In the Spotlight with Roger Murrah
Courtesy of Roger Murrah
Aspiring songwriters and entrepreneurs, take note: Roger Murrah exemplifies the true glory in achievement. Throughout his 43-year long career, Murrah attained success through his chart-topping songs, recognition through his unique business tactics, and a famed reputation within the Nashville community. His extensive experience boasts a resume chock-full of impressive titles, ranging from songwriter to chairman of his own music publishing company, to Vice President of Bug Music Nashville.
Reflecting on his accomplishments, Murrah admits that reaching this level of success was far from easy. "I certainly struggled and had years of swinging from one encouraging word to another, from family and friends who believed I had a little talent. Looking back, I may have been just as motivated by those who didn‘t particularly think I had much talent as well," he recalls.
Luckily, the motivation instilled both by supporters and critics allowed his dream of working in the music industry to become a reality, though not without some bumps along the road. Murrah, hailing from Athens, Alabama, initially aspired to perform and grasped every possible opportunity to advance his career. "When I was around 12 years old, my dad traded a pick-up truck for an old acoustic piano. So, I slowly taught myself how to play chords enough to write songs, but have never become very proficient as a piano player. As I grew older, I sang in church. Around my junior high days, I started singing lead with different bands and really got into the music business to be a singer. However, my writing took off quicker than my singing did, although it took years, so that was the direction my career followed... and I‘m thankful for it," he says. To his avail, songwriting was the path that eventually carried him forward to establish a solid platform in the business and to work with the likes of Waylon Jennings, Travis Tritt, and Kenny Rogers.
THE BUSINESS BEHIND THE MUSIC
Murrah‘s behind-the-scenes contributions play an integral role in both the creative and business sides of the industry. The songwriter-turned-businessman maintains an affinity for both the logical and the creative, a rarity among industry individuals. "My favorite subject in school was math. For some reason, I guess I like numbers... I enjoy the risk that comes with business and believe that our amount of success is usually comparable to what we‘re willing to risk. My dad was what I would respectfully call a ̳'shade-tree entrepreneur'. I‘m the same. I just love the strategy and the thinking-through-the-objectives that comes with owning your own business. I was an independent publisher for 18 years. As a songwriter, to a greater extent than most of us ever think about, we‘re in business for ourselves... and become partners with other publishers," he comments.
In February 2009, Bug Music CEO John Rudolph announced Murrah‘s transition to Bug Music Nashville as senior vice president—a venture which further allowed him to experience the risky business behind the music. (Bug Music is among the largest independent music publishing companies, catering to such clients as Bruno Mars, Kings of Leon, and Kara DioGuardi.) Upon his arrival at Bug, Rudolph states, "Roger has a rare combination of creative and business skills that complement each other very well." These skills set Murrah apart from most of his peers, making him desirable for any company to work with. For Murrah, however, working with Bug Music was the clear choice. "It offered me the opportunity to use all of the skills I‘ve accumulated through the years in one place, with objectives that I felt like I could be successful in attaining, and not have to personally fund it – which can be very stressful," he adds.
Even with years of experience, Murrah‘s insatiable appetite for business encourages him to continue topping himself. In outlining his goals, he says, "I would like to do my part in taking Bug‘s Nashville office to the next level and help the company attain the most successful period the staff and I can possibly accomplish within the time I‘m given, along with helping preserve and enhance Bug‘s deserved image within the industry." To do this, his primary responsibilities range from writing songs and discussing company objectives to working with creative staff.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Murrah‘s timely business ventures and songwriting expertise stem from years of prior experience. The songwriter‘s first taste of the music scene occurred in 1968, after signing to work with FAME Studios as a staff writer. Shortly thereafter, he went on to write for Return Music, Magic Castle Music, and Tom Collins Music, while working with individuals such as Rick Hall, Bobby Bare, and Bill Rice. According to Murrah, the early experiences prepared him to tackle the challenges he‘d face in the future. He comments, "It is a composite of many years of on-the-job training, hour-to-hour observations and, frankly, the mind-games that it takes to be successful in our business."
Murrah wasn‘t the only one getting noticed by the public. In 1973, the writer landed his first nationally-charted song, with "It‘s Raining In Seattle", recorded by Wynn Stewart. His efforts began taking off in the '80‘s, as he scored six number one hits with nine songs in the nation‘s top 5, and a total of twenty-eight songs in the top 40. His success as a songwriter not only garnered attention among the industry, but also allowed Murrah to work with prominent artists such as, Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Mel Tillis, Travis Tritt, and the Osmond Brothers. Among his most recognized collaborations include, Al Jarreau‘s "We‘re In This Love Together", Alabama‘s "Hearts Aren‘t Made To Break", and Conway Twitty‘s "Bridge That Just Won‘t Burn".
