“Live Your Life”: How Hailey James Found Her People and Wrote the First Midwest CMA-Inspired Song

By Andrew Ellis, Editor

Hailey James‘ heart was pounding out of nervousness. It was night one of the Midwest CMA – SongTownSongwriter Forum, her first event as a Midwest CMA member, and she knew a lot of people were going to be there. But many of those faces would be unfamiliar to her.

A Sense of Belonging

“There were only a few familiar faces in the room,” James says. “I had lots of questions for the other artists and didn’t know where to even start.”

The first night consisted of a social mixer and a writers round with the three Nashville songwriters Marty DodsonClay Mills, and Jason Duke who would be leading the workshops the next day. Her nerves slowly melted away with each artist she met. They too were inspired by the music they love so much that they decided to pick up a guitar or set of keys and sing their own songs.

“By the end of the night, after talking to people with the same goals and passion for music and songwriting,” she says. “I felt like I had finally found a community of people that I could relate to and grow with.”

Letting the Music do the Talking

The next day was the workshop part of the forum, where the Cottage Grove native soaked up all she could. Everything from learning about how to structure a song to how co-writing sessions work. Then it was followed by an open mic contest – this was an important moment for her.

“I was really nervous to perform, but I really wanted to share my talent with everyone,” she says. “I wanted to prove that even though I was only 15 and one of the youngest people in the room, I was deserving to be among the talented people in the room.”

It was those performances that she believes gave her that validation. And to put icing on the cake, she ended up being one of the winners of the contest where she got a mentoring session with Marty Dodson.

“I felt like people took me more seriously after hearing my songs,” she says. “And winning the mentoring session was validation that my songs were good.”

Has Pen and Pad, Will Write

In fact, it didn’t take long for at all for inspiration to strike. And she knew she had to take full advantage of the opportunity.

“I got so inspired after accepting the award and talking to the Nashville songwriters and other award winners,” she says. “That I started writing a new song on the couch at the Moonacy room immediately.”

She finished the lyrics to what would become “Live Your Life” in the back of her parents car on the drive home. The song itself was inspired by what she experienced that weekend.

“I was so inspired by the other artists and the whole experience in general,” she says. “I realized that night that could really be something I could make a career out of.”

A Rising Star and Excitement for the Future

The song itself has done pretty well. It’s in regular rotation on 102.9 The Wolf‘s Hometown Country Show and BOB FM, and she even got a segment on KARE 11. Her friends even sang her song back to her at school.

“They tease me about being famous and think it is pretty cool, too,” she says.

Most importantly, however, she found her community. She found an ever-growing group of artists with the same mindset as her who will understand all the triumphs and struggles of being an independent artist. She found her people.

“I started to tear up that night because I realized that being surrounded by other people like me, with the same passion and abilities, was where I belonged,” she says.

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