She’s a third-year student at the University of South Carolina, walking the line between the beginnings of a career on MusicRow and an accounting curriculum.
Sara Burns, an accounting student with a minor in advertising, is a girl with a guitar who has grown her music from acoustic nights at beach-town South Carolina restaurants to a masterfully-recorded, three-track album: “Past Tense.”
The Hilton Head native started playing guitar in eighth grade, and as a freshman in high school she took her talents to coastal restaurants. She started small, singing Shania Twain — an artist she still looks to as a musical inspiration — with her sister.
“I was a shower singer, of course, when I was little,” Burns said.
The big hurdle was learning how to play guitar and sing at the same time. Once she tackled that art, Burns started to grow her sound.
For the past three summers, Burns has been the “official entertainer” at The Old Oyster Factory in Hilton Head. She performs six nights a week, just her and her guitar.
And her hometown performances are what have sparked a real start to recorded fame.
A producer from Nashville, Tenn. moved to Hilton Head and started working at Burns’s church. Her dad met the producer and introduced him to his daughter. This past December, Burns recorded three of her original tracks with a full band in the nation’s country music capital.
The three songs — “Past Tense,” “Too Late” and “When You Kiss Me” — all relate to time. It’s a kind of theme for her first collection, Burns said. The miniature album, named after the first song, will drop April 30 at an official release show at Delaney’s in Five Points.
Burns will also head back to Nashville in May to record a few more hits to add to the record.
“I write a lot songs,” she said.
With the Nashville pull to her music, Burns has fallen into an identity between pop and country crossover. She aspires to a sound similar to late ‘90s alternative pop-rock: Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel and Alanis Morissette. The sound of those artists, however, has turned to a “light country” identity, Burns said, and her music has followed.
“I don’t have a Southern accent or anything,” Burns said with a laugh.
But the influences definitely flow through each of the very well-done tracks on “Past Tense.” Her voice is clean, crisp but soulful, catching each lyric with a rich kind of pop with a country tint. The lyrics fall into each chord, working perfectly with the young singer’s vocals, and show serious mainstream single potential.
They’re the kind of lyrics that get written on statuses and corkboards and blogs and all those other cheesy, but very real places. She’s definitely a talented storyteller and songwriter — perhaps bringing in a few lessons from her journalism school-based minor.
Her academics, really, seem disjointed with such a talented musician.
“People are always shocked — accounting literally has nothing to do with music,” Burns said.
She thought about a music major, but she wanted to hold onto her own creative process.
“I don’t like people telling me how to do music. That’s my thing,” Burns said. “I’ve always done it, but it’s a very independent thing.”
Accounting was a practical choice. Burns wanted to make sure she would have a job when she graduated college, and she said financial literacy isn’t a bad trait in any profession. She also didn’t want to make the money mistakes of other musicians — If she makes it big, she wants to know how to effectively save.
“I always told myself I want to pursue my dreams, but I’m a practical person,” Burns said. “The music business is very risky — You have to wait until the right people come to you.”
Still, if she has a shot at the big stage post-grad, she’ll take it.
Burns hasn’t played many shows in Columbia, because, well, she’s been a student. She will play an acoustic show for her CD release at Delaney’s — a departure from the fancily-mastered album, but a good look at the artist.
“This will be a good opportunity for people to just hear me,” Burns said.
Burns will release her first album “Past Tense” at Delaney’s at 741 Saluda Ave. in Five Points. The show will start at 9 p.m. with local opening artist and Burns’s set will begin at 10 p.m. For more information, visit saraburnsmusic.com.