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.
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.
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 SongTown. We want to be that voice offering support to a struggling writer who just needs encouragement to keep them on their path. When all else fails.
Walk On! Write On! ~Clay
Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.