It’s the day after her last performance in her home state of Minnesota before she makes the return trip to Nashville, Tennessee, and Katie Ray Murray is tired. Her mother offered to drive the first leg of the 14-hour drive, her father all alone in his truck fighting off the same sense of exhaustion.

It’s the start of her senior year at Belmont University and her first year at her own apartment shared with her best friend since freshman year, Janelle Queitsch. Naturally, her belongings fill both cars.

Stocked up with Redbull and caffeine, Katie Ray is ready to return to Music City.

Katie Ray started her musical journey at a young age. Her mother and father were both musicians, and Katie Ray grew up around country music – naturally, she followed in her parents’ footsteps. Her dad taught her how to play guitar, and they encouraged her to enter talent shows and variety shows to hone her skills.

To her surprise, Katie Ray ended up liking it a lot.

At the age of 13, Katie Ray started writing her own songs.

“I was a little boy-crazy and obsessed,” said Katie Ray. “So I wrote songs about it, and they were probably terrible, but I liked doing that, too. As time went on, I just started getting more confident in it and performing around places. When people liked it, they would ask me to perform other places.”

When she was 14, she found out about Belmont University and became obsessed with it, Katie Ray said.

Nashville had always been on her radar. As the city for country music, she always wanted to visit. Katie Ray, at age 16, got on a plane for the first time and made a birthday trip to Nashville

“It was a dream when they planned our first trip to Nashville,” she said. “It was my first trip anywhere, ever. We came to Nashville and toured all the touristy country music spots.”

While she was there, she and her family made sure to visit Belmont University. At the time, it didn’t mean that much. It ended up meaning everything.

“In 2011, we traveled with Katie Ray to visit Vanderbilt and Belmont.  The week we spent in Nashville was so moving for all of us; for Katie Ray, it was life changing,” said Rayetta Murray, Katie Ray’s mother. “We understood immediately that this bright young women was a Nashville girl at heart.”

Only a couple years later, she and her family would make the same journey, this time by car, and this time Katie Ray would stay in Nashville while her family returned to Minnesota.

Katie Ray’s path to being an artist didn’t start out quite as she planned. She auditioned for Belmont’s School of Music, but her audition got rejected and she was left to figure out what she wanted to do.

“When I originally was coming to Belmont, I auditioned for the School of Music and didn’t get in,” Katie Ray said with a laugh. “Mostly because my audition was horrid. Like, it was real bad. So I decided to do music business and then audition again. But when I came here, I kind of figured out that a music degree is not what I wanted, and that I wanted to do music business and learn about the industry as a whole.”

Having left behind her support system of familiar faces, Katie Ray didn’t possess the same desire to perform in front of people right away. That, combined with her rejection from the School of Music, prompted her to declare her major in music business and learn what happened on the other side of the stage.

“In Minnesota, it’s a lot easier to find places to perform because the competition isn’t quite as fierce,” Katie Ray said. “And I have a stronger following there just because I grew up there.”

That’s where she stayed for most of her time at Belmont. If you look at the majority of the showcase programs, you’ll find her name on the crew page. She didn’t expect to love it, but she did.

“Honestly, when I first started, it was more of insecurity like, ‘there’s so many people here, I don’t know if I can do it. I’ll go behind the scenes,’” she said. “But then I actually really liked it.”

Her career takes a turn whenever she goes back to Minnesota. Having played the Grandstand Stage at the state fair in Minnesota and released two albums and multiple music videos, Katie Ray built a solid fan base in her home state. During her time at Belmont, her next performances back home are in the works.

“It’s a lot of planning ahead and looking into the future. It’s good because, while I’m here it’s hard because I’m in school to perform a lot. The time I have to spend on that is when I’m at home in Minnesota, so I’ll be sending a lot of emails to venues at home and keeping up my Facebook page,” she said.

In addition to working toward her college degree, Katie Ray took up the role of being her own manager, taking the job from her parents. It’s one aspect of her career the music business major comes in handy. She knows what the other side of the table wants in a performer, and she uses it to her advantage. Her parents are confident in their daughter despite the miles between them.

“As parents, you want your kids to be safe and succeed. These are great motivations as a manager as well, so it was a good fit,” said David Murray, Katie Ray’s father. “The relationship was varied – parents one minute, artistic advisers the next. Katie Ray was always steadfast in the kind of artist she wanted to be.”

Performing still remains her ultimate goal – this is Nashville, of course – but smaller venues fit her music style better, she said. For now, she’ll keep playing in the taverns and frozen yogurt places and leave places like the Bridgestone Arena to the full bands.

“I do want to be an artist, and I kind of figured that out after two years of working behind the scenes and stuff. I really appreciated it, but I kind of realized that, as much as I’ve enjoyed learning about that, my passion lies with being on the stage and performing, you know?” Katie Ray said.