up if it happened any sooner than it did."

After achieving a string of seven consecutive No. 1 singles over the span of two albums, Swindell has seen another kind of turning point in his career recently: "When you release a song, you hope it goes No. 1, but after several of those, the message becomes more important than just picking something catchy," he explains. "I'm just thankful that I get to release songs that mean stuff to people. I hope [the songs] go No. 1, no doubt, but I'm at a point where the message might be more important than the chart position."

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