Sometimes All A Songwriter Needs Is Someone To Believe In Them: When All Else Fails

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.

33 thoughts on “Sometimes All A Songwriter Needs Is Someone To Believe In Them: When All Else Fails

  1. That’s a great story, Clay. We just watched the movie “October Sky” based on a true story about a kid named Homer from a small coal mining town who dreams of making rockets. It’s a great movie, (totally recommend) and very relatable for people like us from a small town who have big dreams! I’m glad you didn’t give up, you’re a big inspiration for us. Thanks for always keeping fuel on our songwriting fire. Keep writing everyone! Keep pitching songs and don’t be afraid of “rejection” or “failure,” as they say fail your way to success! It’s not a set back it’s a set up 😉 If you let yourself succeed then you will.

  2. I totally agree with your perspective, thoughts on music. I’m not a great guitarist or songwriter but have found that is something that see’s me through the day and tougher times. Even if I play my guitar and songs for 15 minutes before I go to werk it definitely puts me in a better frame of mind and preparation for my day. Don’t have any aspirations of hitting it big but enjoy doing it on its own accord and sharing at open mics. Definitely can count on music and my lovely wife. Enjoy!

  3. Inspiring story, and it is good your perseverance and hard work paid off.

    I wonder, though…. What of those of us who really keep working to refine our craft, keep writing/performing, do the things we’re told we should do, network as best we can, etc., but nobody cares to mentor us or offers to coach us or extends that bit of mercy/investment your club-owner friend did? What signals or metrics should we look for to know when it is time to say, “To heck with it”?

    I know it is a crowded and competitive marketplace filled with a few winners and lots of also-fans. But when do we admit to ourselves we’re not really even in the game?

    Those are serious questions I have no answers to. If I had a mentor or coach, I could at least bounce them off him or her. They do not grow on trees, though.

    1. I’ve found that almost always when someone puts in the work, finding mentors will happen. The person that helped me that day was not a mentor. More of an angel at the right moment. 95% of success will come from our own efforts initially. But it’s that last %5 that a great mentor can help you accomplish. Our SongTown members email myself or Marty Dodson any time they have questions. And we mentor a lot of our members. We also when funds are available we have scholarships for deserving writers that need it. Our members are really supportive in helping other members as well.

  4. Pulled at my heart strings. That friend of yours, the owner of the bar, was an angel. W.O.W. As Marty says, kindness is the answer. Clay, are you still in touch with him? Has he seen your success? Wouldn’t that be cool if you could have him on SongTown, have a talk together & let him share his side of the story too? Hope he’s still around. Amazing story, thanks, and please share more! 🙂

  5. How we get where we are, for a lot of us, comes from tragedy or dumb luck. I was born singing, had a song published in first grade and I was a writer. I won a lot of literary awards including the Rod Serling writers award. Thus started my career in writing twisted lyrics . I studied opera at the Royal Academy in London. I came from a family of means and encouragement. One second on a long Canadian tour took most of it away long story short, car accident in Halifax, coma for a month on a respirator, blown out vocal chords, lots more.. after years, I picked up a pencil. And met some brilliant people to write the music and sing in my place. It’s not a happy story but in the end, like you, music saved me – just not in the way I had planned. If music is what your soul holds, you never regret the ebbs and flows.. 🎶

  6. Clay, you have give us so many powerful messages here.
    Your story is very touching and inspiring as well!
    Thank you for sharing this with us!

  7. Clay,

    The first time in my “adult “ life I spent more than 24hours with No Guitar..,,
    I’d sold my D-28, packed the car to leave Maine, & headed for Mayfair Studio, (long gone now) just off of Times Square, by way of Manny’s.

    Had just enough $ for a (Gibson) J200; no opportunity to choose which J200, (no case, just enough to cover sales tax. )

    Got to the studio, completely out of my mind, cardboard box a bit worse for the wear, the guitar intact.

