Austin Cain was an athlete in high school and a popular member of his fraternity at Auburn, but he never really felt like he was truly known.
Being the conservative and traditional, career-oriented school the University is, Cain said he never felt like he really fit the mold.
“I felt very much misunderstood as an individual,” Cain said. “I think everyone else was telling me what they wanted me to do with my life, instead of me taking control.”
Since starting his music career, Cain has independently released 17 songs and two music videos. He’s now playing music and working with other bands in Nashville.
He’s up to 18,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, where his top song, “The Fish,” has been listened to more than 380,000 times.
He’s been featured on top Spotify playlists including Release Radar.
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But for years, he was confused about where his music career would take him.
“I was like, ‘Wait, I don’t want to have a traditional career path that the world is telling me is where I should be,’” Cain said. “I wanted to branch off and do something I’m really passionate about and not just something other people are telling me I should be passionate about.”
Cain, who is making his way as a songwriter and recording artist Nashville, graduated from Auburn in 2018.
“The norm at Auburn was to get a job that looks good on paper, to get married young and to have this comfortable life instead of taking some risks to achieve the things that you want in your life,” Cain said.
He got a degree in finance — one he felt he needed to get to be successful but never really wanted.
“That didn’t fire me up,” Cain said.
But music does.
“Music is where I feel most alive,” he said.
Many of his recent songs reflect an attitude of letting go of the past and moving on to something bigger and better — an orientation many graduating college students can likely relate to.
His most recent music video, “Burn Your Ships,” fits that bill, too. He wrote it at the end of senior year when he was leaving college and moving into a new phase.
“My whole identity for four years was wrapped up into being an Auburn student, having friends and being able to go Coffee Cat or Prevail,” Cain said. “I was really scared of letting go of my identity at Auburn, and then this song came from coming to grips with that feeling and saying, ‘Yeah, Auburn was a sweet time, but I have to let go of that.’”
His best days were not in college, though. They are to come, he said.
“All of these great things are going to happen, so living in the future and living in the present,” Cain said.
Cain’s parents made all of their kids learn a classical instrument. He started learning cello at the age of 9, an instrument he continued to study and play for nearly six years.
“They wanted us to really appreciate music just for music’s sake — the art of music,” Cain said. “We all had to learn how to read music and play classically.”
When he tried to branch out to guitar, his parents were apprehensive.
“You have to stick with cello,” Cain remembered his parents saying.
But he saved $150 and bought his first Squier Stratocaster guitar on his own.
His passion for the guitar would stay with him for years — and it’s the instrument he continues to play today as he works his way up the ladder as a songwriter and recording artist in Nashville.
Cain never had formal guitar lessons.
He learned it all on his own, combining his ability to read music with Youtube tutorials and lots of practice. He picked up the piano along the way, too.
“Knowing cello, I figured out how to teach myself,” he said. “I loved guitar so much that I knew I wanted to learn. I wanted to be great.”
He wrote his first songs freshman year of college at Auburn, admitting that none of them were that good. He started a band his sophomore year. And throughout his time at the University, he began performing more and more gigs — at coffee shops, greek parties and bars.
“College was really when I started loving music more than just playing just because I liked it,” Cain said. “I knew I wanted to make a career out of this.”
He continued writing songs. Five, 10, 15, 20 before he got to a good one — “The Fish.”
It was about refusing to conform, and it led to his first EP “Invisible Strings,” released in 2017.
“I always felt on the outskirts a little bit at Auburn,” Cain said.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t popular. He was.
“I never felt fully known,” Cain said. “That song came from a time feeling lonely and thinking that everybody wants me to be this guy who is a frat star and wants to be a businessman. But that’s not me. I don’t want to be that.”
He started writing songs, he said, out of a necessity for personal therapy.
“Going through my emotions, thinking, ‘How can I process this?’” he said. “Music gave me the avenue to process. … Being a guy, we’re often told to suppress these feelings of comparison or anxiety instead of embracing it. This doesn’t make me any less of a man. It just makes me more aware.”
That’s what inspires a lot of his music.
“Leveraging that in music is huge,” Cain said. “I can be open. People just want to hear the truth.”
The byproduct of releasing that first EP, Cain said, was his realization that he could be a musician.
“Once you claim that identity, it’s much easier, out of reflex, to keep creating and keep doing what you love,” Cain said.
The big thing in Nashville, Cain said, is co-writing, where artists come together and write songs in a quick, ping-pong fashion. The community there is tight-knit and supportive, he said, and that’s really been a boon to his creative energy.
“Most people from what I’ve found are open to working together,” Cain said. “Even if you’re an experience song writer, they’re still open to working with the new guys when they come in.”
He’s also working at a church and with other bands as he tries to make it big in Nashville.
“As long as it’s music,” he said.
Seeing his music perform well on Spotify, iTunes and Youtube is encouraging.
“It’s so encouraging, putting so much work into whatever your craft is, when you see so many people appreciate it,” Cain said. “That is the ultimate payment.”
His most recent single is “Let You In,” and he’s releasing his next song May 3.
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