Without a songwriter, there is no song.
Before a song can shoot into the Top 10 or win a Grammy Award, someone has to do the hard work of creating it in the first place. And that always starts with a man or a woman with a melody, a guitar riff or just a scrap of a lyric.
That elemental creative process is at the heart of the new Island Hopper Songwriter Fest, a two-week event that celebrates songwriters with concerts at 20 venues throughout Captiva Island and Fort Myers Beach.
The festival features big-name songwriters such as Kristian Bush of hit country act Sugarland and Nashville songwriter Scotty Emerick, who’s written more than 50 Toby Keith songs including “I Love This Bar,” “Beer For My Horses” and “As Good As I Once Was.”
More than 50 regional and national acts are expected to perform 88 shows between today and Oct. 5. They’ll play mostly country and other forms of American roots music.
The News-Press recently chatted with two of those songwriters about their songs and the songwriting process. Here’s a look at Estero singer-songwriter Chloe Friedman and Nashville hitmaker Keifer Thompson of the country duo Thompson Square.
Keifer Thompson of Thompson Square
• Age: 41
• Home: Nashville
• Genre: Country
• Main instrument: Guitar
• How he writes songs: Thompson usually co-writes with his wife and Thompson Square band mate, Shawna Thompson. Sometimes the process starts with a cool guitar riff or a nice-sounding chord progression. Sometimes the words come first.
“It’s all of the above,” Thompson says. “There really is no rhyme or reason.”
The trick is to not over-think things. Your first creative instinct is often your best, he says. “A lot of times, the first thing I play is usually what I write.”
• The story behind the songs: Raw emotion often results in the best songs, and that’s certainly true for the Thompson Square hit “If I Didn’t Have You.” The song was inspired by the death of Shawna Thompson’s father.
“It took me two years to convince Shawna to talk about it (in a song),” Thompson says. “It was one of those things with all that bottled-up emotion inside. And when you start writing about it, you know it’s going to be good.”
Another song, “That’s So Me and You,” started with fellow songwriter Kyle Jacobs. “Kyle just had a melody on the guitar,” Thompson says, “and I just kind of fell in love with it.”
So Thompson looked in his iPhone notes to see if any lyrics or themes fit the melody. And that led to a song chronicling the history of Thompson Square.
“I just kind of wanted to show people how we got together, a little insight into our life,” Thompson says. “We talk about how we got together and where we’re from. It’s all verbatim. It’s just an absolutely true story about everything.”
• Tip for aspiring songwriters: If you’re serious about becoming a professional songwriter, move to Nashville or some other major music city, Thompson says. That’s where you’ll find a support network to help you improve your songs and get them on the radio.
Of course, it all depends on your goals. And if you’re just writing music for fun, you can stay right here in Southwest Florida.
“If you just like to create and you like to sing your songs on the beach and that makes you happy, than more power to you,” Thompson says. “That’s the amazing thing about songwriting. You can do it anywhere and you can do it as long as you live.”
• Learn more about Thompson Square: thompsonsquare.com
• Age: 23
• Home: Estero
• Genre: Pop with some country influences
• Main instrument: Keyboards
• How she writes songs: Friedman says she gets ideas for songs all the time. A melody will pop into her head or a friend will say something that inspires a lyric, and she’ll record it in her journal or sing it into her iPhones’s Voice Memos app.
The trick is to catch the idea right away. “I’ve jumped out of bed before in the middle of the night,” Friedman says. “I’ve jumped out of the shower. Because you’ll forget it if you don’t record it!”
• The story behind the song: Friedman wrote the pop tune “Cinderella” as an inspirational anthem for women going through the ups and downs of dating. The story’s message: Keep treating yourself like a princess, even though Prince Charming hasn’t quite come along yet.
Friedman calls her family “Disney freaks,” so it was only a matter of time before that influenced one of her songs. And what’s more Disney than a fairytale princess?
Friedman hopes the song inspires women and keeps them searching for that fairytale relationship.
“Keep your head high, no matter what happens,” Friedman says. “You have to believe in yourself.”
• Tip for aspiring songwriters: “If you have a story to tell, tell it,” Friedman says. “Write it down and be confident about it.”
• Learn more about Chloe: ilovechloemusic.com or facebook.com/ilovechloemusic
If You Go
• What: Island Hopper Songwriter Fest
• When: Today through Sunday on Captiva Island, Oct. 3-5 on Fort Myers Beach
• Where: Twenty venues on Captiva Island and Fort Myers Beach
• Tickets: All shows are free except Sunday brunches at ‘Tween Waters Inn and Pink Shell Beach Resort.