The news broke in early evening on Sept. 29. Busbee’s real name is Michael James Ryan. He was father to three children, including a just-born baby girl.
According to a friend, Busbee was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, over the summer and was undergoing treatment.
He had a worldwide publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music and a creative partnership with Red Light Management. His label, Altadena, was under the Warner Records umbrella.
A memo from Warner Records’ co-chairman and CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck and co-chairman and COO Tom Corson sent to staff on Sept. 29 read: “Today we lost busbee, a dear friend, business partner with his company Altadena, and one of the best and brightest creative minds in music. busbee’s kindness and legacy will never be forgotten and our hearts and prayers go out to his family at this very difficult time.”
Warner Chappell’s leadership said of Busbee: “Our hearts are broken by the loss of our beautiful friend. He was an extraordinary human being whose generosity, spirituality and humor inspired everyone around him. An amazingly gifted songwriter, he used his talent, his music, and his love to break down boundaries and bring people together. He left us far too soon. Our deepest condolences go to his wonderful family and all his many friends. We love you.”
Busbee hailed from the Bay Area where he grew up listening to jazz and the Hot AC Christian radio his mother favored. He started playing piano at age seven and took up trombone in early high school. His natural talent brought a college scholarship his way in 1995, but a couple years later, he left and returned home. As Busbee told Ross Golan, host of “And the Writer Is…,” on the May 6 episode of the podcast, he found himself 23 years old and living at home with his mom when he was offered the job of music pastor at a local church. “There’s so much music at church,” Busbee said. “You can feel when a song feels like it’s inspired.”
He moved to Los Angeles in 2000 at 24 to take a stab at a job in the music industry, starting out assisting producers like Eric Valentine (Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” All-American Rejects), who told him that songwriting was his calling.
Busbee spent the rest of his twenties honing his craft and started by writing for many alums of reality singing competitions like “American Idol” and “The X Factor,” including Adam Lambert, Bea Miller, Katharine McPhee, Haley Reinhart, Lauren Alaina, Danny Gokey, Scotty McCreery, Colton Dixon and Chris Rene, among others.
The practice would bring Busbee to Pink, co-writing 2012’s “Try,” which would go on to reach No. 1 on Top 40. Credits on singles by Rascal Flatts followed and Busbee increasingly looked to Nashville as an outlet. Sessions with artists like Lady Antebellum and Florida Georgia Line were also fruitful, but it was Busbee’s work with Maren Morris on her 2016 album “Hero” that would elevate him to hitmaker status. That same year, Keith Urban’s “The Fighter,” with Carrie Underwood, and Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.” were bonafide smashes in the country format.
As Busbee told Golan last Spring: “I still love the amazing challenge of, ‘I’m gonna try and write a Top 40 hit and I’m gonna try and write a country hit and produce all of those.'”
Most recently, Busbee produced 11 of the 15 tracks on Morris’ Grammy-bound “Girl” album, which dropped in March.
Tributes from all over the music industry have been pouring in on social media and beyond. The Jonas Brothers dedicated a song to Busbee at their Tulsa concert.
Read reactions to the news below:
This just doesn’t seem fair. I will always love you and the songs and albums I was lucky to make with you, Busbee. Rest well, my sweet friend. 💔 pic.twitter.com/9DKsU5G77a
— MAREN MORRIS (@MarenMorris) September 30, 2019
Shocked and saddened by the news today that we have lost Busbee. I am so grateful I was able to have collaborated with him. He was brilliant and warm, with palpable joy for his craft. RIP Sir.
— ADAM LAMBERT (@adamlambert) September 30, 2019
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This news has landed heavily today. Our friend, creator and songwriter advocate @busbee sadly passed away this weekend. A talent as huge as his heart, a deeply spiritual man and devoted husband and father. Everyone that knew him, even just as business colleagues, feels like a good friend has been lost today – they don’t make many like this. He will be deeply missed by us and his beautiful family 💔
I can’t think of a single word, or hear a single note. Man, I just heard your voice days ago… I lost a brother today. We just lost one of the greats. @busbee I know you know our hearts are with your beautiful family.
God bless you. pic.twitter.com/I0o1AlkF2K
— BILLY MANN (@BillyMann) September 30, 2019
Mike Busbee was a friend, a comrade in the insane music business, and graciously always asked me for advice about everything from mixing to songwriting to business ideas to work/family balance to making plugins. He… https://t.co/v7ZqqesqzT
— Greg Wells (@greg_wells) September 29, 2019
Rest In peace Busbee 💔. I was so glad to have gotten to meet you and chat the couple times we did. Sorry we didn’t have the time to get to know each other more. You were one of the great ones who fought to make the lives of songwriters better. You certainly were an inspiration.
— Savan Kotecha (@Savan_Kotecha) September 30, 2019
I seriously can’t believe this Busbee, it feels so weird to talk about you in the past, but you were and always will be one of the best people I’ve known and one of the greatest creatives, so beyond grateful to have had you in my life. Love u❤️ pic.twitter.com/6MUIaK8YcX
— Jenna Andrews (@TheJennaAndrews) September 30, 2019
— Carly Pearce (@carlypearce) September 30, 2019