In January of 2016, Eric Van Houten had no plans of moving to Nashville. The 24-year-old was writing music and playing shows in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., and although he had built himself a solid fan base and dreamed of a full-time career in country music, relocating just wasn't on his short-term list of goals. Until he played a show with Kelsea Ballerini.

Shortly after a trip to Music City for the Country Showdown event at the Ryman Auditorium, Van Houten opened a show that Ballerini was playing in Buffalo. There, he got to talking with someone from her record label, Black River Entertainment (the family that owns the label also owns Buffalo's professional football, hockey and lacrosse teams and various other properties in the city).

"He finally said, 'What are you doing in Buffalo?'" Van Houten remembers. "And that was enough for me. Two months later, I was [moving to Nashville] ...

"I think that's a lot of the battle when it comes to trying to make it in this world, is getting out there and meeting people," Van Houten tells The Boot. "You have to meet people, you have to be personable, you have to know people, you have to want to be around people."

And Nashville has lived up to Van Houten's expectations; it's been "amazing ... everything I expected," he says.

"[It's] filled with music people who are all generous and super-nice and opening their doors to new music every day," Van Houten notes, "and I was one of those people that the doors opened for, so I'm really excited about it."

On April 1, Van Houten released a three-song EP, produced by Bill McDermott (Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and many more) and recorded at Jay DeMarcus' studio. McDermott and Van Houten first met in 2015; the producer is "more of an old-school guy," according to Van Houten, so Van Houten's heartland rock-meets-modern country sound was right up his alley.

As a single, Van Houten is pushing his song "Do You Wanna." When he and co-writer Adam James (also a Western New York native) sat down to pen the song, Van Houten remembers, "we had the idea, we had the concept, and then it turned into, 'Okay, now how do we take this idea and this concept and make it that song that people can sing along to?'"

"It makes sense, it gets to the point, and it rocks," the artist adds of the finished product.

I think that’s the country music community in general: Everybody’s willing to help the next guy on the ladder, and that’s something that’s inspiring.

Since moving to Nashville last spring, Van Houten has co-written with a number of recognizable names: JT Hodges, Michael Ray, Canaan Smith. As artists with experience with finding success at radio and landing record deals, they (and others Van Houten has met) have been invaluable resources.

"They always tell me, 'Any questions you have, just ask,' and I've definitely taken advantage of that," Van Houten says. "And that's just -- I think that's the country music community in general: Everybody's willing to help the next guy on the ladder, and that's something that's inspiring."

Van Houten can also see his songwriting improving: "Getting the chance to write with [Nashville-based songwriters] has opened up my creativity, and knowing -- not even necessarily what's going to 'sell', but what people are going to attach to -- what is it about a song that makes people want to listen to it 100 times a day?" he explains. "I think it's a mixture of that and just, you know, constantly doing it. Being down there, you're always writing, you're always a part of the scene, you're always doing that, so you always get better at things when you practice and do it all the time."

Looking ahead, Van Houten hopes to continue to release short EPs every few months for the time being. He likes the idea of eventually releasing a full album, but keeping his fans satiated with new music will help him build a foundation for that.

"We just want to keep putting music out to people that they can listen to and learn and love just as much as we do," Van Houten says.

Van Houten's tour calendar is largely full of upcoming gigs in New York State, but the connections he's been making in Nashville have opened doors for more opening slots with nationally known acts -- the Cadillac Three, for example -- and he's hoping that trend continues. He's also been invited to perform at Buffalo radio station WYRK's Taste of Country concert, sharing the bill with, among others, Rascal Flatts and Justin Moore.

"They're not doing this because I'm friends with them," Van Houten says of that invite. "They're doing this because they believe in what I'm doing and they love the work I'm putting in and the songs that I have ... To get people to support you and believe in you, you have to believe in it, and that's about the only way you're going to find success."

More New Country Artists to Watch in 2017