Paying Your Dues, Gracefully


Sarah Spencer


This past weekend was my birthday, and my amazing boyfriend took me to see the Blue Sky Riders play at the Cumberland Caverns. (Best gift ever! He’s a keeper :)) For those not familiar with them, the band is made up of superstar artist/writer Kenny Loggins, and hit songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman.

It was an amazing show, of course. But I walked away with more than just a musically inspired soul. Georgia told a little story in her between-song banter that stuck with me. Turns out, before she was a hit songwriter, she was a waitress in Green Hills, struggling with exactly how to break into the music business.

When Georgia was new to town, before she joined the Blue Sky Riders, before she met her husband, before multiple cuts and the massive success of her song, “I’m In”, released by Keith Urban, before pub deals and record deals, she humbly served the well-to-do residents of Nashville’s neuvo riche Green Hills neighborhood.

Those Life Filled Days

Georgia described those days to a captivated room (ancient, lava-formed cavern, actually) of 200+ people as “Full of life, life filled days!”. She told us that those days before her commercial success were spent anxiously trying to make it as a songwriter. But that in looking back, she realized that time spent “paying her dues” were some of the most colorful, varied, trying, and exciting times. The stuff people write songs about. In fact, it was during her residency at the Green Hills Grill that she wrote the mightily powerful, true story-song “Table 32”. (I won’t ruin the story for you, go listen to it here!)

Her short story gave me an amazing hope.

Now, sitting in that cavern, one face out of hundreds of others, that small story I’d heard once before had a huge impact on me. Here was Georgia Middleman, Georgia freakin’ Middleman, up on stage, being a badass, sharing her incredible music… telling us that there was a time when she didn’t know how to break into the music industry. What? It was incredibly validating knowing that this amazing, successful (lady!) songwriter, was once my my shoes.

I’d like to imagine that during that time, Georgia was also playing writers rounds to empty rooms.

That she was sitting through hours of terrible writes. Pitching and getting rejected over and over again (sorry girl, nothing personal!). Attending workshops and paying for mentoring sessions. Meeting everyone in hopes of making friends that would also take this journey with her. I’d like to imagine that Georgia-freaking-Middleman had also tried and failed at all the same things I’m trying and failing at.

Because here was a girl, so sweet, so genuine, and so talented, who had made her own success.

I’d like to imagine that all the amazing, inspired writers out there that we look up to, paid their dues so gracefully that not only are they recognized for their success, but for their attitudes. (Take Tom Douglas’ 2014 Songwriter’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech. Talk about a humble dude.)

I find it incredibly inspiring to learn about the humble beginnings of some writer’s careers…

…because it gives me hope that my own career could one day be as storied as theirs. It gives me hope that, after years of playing to empty rooms, hours of bad cowrites, negative people, rejections and ringers, I too, could join the ranks of the humble and empowered writers that made their way despite how things looked around them. Despite the fact that I have a full time job (or a gig waitressing on the weekends). Despite the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing. Despite that fact that I don’t know how to “break into the music business.” Despite the fact that all I ever wanted to do was write amazing songs that move people with love and sorrow.

Right now, we are living our “Life Filled Days”

Right now, we’re writing our own “Table 32’s”. And there’s no other way we could possibly write our own amazingly true stories unless we live them. I hope we can learn to cherish these days. To take a deep breath and thank God for blessing us with them.

Because if all goes according to plan, they won’t last long.

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Sarah Spencer

Sarah Spencer is an award winning singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN.

Born in the Sunshine State, Sarah Spencer writes vibrant, shining americana/pop music. She works in Nashville TN as a singer/songwriter, as well as a UX designer for a marketing firm.

Follow Sarah on Spotify to get her latest releases.

You can jump on her email list at or purchase her debut EP, "Freshman Year" on iTunes.