Yesterday during a mentoring session I was asked the question, “When did you decide to be a songwriter/musician?”

I thought about it a couple of moments and realized it was never a conscious decision. It was more like music made me. Music made me a musician by always being there.

When everything else failed, I could pick up my guitar and escape into a world that comforted me. A world that was filled with hope. Music was my drug.

Those moments when friends let me down, those moments when my heart was broken, the moments when I felt alone—music was always there.

Many of you have heard me mention I moved to New York City at 19 with small change in my pocket and big dreams.

I found a job working at the famous Manny’s Music on 48th St. Next, I secured a small apartment and set about living life in this new strange world without really knowing anyone!

I was barely making ends meet those first few months. One Friday I dropped off my rent to my landlord and headed to work. When I finished that day, they told me that there was an accounting mistake and I wouldn’t get paid till Monday. Then it hit me.

Songwriting encouragement - SongTown

I had no money in my pocket to last me until Monday!!

The day before I had given my last funds to my landlord. I had no money for food even! I left work and walked down Broadway wondering if I should call my parents and do the unthinkable—ask for a plane ticket home.

As that thought crossed my mind, I passed a bar with a sign in the window that said “Karaoke Night.” I walked in and wrote my name on the sign-up list. I had never sung karaoke in a bar, but I had come to New York to sing, and if I was going back home, I was gonna at least say I sang in the Big Apple. So, I waited my turn and when I was called up on stage, I sang my best version of “Sitting On The Dock of the Bay.” The crowd applauded, I thanked them and started to walk back out on the street to find a pay phone to call home.

Before I got to the door, a man ran over to me. He said he was the owner of the club and loved my singing.

Then, he asked if he could buy me a drink. So we sat and talked, and he said, “Hey, let me buy you a burger.” I said, “Man, you don’t know how much that means.” As I sat there, I explained to him that the music store had messed up my check and I had no idea how I was going to eat that evening. And I was about to call home to ask for a plane ticket to get me back to Alabama. My new friend smiled and said he was really glad I came into his bar. He went over to the cash register, pulled out a $50 bill, and said, “Never give up on your dreams.” Well, I made it to Monday and didn’t give up on my dreams.

Songwriting encouragement - SongTow- Clay Mille

I knew that night that music would always be there for me when all else failed. I realized that music and life was making me a musician.

Often, I think about how lucky I have been to call myself a songwriter and make a living creating songs. Marty Dodson and I both feel this way. It’s one of the biggest reasons we created the SongTown community. We want to be that voice offering support and mentorship to struggling writers who just need some songwriting encouragement to keep them on their path. When all else fails.

Walk On! Write On! ~Clay

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Author: Clay Mills

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