October 04, 2019

The Life and Career of Grammy-Nominated Songwriter and Producer Busbee

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The music industry is mourning the passing of producer and songwriter Michael James Ryan, better known as Busbee, who died at age 43 on Sunday, September 29. Here’s a look back at his life and his successful career.

Busbee was known among his peers not only for his talent for producing and writing country and pop hit songs but also for being a lively person who always had hope and words of encouragement for his loved ones.

Busbee arrives at the 2017 Billboard Country Power Players on August 1, 2017 | Photo: GettyImages


According to Variety, the California native was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, over the summer. He was under treatment but sadly, lost the battle against the disease.

A natural talent for music

Michael James Ryan grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area listening to a mix of his sister’s hair metal records, his father’s country classics, and the Hot AC Christian radio that his mother often heard.

Still, his interest led him to jazz.


He started playing piano at seven and learned trombone in high school. His talent earned him a scholarship to William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. “At the time, it was one of the top jazz schools in the world,” said Busbee of the school.

"I’m very grateful to come up in the Nashville way of doing things – they have an incredibly high bar and talent level." - Busbee

However, he didn’t graduate and chose to go back home. He was 23 when he was offered a job as a musical pastor at a local church.


“There’s so much music at church,” Busbee told Ross Golan on the “And the Writer Is…” podcast. “You can feel when a song feels like it’s inspired.”

At the same time, Busbee went through a phase of rediscovering his sound and steering away from jazz.

“That typical teenage period of going through all music and figuring out what you like and eating it up, that happened ten years later,” he told Rolling Stone in 2016. And continued:

“At this point, because it wasn’t as attached to my identity, I could listen to whatever I wanted to listen to and just eat it up. I spent that period just studying and studying and listening and listening.”



Transitioning to pop and country

Soon after, he moved to Los Angeles and landed a job at a studio assisting producers for over a year before he started producing and writing on the side on his own.

He worked independently for about five years, honing his craft and writing mostly for stars out of reality singing competitions like Adam Lambert, Bea Miller, Haley Reinhart, among others; and even huge names like Toni Braxton and the Backstreet Boys.


In 2006, following the recommendation of Greg Becker, another writer he met in L.A, Busbee tried out his luck in Nashville.

Music experts have predicted the album will most likely win the Album of the Year category at the CMA Awards, and if it does, Busbee will be the first posthumous winner in that category since 2003.

There, he impressed veteran producer and songwriter Dann Huff, who offered Busbee a publishing deal.


By spring 2009, Busbee landed his first significant writing breakthrough with “Summer Nights” by Rascal Flatts, which reached number 2 on the Billboard Country Chart. A year later, he landed the number 1 spot with Lady Antebellum’s "Our Kind of Love."

Busbee was always grateful to the music community in Nashville for giving him a place despite his pop antecedents.


“I’m very grateful to come up in the Nashville way of doing things – they have an incredibly high bar and talent level,” he told Rolling Stone. “If they think you’re really talented, you’re in – even if you haven’t had a hit for a minute, because that happens to everybody. Pop is a little more like, ‘Well, what have you done lately?'”

More hit songs

Although Busbee kept working with country artists such as Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Garth Brooks, Carly Pearce, and Blake Shelton, he also continued working with other pop names like Shakira, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, and Pink, with whom he reached number 1 on the Billboard chart with the song “Try.”



However, it was his work with Maren Morris on her debut album “Hero” that would give Busbee a new hitmaker status in the industry.

He co-wrote and co-produced most songs in the album, and even earned Grammy nominations for it, including country album and country song for “My Church.”


“You dream you get the chance for a new artist like that to come across your radar,” Busbee said of his work with Morris. Adding:

“We just got put together in a co-write, she was making the rounds in Nashville writing with different people. She was singing her own music, and it was world-class. I was super freaked out – in a good way.”


His last work could make him a posthumous winner

Busbee’s most recent work was as the co-producer of Morris’ sophomore album “Girl,” which was released in March.

Music experts have already predicted the album will most likely win the Album of the Year category at the CMA Awards, and if it does, Busbee will be the first posthumous winner in that category since 2003, when Johnny Cash won for “American IV: The Man Comes Around.”

Although Busbee didn’t win any significant awards during his time on earth, “Girl” seems to be on the right track and could even win a Grammy in the Best Country Album category.

Busbee is survived by his wife and his three daughters.