In 1987, Murrah co-wrote Waylon Jennings‘ autobiographical album, A Man Called Hoss, which spawned two hit singles on the country charts. "Waylon called me and invited me to come down to his office. When I went to see him, he asked if I would like to write the album about his life with him... to which I was honored to reply in the affirmative," Murrah comments. The writers took a unique approach in the album‘s style, corresponding each of the CD‘s ten songs to a "chapter" of Jennings‘ life. Of this creative endeavor, Murrah claims, "To let each song represent a chapter in Waylon‘s life was his idea and I thought it was a great way to do it. I‘m not sure if it was Waylon or (producer) Jimmy Bowen who suggested the dialogue in between the songs, but I love how that came out."
By 1990, Murrah had written over 30 hit singles, co-written a successful album with Waylon Jennings, and worked with countless artists and musicians. But for the songwriter, a new decade called for a new endeavor. "During my last three years as a staff writer for Tom Collins Music, I began co-publishing my own songs. At the end of my term with Tom, I decided to take those publishing interests and start Murrah Music Corporation, where I began with myself and Mark Alan Springer as 'anchor writers' and gradually added a songplugger, an assistant and signed more and more writers. The rest, as they say, is history," he says. With the goal of setting forth on his own, Murrah established his independent publishing company where he served as chairman, nurture the skills of his staff writers, and continued to pen songs. He adds,"Initially, I just wanted to publish my own songs,develop writers, and help them be successful; and they helped me as I helped them. At the time, I had been with all sizes of publishers and there wasn‘t one in particular that appealed to me. So, I decided to take the plunge."
The venture proved successful. Murrah Music produced a cultivated staff and a rich catalogue of songs from artists including Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, and the Rascal Flatts. Within two years, the firm was named Billboard Magazine‘s Independent Publisher of the Year, and made its way into Billboard ̳s Top 10 Music Publisher‘s Media Base Airplay in 2007. Above all,working at the company helped Murrah polish his already thriving business acumen necessary for his later position at Bug Music. "There wasn‘t anything that I didn‘t do, or wasn‘t willing to do, to get the job done, and that‘s what I instilled in my staff as well. So, it was everything – business and creative – that needed my attention," the songwriter reflects. Murrah maintained his position as chairman of the corporation until his move to BugMusic in 2009.
Reflecting on the triumphs of his past, Murrah shares his songwriting process which helped propelled him to success. "There has to be an exceptional idea. Once you have that, we usually start working through chords and creating melody ideas that create a fitting mood for the lyrics, which can sometimes come quickly and sometimes come very slowly – with difficulty... [The song] is unique; the idea is engrossing; the melody is familiar, but fresh; the lyrics are relatable; the mood is fun, or sad, but inviting," he describes.
In a continually evolving industry, Murrah‘s longevity and seasoned expertise prompts not only reflection of the past, but also a look ahead into the present music industry. Throughout the years, the traditional country music of Johnny Cash and George Strait has infused a contemporary sound as it embraced other genres. Recent collaborations of various country artists have experienced "country crossover", a meshing of country music with a different genre (Bon Jovi & Jennifer Nettles—"Who Says You Can‘t Go Home?", Jason Aldean & Kelly Clarkson— "Don‘t You Wanna Stay", upcoming collaboration with Justin Bieber & the Rascal Flatts, etc.). Current successes of artists such as Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Keith Urban have also re-fueled the interest in country among the demographics. Of these phenomena, Murrah comments, "I think it‘s simply good marketing for either artist and helps us sell more music. It also introduces the fans of each particular artist to the fans of the other. In his or her own way, each of these artists stand out for one reason or another. I‘m very supportive of all them. I think they‘re helping us fly the flag of new music, which keeps our industry thriving."
Artists are also becoming more and more involved in the songwriting process, the latest example being Taylor Swift, who penned all of the songs on her newest album, Speak Now. The opinion of the veteran songwriter? "If they have the talent, more power to them. Some will be able to survive, some will not. Ultimately, our whole industry is dependent on great songs and time usually tells us who is falling short and who is fulfilling the ears and hearts of the music-buying public," Murrah comments.
Today, the songwriter/businessman continues to write, to oversee business objectives, and to guide staff writers onto their own prosperous paths. He‘s weathered the ups, downs, and unexpected turns of the business; but for Murrah, change is just another opportunity for growth. "With the help of a lot of other talented people, I‘ve kept my work fresh and appealing enough to survive for almost 4 decades," he adds, "so I will continue to do the best I can. I‘ve always looked at changes that way."
Credits: Roger Murrah
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