Austin Burke helps songwriters by donating 15% of his masters

Austin Burke moved to Nashville from Arizona in 2013 with $650 and the dream of a career as an artist. Inspired by his musical hero Garth Brooks, the 19-year-old has settled into the songwriting community. He wrote with whomever he could from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day before work at The Palm, where he worked as a food courier.

An independent country artist, Burke found success in late 2017 when “Whole Lot in Love” took off on digital service providers like Spotify and later aired on SiriusXM’s “The Highway.” When he got his checks in the mail, he immediately saw the disparity in his income as an artist and as a songwriter, so he decided to do something about it. Beginning with simple “take my lifeout today, Burke will donate 15% of his masters to his songwriters.

“I was able to live off the streaming money, but then I look at my songwriter friends and they have three jobs,” Burke tells me over lunch at The Palm. “Division and separation of money is not right at this time.”

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Burke is a longtime fan of songwriters and a writer himself. He says songwriting was the one thing he could lean on throughout the tough times in his life. He feels the importance of songwriting and songwriters in the Nashville community has been pushed aside and he hopes giving 15% of his masters to his co-writers will inspire other players in the industry to do the same.

Being an independent artist made the process easier of giving a percentage of each song to his collaborators than if Burke were signed to a label since he owns his masters. While he’s well aware that not every artist can do this, Burke hopes it will put pressure on labels to support songwriters in the industry.

“Country music has always been about the song and that’s why I fell in love with country music myself,” he said as he sat at a booth in the dining room of the restaurant where caricatures of the late Naomi Judd, Willie Nelson and countless other artists and songwriters line the walls.

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“I love stories,” he continues. “I love listening to an old Garth Brooks song or an old George Strait song and all of a sudden you’re in Amarillo when you’re listening to George Strait or you’re in Baton Rouge when you’re listening to Garth. That’s something that gets lost in this town; the emphasis on the importance of songwriting. If you don’t have the songwriters, if you don’t have the song, you have nothing.

For Burke, he is simply giving back to the community that has given him so much. Through his work at The Palm, Burke’s chance encounters with industry executives like SiriusXM’s John Marks and Storme Warren kept his country music dream afloat. An altercation with Brooks at the restaurant in 2017 came with advice from the Country Music Hall of Famer himself: “If you don’t give up, you’ll never lose,” the singer told Burke at the time.

“It was a moment that changed my life forever,” Burke says, while fondly recalling his first encounter with the singer as a child. Burke had sung the national anthem at age 4 at a baseball game in Arizona that Brooks was playing in during his short stint with the San Diego Padres. The couple took a photo together – Brooks in his singlets and Burke dressed as a cowboy with a hat, boots and leggings. While serving Brooks his Caesar salad at the Palm in 2017, Burke delivered his meal with the photo they took nearly two decades before. It was after this meal that Brooks imparted his wisdom to the budding singer.

Burke quit his job at the restaurant in late 2017 and years later opened for Brooks on a radio show. Throughout, he never forgot the advice shared by Brooks. “He’s my hero and the reason I moved here,” Burke said.

Burke is signed to Warner Chappell Music Nashville and says the music publishing company was on board immediately when he came to see them with the decision to give a percentage of his masters to his co-writers. The team originally scheduled meetings with company attorneys to see if Burke’s idea was possible. After discussions with lawyers and his own business manager, Burke decided that 15% was a fair cut for his writers.

“What Austin does really speaks to his character and who he is as an artist – humble, compassionate and forward-thinking,” said Jessi Vaughn Stevenson, WCM Nashville Senior Director, A&R/Digital. “He cares about his fellow songwriters and it’s admirable to see him recognize them in this way.”

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Burke’s ‘Take My Life’, 15% of which will go to writers Emma Lynn White and Jamie Kenney, was written in June 2021. The singer says the idea for the ballad started by wondering what he might giving his wife, Lexy, the serial dumpster who started the Venmo Tip Challenge on TikTok during Covid-19.

“She gives so much,” he says. “She has the biggest heart and she gives to everyone, and I was like, ‘What can I give her?’ ‘What can a man give to a woman who gives so much’ is one of the lyrics. … I think the greatest gift I can give my wife is my whole life and the ups and downs and everything that goes with it.

Little did Burke realize that by writing the song, he would ultimately be giving back to his collaborators, White and Kenney. White, who has been writing songs since she was 15 and is now on her 11the year in Nashville, Burke says, including her in the main song royalties “means everything.”

“I hope this paves the way for other artists to do the same for their co-writers,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever been a part of, so this is a very special release for me. I can’t wait to see how it positively impacts people’s lives.

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Kenney agrees with White’s sentiment and says that as a songwriter, he creates art because he loves it. However, the nature of streaming has made it much more difficult to pursue his craft for a living.

“For someone like Austin to make the effort to do this for us is groundbreaking and innovative and, more importantly, shows an appreciation for the writers who have given a piece of their soul and talents to invest in his art. “says Kenney. “Austin is a real leader for doing that and putting good karma into the world like that doesn’t go unnoticed.

Burke hopes his investment in songwriters will open up an even bigger conversation. If the industry doesn’t step in to help its songwriters, the music industry won’t be the same, the singer warns.

“Publishing companies are going to have to downsize and the industry as we know it will be damaged,” he says. “I look at it like how can I help the thing that I love the most? It’s something that excites me a lot. I love writers and writing and songwriting and if we don’t change, [that’s] will go away.

“I know I’m supposed to do something, and I know I’m supposed to be an example for other independent artists like you box Do it yourself. You can do these things and you can make a change and make a difference.

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