Here’s a riddle, what’s a job where you make something millions of people know, yet almost none of those same people recognize your name? busbee (an uncapitalized moniker that’s just stuck over time) would tell you it’s a job as a songwriter. The list of artists that busbee’s written songs for is astounding. The laundry list includes Timbaland, Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes, Kelly Clarkson, and most recently P!nk with her new song, “Try.” It’s hard to say being a songwriter is a thankless job, but it can definitely be one that gets overlooked. Maybe that’s why I wanted to pick busbee’s brain, asking him a few questions about music and the business.
What are some of your past influences along with new and recent influences?
I was a jazz kid at first, my all time favorite has to be Myles Davis. I also love everyone from Willie Nelson to The Foo Fighters, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Jay-Z, Elvis, Louis Armstrong, Dolly Parton, and so on.
What’s a song from 2012 you really dig?
I Love that Lumineers song “Ho Hey.” There’s lots of great songs out right now though!
What’s your typical song writing process? Anything you do habitually?
I don’t have a routine per se, just always trying to write something memorable. To me, memorability is the only commonality in every hit song. The style can change, the lyrical approach/content, and the sound, but every hit is memorable.
So, do you feel any pressure to produce the next big single?
YES! that’s what I do for a living, meaning, it’s exceptionally difficult these days to make a living as a songwriter (or recording producer) without having hits. The days of having a bunch of album cuts and making a great living are seemingly over.
What’s a story behind one of the hits you’ve written?
My first hit was a song called “Summer Nights” which Brett James, Gary Levox, the lead singer of Rascal Flatts, and I wrote. We wrote it on Gary’s back porch. He wanted to write a summer song and that’s what came out. It happened pretty fast as Gary tends to know what he likes and Brett tends to be a fast writer, it’s all we can all do just to keep up with him.
As the different genres cycle through being popular, do you write to the current style?
To me, genres are more effected by production than they are by songwriting. That’s not to say that a song can just become viable in another genre utilizing that genre’s production. I do believe it’s important as a writer to be aware of what tools to bring to the table and what palette you’re working with depending on what type of song you are writing. If I’m writing for Lady Antebellum, for example, then I’m probably going to approach it differently than if I’m writing for Timbaland.
Any early signs of the next trend in musical tastes and styles?
I don’t know. I do know that I love where radio is at right now, that it’s become so eclectic. You simultaneously have dance records like “Die Young” or “Wild Ones” being played next to records like “Ho Hey,” “The A Team” (which doesn’t even have drums!) and “Locked Out of Heaven” which is a reincarnation of the Police to my ear. Radio has become fairly wide open and as a fan of a broad range of music and a songwriter who’s often aiming for radio, that’s exciting!
Is the music industry really in as terrible shape as the media would suggest?
There are definitely some serious economic issues that need to be sorted out in the music industry. I’ll give you an example. The current biggest song of 2012 at radio is “Somebody That I Used To Know.” As of right now, that song has been played on radio this year alone over half a million times. The writers of that song will collective make a few million dollars. Conversely, a hit I recently had called “Storm Warning” by Hunter Hayes was played on Pandora 6.5 million times in one three month period, which is over 13 times more than “Somebody That I Used To Know” was played on tradition radio in this year to date, and for those plays I received something like $83. That’s a huge disparity. Now I understand there’s different economic scale between the income pool from traditional radio stations collectively vs. the income of Pandora as a whole, but the point is with the digital world, writers, producers, artists, and labels just aren’t making the kind of money that can sustain an industry long term. On the flip side, the world at large is changing for everyone no matter what you do for a living. We all need to continue to grow in our adaptability and the expansion of our skill sets.
Is copyright what needs to change? Does it need to be adapted for an internet generation?
That won’t effect anything. People feel like things on the internet should be free and it’s too late, no one’s just gonna start paying for music who hasn’t been for a few years.