Petey Martin began his music career as a high school sophomore performing live at Johnny T’s Bistro in Hillsdale, Michigan. Last month, Martin’s music hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Martin’s newest creation, “Come Back Home,” featuring Christian music artist Lauren Daigle, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales chart, according to Billboard’s website.
The song is personally sentimental to Martin. Martin sings about his return to Hillsdale in the summer of 2020, after the death of his grandmother who encouraged him in his music career.
But long before Martin found his name among Billboard’s Top 100, he was a choir kid in Hillsdale who wanted to learn how to play the guitar.
“My sister had a friend, who lived down the street and had a halfpipe and I would skateboard there,” Martin said. “The garage was made into a band room with Sex Pistols posters and ten guitars, and I wanted to get into playing the guitar.”
Martin says his mom wouldn’t let him learn the instrument, but eventually his grandmother bought him a guitar.
“My neighbor taught me all these AC/DC songs on it,” he said.
With an interest in writing his own songs, Martin continued to progress, and after his voice changed in high school, Martin’s father suggested he try singing.
“We went to Johnny T’s which had just opened, and my dad tried to convince them to get live music, telling them ‘my son can play for free,’” Martin said. “He was the worst manager ever.”
For two years, Martin played live music at Johnny T’s Bistro, as well as other local staples around Hillsdale, such as the Hunt Club and Chicago Water Grill, which Olivia’s replaced in 2009.
But it wasn’t until one performance in Ann Arbor that his future in music-making launched. After opening for an artist in Ann Arbor, the performer told Martin to look into the Berklee College of Music and to read “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell — a book about successful public figures which emphasizes the themes of timing and luck, according to Martin — before he went.
At the time, he had no intention of attending Berklee, Martin said.
“My mom is a hairdresser and my dad is a detective, so I was told I wasn’t going to get in,” Martin said. “I got into Hillsdale College with a bit of scholarship and really liked Hillsdale, so I figured I’d be a math professor.”
But Martin applied anyway.
“If I get in, who cares if I can’t afford it, I just want to know if I’m good enough,” he said.
Martin got in — and ultimately chose to attend Berklee instead.
With intentions to study songwriting, Martin received a word of advice from Berklee’s songwriting chair: “Get a degree in something else.”
“If you’re a songwriter, you get a publishing deal, work with some artists, and then other artists will want to work with you,” Martin said. “No artist will want to work with you, just because you have a songwriting degree.”
As a result, he decided to take his professor’s advice and learn another skill that was “more hirable,” according to Martin.
“I started studying production, which was totally foreign to me,” he said. “It teaches you how to produce and record bands. I loved that stuff, but it was a pain. Eventually, I learned how to make music on my laptop and that changed the game.”
Martin built up his skillset and producing abilities in music school, but it wasn’t until a fateful trip to Malibu that he would receive an opportunity to practice them.
“We started a rock band,” Martin said. “We stayed at my friend’s house in Malibu, and his dad was Mark Burnett.”
Mark Burnett is a television producer and the chairman of MGM Worldwide Television Group, which produces shows such as “Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “The Voice,” as well as Burnett’s own 2013 series “The Bible.”
He also gave Martin his big break — all because Martin was a good house guest.
Martin explained that Burnett would check each of his son’s guests’ rooms and see how they were taking care of their spaces. Martin always kept his space tidy, due to the way his parents raised him back in Hillsdale.
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t make their beds at someone else’s house,” Martin said. “I would put all of my stuff in my suitcase, make my bed, no towels on the floor, and he suggested to his son ‘Hey, you should have Petey stay with us this summer and work at ‘The Voice.’”
Martin stayed that summer, and Burnett pitched Martin’s songs to “The Voice.” Martin even wrote and produced a song that was used for a promotional trailer of Burnett’s “A.D.” series.
Martin’s first experience working with a real artist was when he wrote the hit song for “The Voice” winner Jordan Smith in 2015. After this experience, Martin moved to Los Angeles to connect with people in the music industry, and eventually moved to Music City: Nashville.
In the years to come, Martin would work with artists such as Britt Nicole, Kygo, Matoma, Seeb, Steve Aoki, and even Celine Dion for the “Deadpool 2” movie soundtrack.
“I wrote the song for Deadpool in six hours,” Martin said. “This was the one time the music supervisor loved it. He sent it to the director, the director sent it to Ryan Reynolds, and he sent it to Celine Dion. It became the opening and closing song of the movie.”
But how does Martin continue to find these opportunities with such big-name artists? His answer: cold emailing.
“I’m a big fan of cold emailing people. You have nothing to lose,” he said. “You don’t want to be blasting people with cold emails, but that’s how the Kygo thing happened. Hustle.”
And through this boldness, Martin landed his most recent opportunity with artist Lauren Daigle.
After the passing of his grandmother who bought him his first guitar when he was 10 years old, Martin returned home to Hillsdale this summer.
“I made this song back home on the lake a few days after she passed,” he said. “I’ve had an amazing journey so far and I’ve been lucky to have had so many of my dreams come true already. I’ve sacrificed time with family, and time with her, in pursuit of songs and stories.”
It was this return home and spending time on Baw Beese Lake that inspired “Come Back Home.”
“I call home Hillsdale,” Martin said. “That’s always been home for me.”
After realizing the girl who sang his demo sounded like Daigle, Martin reached out to Daigle’s booking agent, who sent back Daigle’s manager’s email and told Martin to send the song.
“She loved it, and told me to send her lyrics,” Martin said.
The two spent a few days recording their respective parts, saying that Daigle couldn’t stop singing the lyrics over and over.
After releasing the song on Jan. 8, the song received 100,000 streams and hit No. 1 on Billboard.
“Lauren called me the night it came out,” Martin said. “She was with her grandma when it happened, and she was like ‘My grandma loved this song, and said you really need to call Pete.’ It was her first song on Billboard.”
Martin found Daigle’s phone call with her own grandma special and symbolic.
“My grandma’s last dream was to see me play a Coldplay-sized concert of my own,” Martin said. “Here’s to the beginning of that one. Love and miss you Grandma. Wish you could come back home.”