Story by Jennifer Linn | Photography by Erin O. Smith
A veteran in the music industry, Gainesville’s Bruce Burch is described by colleagues as a “networking guru.”
Burch, who worked as a singer/songwriter in Nashville for years, has shifted his career to include teaching the younger generation about the music industry. He moved back to Gainesville and now works at Brenau University as an executive-in-residence where he teaches entertainment business topics.
“This was home, so I came back home,” Burch said. “I just was kind of near the end of my career. My family’s still here and it just seemed like it made sense.”
What also made sense was being able to share his love of music and knowledge of the music industry with younger generations.
“I like being around young people,” Burch said. “It keeps you young, well as young as you can be at my age.”
Burch spent 28 years in Nashville working as a singer/songwriter. Now 63 years old, he’s been involved in academics — teaching at University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University and Belmont University — for 11 years.
Burch decided to venture into education when he saw the music industry changing due to new technology. At that point, he said he noticed a majority of songwriters in Nashville were out of business.
“I had moved over and was working on the business side,” he said. “I had been a songwriter and thought, well maybe I should try to teach.”
Burch ended up teaching a class at Belmont University in Nashville, which led him to help start a music business program at the University of Georgia. From there, he went to Kennesaw State, where he worked in a music entertainment program.
He then combined the work he did in the two programs when he came to Brenau to teach.
“He makes the classes very interesting but he’s very realistic about it,” said Jody Jackson, who has known and worked with Burch for 25 years.
“The music business is really hard to get into and really hard to sustain unless you work hard and network. (Burch) is a networking guru.”
Jackson, who also serves as the executive director of the John Jarrard Foundation met Burch when he was working as a promotions director at a country radio station in Atlanta after Burch’s songs for Reba McEntire went to No. 1. They’ve remained in touch since then, later working together in Nashville and even now.
He said Burch has helped a lot of people and is in a good place to help students who have an interest in entertainment and the music business.
“The neat thing about Bruce is he knows a lot of people and he’s very well-liked by a lot of people,” Jackson said. “He’s a nice guy, he’s very knowledgeable in the music industry. He’s had hit songs and he’s helped other people get hit songs.”
Still, Burch said it’s good to be home.
“Brenau’s been great,” he said. “I love working here. It’s a real good opportunity to teach but also have time to write songs on the side and still go after my song-writing passion.”
Burch wrote two No. 1 singles for Reba McEntire and penned hits for artists such as Billy Joe Royal, Barbara Mandrell, George Jones, The Oak Ridge Boys and Dan Seals. He also ran music publishing companies and worked as creative director at EMI Music Publishing.
Last spring, Loretta Lynn recorded a song for her new album that Burch wrote 20 years ago.
Burch, who says he’s a terrible singer and a terrible guitar player, said he can play and sing enough to get a song down.
“I know enough music to be dangerous,” he said.
Burch says even though he’s in Gainesville now, he’s still writing. He wrote a lot over the summer, he said, working with Zach Seabaugh, a finalist last year on NBC’s singing competition show “The Voice.” Burch said he has four songs on Seabaugh’s current album.
Writing from Gainesville sometimes feels like shooting at the moon, Burch said. To be competitive in the music industry, you need to be there full time.
“I don’t expect to be at the top of the charts all the time, but if I can get a song recorded here and there, I’m going to be happy and that’s what I’m looking to do,” Burch said. “I’m looking to work with young writers and young singer/songwriters and try to get back in the game through young people coming up that are just starting their careers.”
Burch’s work at Brenau keeps him involved with the younger generations.
Besides teaching, Burch is also involved in The Sofa Sessions.
About 10 singers are brought in and they perform from the couches located in the Jacobs Building. The audience sits in folding chairs around the couches.
“It’s been a real interesting series that we’ve done because I’ve discovered so much talent right here in Gainesville, right here in Northeast Georgia,” he said.
In his spare time, Burch enjoys hearing live music. He listens to country and is always trying to listen to keep up with what’s happening on the radio. Burch said he’s most recently been into Travis Meadows, a singer/songwriter out of Nashville.
“He’s really a unique writer, he’s had a couple of big hits on the radio,” Burch said.
In August, Burch had a book signing and discussion at Peach State Bank on Washington Street in Gainesville for his book “Songs that Changed Our Lives.”
The book contains stories about how songs affected a fan’s life.
“What I did was I took it from the fan perspective, from the artist’s perspective, and then from the songwriter’s perspective, how the song originated,” Burch said. “ I just sort of told the story of the song from the songwriter’s pen to the listener’s ear and how I got there.”
The book came out 20 years ago and Burch said the event was a good opportunity to see old friends and make some new ones.
Two chapters from the book were picked up by the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” inspirational series.
Burch is also very involved in the John Jarrard Foundation, which was established in memory of Georgia Music Hall of Famer John Jarrard. The John Jarrard Foundation is a nonprofit organization with proceeds going to a permanent endowment fund in Jarrard’s name established at the North Georgia Community Foundation. Proceeds benefit local charities, including the Good News Clinics, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County, Georgia Mountain Food Bank Fund and one of John’s favorite causes, Good News at Noon Shelter.