Since the spring of 2020, Kalispell musician Mike Murray’s songs have been appearing in unexpected places.
In the early months of the pandemic, when live music had, in Murray’s words, “ceased to exist,” a friend connected him with representatives from the recording label Extreme Music, which specializes in signing artists to license their music for film and TV.
The label licensed music from a former rock and roll band of Murray’s called “Left Ready.” A subsidiary label of Extreme Music’s called A-Tone Recordings then went on to sign Murray’s most recent album, “The Devil’s Rope.”
Since then, Murray’s music has found its way onto a range of TV shows, with the most recent appearance of note happening during the season-three premiere of ABC’s set-in-Montana mystery drama “Big Sky.”
The song, “Strong As Stone” starts playing about 15 minutes into the episode, during a scene in which Reba McEntire’s character, who owns a glamping business, is introducing herself to new groups of guests, including one couple where a man who had been intent on vacationing in Cancun makes his disdain for their Montana vacation apparent. The vocals are loud at first, and then fade into playing quietly throughout the duration of the scene. It’s one of the more prominent plays Murray’s music has gotten in a subset of the music industry where predictability can be scarce.
As Murray explained, his licensing agreement provides him with payment for what’s called a synchronization fee for use of the music, and then he also gets royalty payments that are calculated through a detailed system which calculates the royalty amount by assessing things like which network or streaming service the song plays on, and whether the song plays with vocal accompaniment. It’s the royalty payments, which can show up months later, that notify Murray that his music has been featured in a show, which is mostly how he’s pieced together a catalog of shows that have played his songs. In the case of his song’s appearance on “Big Sky,” he found out after a friend who happened to watch the episode sent him an email.
Some of the Left Ready tracks have showed up as background music without vocals on docuseries episodes about things like fixing up cars or operating a ranch. His music from “The Devil’s Rope” has gone on to appear in the background of “The Today Show,” “American Idol,” Love Island” and “Lucifer.”
The exposure can produce a noticeable boost in downloads and streams, but sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of “Lucifer,” Murray said a song of his appears only briefly, buried in the background of a scene, but his song proved to be popular with some viewers. As Murray explained, because his song was included in the show’s soundtrack, the song showed up on a Spotify playlist, which continuously updates with music that appears on the show in order to present the full soundtrack to the season. Some of those playlists can have massive followings.
It’s been an interesting experience for Murray, and one that he says has helped him get some exposure to a broader audience that can be hard to connect with for performers working outside music industry centers that are far from Kalispell, which is where Murray also grew up.
“Earlier in my career I often wondered if I needed to be physically in a place like Los Angeles or Nashville, or something like that,” Murray said. “I was born and raised here, and I love it here, and I love everything about living here, so having to move away from here to have a music career would be a real bummer.”
Right now, Murray is working on writing songs for his next album, which he plans on recording this winter. Most of the songs are already written and picked out, and Murray said he thinks the album will be in a sort of folk and Americana vein, and that a lot of the songs are deeply personal and, in some cases, nostalgic, or focused on looking back through memories. “I imagine it may be a little more on the mellower side, but that’s probably about all I know at this point,” he said.
The forthcoming album will be Murray’s seventh solo album. He has his eyes on the spring or early summer of 2023 for its release.
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