Sugarland’s Kristian Bush visits CEC
Singer talks to students about the music industry
by Celia Shortt
Members of Dr. Lyn Schenbeck’s class at Central Educational Center in Newnan had a special visit – Kristian Bush, founding member of the country duo Sugarland, who spoke candidly with them about having a full-time career in the music business.
“You choose to do this (be a musician) because it is the hardest thing to do in life,” he told the class during the Tuesday visit. “There are no instructions.”
Bush is a Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist whose music career spans more than 20 years.
His professional career started in the early 1990s with folk rock duo Billy Pilgrim. After Billy Pilgrim, he founded Sugarland in 2002. Since then, he and Jennifer Nettles, Sugarland’s other half, have sold more than 22 million albums worldwide, achieved five No. 1 singles, and have won numerous awards, including two Grammy Awards.
In 2012, both he and Nettles were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Bush is also a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta.
Bush and Schenbeck know each other from the Atlanta chapter of the Board of Governors of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. NARAS is the group responsible for the Grammy Awards. Both Bush and Schenbeck serve with the Atlanta chapter and are voting members.
For nearly an hour on Tuesday, Bush shared his experiences as a musician with Schenbeck’s class and gave them advice on starting a career as a professional musician.
“You just constantly have to say yes, even if you can’t do it,” he said. “Always says yes.”
One student asked him if he had a method to writing songs.
“No, I think you have to do it intentionally though,” he responded.
Bush said when he needs to write a song he thinks about the prospective song a lot before meeting with whoever he is working with on it.
“A song is an authentic representation of who you are,” he added. “Most people come to me because they want their song to be better. I see what connects with that person.”
Bush said he has written about 160 songs a year for the last two years.
Because some of her students are considering careers as musicians, Schenbeck asked Bush to share the realities of touring.
“Touring will beat your voice” and everything you do makes a difference, he told them. How much sleep you get, how much water you drink, how much partying you do, it all affects your voice, he said.
Bush encouraged the students to learn how to manage their voices, especially with the early morning television and radio interviews, which come with being a musician. He also told them to not be afraid to try different genres or styles of music.
Throughout the class, students asked Bush questions about his career and music. But one of the most impactful came from Schenbeck when she asked him about what it felt like being in the limelight and how he copes with it.
“For me, I distance myself from me,” he said. “I record it and think of myself as a producer who is working with an artist. It’s still really weird.”
With being in the limelight, he had a different answer.
“Figure out who you are and stick to it,” he said. “It’s exactly like money or booze. If you are a mean drunk, you are going to be a mean rich drunk.”
“(Being in the limelight) creeps up on you, and when you’re not looking, you got famous,” he added.
Even with the difficulties being a musician brings, Bush still encouraged Schenbeck’s students to not be afraid and to work hard toward their goals of being musicians.
“The future is chaos, but when you look back, it (always) looks like there was a plan,” he said.
Bush is currently working on a solo album, as Sugarland is taking a break. Both he and Nettles are working on solo projects, but have no plans to disband.
"We're just taking time to do things individually, personally and professionally,” Nettles told media at the Billboard Music Awards. “We're super supportive of each other in what we do on both those fronts.”
In October of last year, Bush released his first solo single, “Love or Money,” in the U.S. through iTunes. His album is due out this summer.