    We can seldom be certain where a connection begins. What a gas to stumble on the possibility of parallel paths, and I look forward to seeing where they might lead.

    This trip must have been around’69 to’74.
    Manny’s? Man, I haven’t heard anyone mention Manny’s in years!

    Thank you and Marty for the constant encouragement & for the solid support you’ve built into Song Town.

    All the Best,


  8. Thank you for this inspiring and moving story, which I needed today! I hope to be in your shoes someday. We’re all grateful for Songtown, and I hope you and Marty know how much your community means to each of us.

  9. Great story. Actually, made me wonder whether you guys had ever thought about being agents or “song-pluggers” down there. I’ve been writing long enough to have good impulses and intuition about what works. But I never had the energy and motivation to go knock on doors that won’t open. Have a CD that I’m proud of, but can’t get anybody to listen… and lots more songs. If you were honest, and not just taking people’s money (that is, having a client roster of writers you really believed in), it would be good for everybody concerned. I’d certainly be willing to sign up for a while!

  10. I have heard so many stories about people finding hope in a movie or a place they walked into or a person they met, maybe a stranger just helped them out of the blue.Well I been looking for my inspiration for a long time. I think its posable to miss it if your not out there. I have always been afraid to fail so i never went out there. Don’t ever let fear stop you get out there and do it .Or you’ll end up 70 years old regretting you never tried.

  11. Thanks, Clay! Sometimes the moment is less obvious to us at the moment that it’s given to us. I had been busking the streets of NYC for a summer, then asked to help out a friend who’d broken his wrist and needed to find a replacement for his dishwashing gig. Fast forward to spring. I was closing up the cafe at 7 on a Sunday morning and a cab drew up and stopped to let a passenger out while I was crossing the street to catch the subway. Passenger got out and called my name. “Are you still singing?” I answered “yeah”, waved and kept on going. His face was familiar…on the subway platform I realized that he had looked familiar…on my room mate’s record album. Then I was truly mystified…HOW did he know my name ( I sang at a lot of coffee houses around the village)? That chance encounter I still carry in my soul. I never saw him again to thank him for raising my spirits just minutes after putting the Cafe’s garbage cans out for pickup.

  12. Great story!

    I gave up music once for about a year when I started teaching English, and got so depressed I actually sought help. The doctor put me on some pills and said, “I want you to do something you enjoy, and if you don’t enjoy anything, do something you used to enjoy.” Well, I knew what THAT was . . . so I write a song, and then another, and then another, and I haven’t taken a pill since (except vitamins). That was almost thirty years ago.

  13. Wow – Clay, thanks so much for sharing! Very vulnerable and also reveals perhaps the higher powers/self/universe that have been guiding you down that path to where you were meant to go. Right on.

  14. Music can be your mother, your brother, your teacher, your preacher` and for many, the spatula that lifts us from the bottom. I’m glad you persevered and have become the spatula for many of us on ST.

    1. So nicely put, Blane!

      Thank you Clay, for sharing not only your very inspiring story, but also, the ways of a successful songwriter 🙂

    1. Thank you for this beautiful story Clay. And for the encouragement and mentorship you and Marty provide here. I will never forget it! 🙂


  15. Great story. There’s so much about it I like. It also reminds me I’d like to aspire to be like the owner of that bar. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Néw story for me Clay. I frequented Manny’s often in the 1990’s and actually bought a Martin Terz guitar Ltd. Ed. Sting model there back then.
    Having someone believe in you means everything, and I have to remind myself of that often more than I like to admit. When there’s someone else it makes it easier to believe in myself.

  17. Wow Clay, I’m not sure if I’d heard this story before. It almost made me cry. That man helped you through a weekend, and kept you going to pursue your dreams. More than that, he allowed you to follow this path that led you to Marty, and SongTown, and now allows every SongTown member a bit of hope every day thanks to you both! So now I also thank the karaoke club owner! Thanks for sharing.

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