The “My Music Row Story” weekly column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals serve in key roles that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column spotlights the invaluable people that keep the wheels rolling and the music playing.
Darin Murphy is a Music Agent at leading entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA), and Co-Head of CAA Music’s Nashville office. He represents many of the world’s leading musicians, including The Chicks, Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, Hootie & the Blowfish, Dan + Shay, Maren Morris, Little Big Town, Darius Rucker, Mickey Guyton, Jake Owen, and Lindsay Ell, among others.
Murphy graduated from Belmont University with a degree in Business Marketing. He served as President and Chairman of the Board of the Academy of Country Music and is a member of the Country Music Association. Murphy was named Talent Agent of the Year at the 2015 and 2017 CMA Awards. He also served as a Governor to the Grammy’s Nashville Chapter Board.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, which is about 70 miles north of Manhattan, and lived there until I was 11. My mother remarried when I was 11. My stepdad was in the military. Once they were married, we started to move around as military families do. From the upstate New York area, we went to Virginia, we went to Kansas for a bit, and then I finished my high school years up in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Were you musical as a kid?
No, not at all. My natural dad did own some nightclubs though, when I was young. So I would get to go and see shows. I would get to clean up the bars in the mornings with my grandfather during the summer. I was exposed to live music from that age.
How did you get to Nashville?
I played tennis for Belmont. I was a business marketing major and worked for an investment firm my last two years for college credit, so I was heading down that stock broker path. Then the stock market crashed in 1987, the beginning of the year that I graduated. I pivoted in my brain as I was getting closer to graduating from college. My last semester of school, I took an Introduction to the Music Business class. I had a great time with the class. My professor gave me some cool advice. He said, “You should look into the agencies in town. You’re good with numbers, you love music, you have a great personality. Maybe you’d be a great agent.” So I did that. Luckily for me, after dropping off some resumes, I got a call from the William Morris Agency to interview for a position that had opened up working for one of the agents, Steve Lassiter.
At the time the roster was Charlie Daniels and the Oak Ridge Boys, they had a lot of different old school country acts. I just liked the pace of it. I liked the sales side. I liked how they had to fill dates on a calendar and sell. The core of being an agent is selling and filling calendars, and I felt good about it. I’ve always liked music and I think once I started working on desks and so forth, I knew where I was going to make a career.
So I worked for Steve right out of school, just typing up contracts and answering phones. A few weeks into the gig, I was digging it. I was digging the energy. I liked the flow of how the days went there, but musically I wanted to be in a different place.
What was next for you?
I eventually got accepted into the Agent Training Program [in Nashville], moved to Los Angeles later that year, and worked my way up the ladder through the LA office there into the contemporary department.
How long were you in LA?
William Morris acquired another agency in 1991 called Triad Artists and I was unfortunately let go. I had a few bands that I was booking that hadn’t quite hit yet or made enough noise, so I was one of the young people they disposed of. That sucked.
Next I went to Bill Silva Presents in San Diego for almost a year where I got to see the other side of it—the buying and promoting part, which was awesome. We did a lot of great shows and worked with all the different agencies. I mostly focused on the club stuff that we did in the area. It was a pretty busy company, we had lots of different cool venues down in southern California. That was a great experience. Then I got hired back at William Morris, but for the Nashville office in ’94. I worked there until I started working for CAA in ’98.
Now you help guide the touring careers of Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, Dan + Shay, Maren Morris, Little Big Town, Darius Rucker, and more. When do you feel most fulfilled in what you do?
I try to get to the office pretty early every day. It’s quiet way before the phones start ringing. I try to put together an agenda each day for what I want to try to get through and accomplish. [A big part of my day is] obviously staying in touch with the managers that I work with, as well as my clients and buyers, and making sure I’m checking off the list, so to speak. The best part of my day is when a deal closes, a tour goes on sale and does great, or I get a call from a buyer saying, “Oh my God, that act killed it last night. Can’t wait to have them back.” When those moments happen throughout your day, it still gives me goosebumps and I feel great about it after all these years. Those are the little things that are big things for me still.
Do you feel like you still have the same motivation and drive that you had when you started?
100%. Especially coming out of what we all just went through with the pandemic. It reminded me how awesome it is to—whether it’s at a club, an arena, a stadium, or an amphitheater—watch people have a great time at show from someone you get to work with every day. Just being around live music, for our clients and [other acts] who aren’t our clients, was definitely a big part of what I missed.
Have you had any mentors along the way?
I’ve learned from a lot of different people. I learn from the people I work with currently. Ron Baird was a really good mentor for me when he was here. I would go to Ron for advice, he would come in my office to check in and see how I was doing. I felt comfortable going to him about any issue with a promoter or a client. He would give me a different perspective. I still think about some of those conversations even today.
John [Huie] and Rod [Essig] have been here from the beginning and are great friends as well as mentors.
If you could go back and talk to yourself as a new Belmont grad, what would you tell him?
Put your seatbelt on. It’s a ride. It’s how you treat people. There’s certainly a level of hustle that you have to have initially. I would also remind the younger version of myself to be careful how you talk to people. [Laughs]
What has been one of your favorite career experiences?
From time to time when I would be at a show and I hadn’t seen Loretta [Lynn] in a while, she would call me up and ask me to escort her off the stage. It was incredible and one of the coolest experiences that I get to tell my children. I had privilege of doing that a couple times over the years. That’s pretty special, escorting her off the stage after a show. That coupled with just spending time with her on the bus and listening to some of the stories that she would tell… She had an incredible memory.
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