In many respects, busbee is a jack-of-all-trades. Not only is he a producer, but he’s a songwriter that has worked with everyone from P!nk and Kelly Clarkson to Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum. His career is an enviable one, which sky rocketed in recent years when he signed a publishing deal with BMG in 2009.
When the company opened their Nashville office that year, busbee was quickly snagged to join the roster. Since then, they’ve been successful in connecting him with artists worldwide, resulting in countless chart-topping hits. Also, busbee was one of the first writers signed to release music through BMG’s innovative Artist Services model, an artist-friendly alternative to the traditional record label deal.
Of course, it isn’t a deal that inspires busbee to create like he does. That notion is reserved simply for his love of music. “I just love music, man,” he tells #CMchat, exclusively. “I know that sounds kind of cheesy or seems trite. But I don’t mean it that way at all. I started as a piano player when I was a kid, playing classical piano. In high school, I became a jazz trombone player, and I thought I was going to do that for the rest of my life. I actually played trombone professionally for several years in my teens and early 20s. [My history] started a bit more eclectic than where it is now. It’s almost like coming back to center a little bit,” he laughs.
He then admits that the sounds permeating from his radio also give him an extra shot of optimism. He explains, “When you turn on the radio, there’s songs you love more than others. I tend to just love most of that radio, sound and I have for most of my life, whether it’s country radio or otherwise.
“When you are writing a song and going into different genres, obviously you need to know which tools to use,” he notes of how the process can differ from pop to country. “That part of it gets a little challenging sometimes.”
Having begun his musical journey as a kid, he recounts how his parents were always supportive, even if a bit stern. “My parents insisted…would be a nice way to put it,” he says of when he started taking piano lesson as 7 years old. “It was healthy, but it was definitely like we didn’t have a choice. They both love music, but neither are particularly musically gifted or inclined.”
“All of us — I’m second to four kids — had to take piano lessons from like second grade through eighth grade,” he recalls fondly. “We quit in high school. Then, we also happened to go to a school that had a really good band program. They made us be in band, as well, starting in fourth grade. We had to do that through eighth grade. Once we got to high school, we could quit if we wanted.”
“I was the only one who really pursued it full on. My brother did it a little bit,” busbee says. “I’m grateful for it. I think, back then I hated music because I don’t like practicing as a general rule. I was a jazz trombone player. Part of the reason I don’t do that anymore is that I’ve seen people the higher levels seemed to have an affinity of sitting in practices rooms for hours upon hours. I just don’t have that same affinity.”
Part of the reason he loves songwriting is there is no mandatory practice sessions. Instead, he finds the process like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. “Obviously, I worked hard but I’ve always been such a social guy,” he says. “I think that’s part of what I love about songwriting. Basically, you go in a room with one or two or three other people (whatever it is) and bang your head against the wall (for however long it is). You’re solving puzzles.”
He continues, “I’ve talked to other writers about this quite a bit, and they seem to have a similar take on it. It’s this professional problem solving. That part of it can be as painful as practicing sometimes, but I’m good with other people. We can kind of make jokes, take a break and go have lunch together and talk about life. There’s ways around the pain, so to speak,” he chuckles.
“Honestly, especially in Nashville, all across the board, I’ve been very fortunate to work with crazy talented people. It’s exceedingly humbling,” he says.
“There’s certain people, someone like Tom Shapiro comes to mind, whose a legendary writer,” he details of one of his most memorable experiences to-date. “Other writers and I have talked about this from time to time. Here’s a guy who’s written thousands of songs now and is still having tons of hits. The first time I ever wrote with him — I don’t remember if I had ever had a hit or even a major cut — but I managed to write with him. His whole posture was ‘what can I learn from you?’ I’m just sitting here going ‘dude, you’re like THE guy.’ There’s several of those guys, but he’s one of them. You just go ‘holy moly.'”
“I’m just in awe, you know, whenever I get the chance to write with people like that. It was very telling, for me, just going ‘there’s a reason he’s had so much success and he continues to stay relevant.’”
In recent years, streaming has become an increasingly integral aspect of the music industry, something that has an adverse effect on songwriting. “I don’t know how the hell it’s going to be figured out,” he says, frankly. “Just to give you some context, one of the biggest songs from a few years ago, the Gotye song ‘Somebody That I Used To Know,’ if I’m not mistaken, it had some 600,000 plays on the radio. That generates multiple millions of dollars in writing and publishing money. I don’t know the exact number; I can only speculate. It’s in the seven figures, though.”
“Adversely, I had a song with an established artist that got six million and something plays on Pandora, so it was 10 times the amount of plays. Granted, I know there’s a difference between a radio play and a Pandora play, but the amount of money I got for those six million plays was $85.”
“The difference is catastrophic,” he laments. “Fortunately, I produce records, as well, so there’s an income stream there. But, on the writing side of things, you have a publishing deal and you get a draw from that. The money that gives you a proper career you get from having hits, basically. There were writers in the ‘90s that had incredibly successful careers and had very few (if any) hits. They’d get these album cuts and get all these mechanical royalties and be making a great living. Albums aren’t selling like they used to. Single sales are up, but it still is a lot less than the albums. If you sell a single, that’s one song versus 10 or 12. If radio goes away, hypothetically, which I don’t know how that’d happen, we’re in a world of hurt.”
“It’s hard to recoup your publishing advance off of $85 from one song,” he adds. “It’s a tough conversation because we’re in a different era. The cat is fully out of the bag. People don’t like to pay for music. They’ve gotten used to this idea of ‘I want to hear this song, so I’ll go to listen to it on YouTube.’ I know there’s payments for that stuff, but the kind of payments you are talking about are just miniscule in comparison.”
“I don’t know what’s really going to happen or how it’s going to play out. On the flip side of that coin, 10 years ago when I was first starting to come up, people were saying ‘oh, 10 years from now, the labels will all be dead.’ It’s like, everyone is struggling in their own way, but labels are still very much alive.”
“The basic principle is: if people can not make a living, they can’t afford to take time to create. That’s going to be a problem, if we get to that place,” he concludes.
What lies ahead for busbee is even more A-list cuts and collaborations. He teases, “I have a few things in the mix with various artists that I’m excited about — too soon to talk about. It’s a funny game, man, you show up and do the best you can. It does what it does. [The industry] is almost like a living thing.”