Arts & Entertainment

Here & Now: On the Road to Nashville

Our writer reveals her creative process as she gears up for the first annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest.

BY September 30, 2014


So it’s 1 a.m. and i just got off the phone with Tim McGeary, talking tempo and harmony and fine-tuning the lyrics for my latest song. Tomorrow we hit the recording booth at Mix-Factory Studios to lay down some test demos, and on Sunday Tim heads up to Music Row (that’s in Nashville, y’all) to cut the record. One person has already said it’s a shoo-in for Sarah McLachlan’s next hit single.

OK, technically, it’s my first and only song. And the Sarah McLachlan quote came from me. But the other parts are true. Here’s how it all went down.


The Press Release

“First Annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest.”

I scan the details: “experience the voices, back stories and personalities of nationally acclaimed singer/ songwriters … dozens of free shows on stage and in intimate island settings.” Sponsors: global performing rights company BMI, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, Clear Channel, Cat Country 107.1, iHeartRadio, musician advocate Nita Flores, and many island restaurants and resorts. Dates: Sept. 26-28 (Captiva Island), Oct. 3-5 (Fort Myers Beach).

Then, the piece de resistance: a singer/ songwriter competition. Besides cool prizes, the winner will open for one of the star performers. The song should reflect the islands’ ambiance and experience. I can do that!

Actually, I don’t play an instrument. I can’t carry a tune in a beach bucket, and I’ve never written a song. But those kinds of details have never stopped me. I’ve been writing magazine articles, ads and even some music jingles for 20 years. So how hard can a three-minute song be?

Here’s a clue: It’s wicked hard. But to continue…

I sit down at the keyboard (the typing kind) around 10 a.m., and
by lunchtime I’ve got myself a nice
little song. I zip it off to two singer/ songwriter friends for their admiration. Steve Trotter wrote promos for the likes of KISS and Tina Turner at Polygram, now Universal Music. Theme park show writer Colette Piceau wrote the lyrics for SeaWorld’s Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction. Tough guy and sweet girl: a perfect balance.


First Reviews

Steve: “I can’t lie to you, Karen. The message is timeless; these lyrics are not. No way would I advise you to enter that contest. Please don’t ruin the reputation you took years to build. People will judge you, and the lyrics will be on the Internet forever. Do not quit your day job.”

Colette: “You need to start again. You aren’t following a rhyme scheme. These things are quite mathematical, requiring the right amount of syllables and the correct emphasis on each one. It’s a little tricky. Good luck!”


Oh Yeah?

Well, you know exactly what I do next. The gauntlet is down and I pick it up. I sit right back down and wipe that screen clean. I spend the next 96 hours (with five-hour sleep breaks) listening to country songs, counting syllables and devouring how-to tutorials on the BMI website, the holy grail for music stars and emerging artists.

I implore my Facebook friends for advice. I hang out with the Sunday Songwriters Circle on the rooftop of Hotel Indigo in downtown Fort Myers. Then, I call up Phil O’Donnell, the New Brunswick (Canada) Country Music Hall of Famer and hit songwriter for sizzling hot country artists Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, George Strait and half the world. We have a rousing great conversation. He holds nothing back. I hate to hang up. I’m psyched.

I write. I delete. I eat half a Publix Boston crème cake purchased 12 seconds before the 10 p.m. closing. I’m in the zone, channeling Phil O’Donnell. The cadence works. I am one with my syllables.


One Week Out: I Have Lyrics!

And a fine title, too: If You Still Have That Bucket, a poignant little encounter between a boy and a girl. My own opinion being utterly unreliable, I swallow my ego and dispatch it to my two critics. “I LOVE THIS” comes with three exclamation points from sweet Colette. From tough Steve: “Go ahead and submit it; you won’t humiliate yourself.” High praise, indeed.

I now know (rudimentally) how a song is written, how long it takes to get a hit (10 years, average) and what to do when I get to Nashville (stay there for a minimum of 10 years, yep). My next mission is to track down the most influential go-to guy for top artists and songwriters on the Nashville scene. Turns out that’s Bradley Collins, senior director of writer/ publisher relations at BMI. He’s very generous with his advice.


Bradley Collins Says

“Nashville has 25,000-plus songwriters and represents 600,000 publishers and composers, all vying
to be on the charts. If you’re serious about songwriting, get familiar with the artists. Make sure your song speaks to who they are, and get a feel for what might be their next step. Partner with a publisher that can get you in front
of the producers and artists. Study
the Billboard charts. Know the top 20 songs, but also get to know the bottom 20. They’re very possibly on their way to the top.”

Me: What are the chances that I could write from Naples and hit it big?”

Bradley: “I’d say zero. You have to be present to win. I’d never tell anyone to move to Nashville; however, successful songwriters that don’t live here co-write in Nashville consistently.”


Mick Jagger—Karen T. Bartlett: Why not?

Finally, I drop in on the area’s leading music booking agent, recording studio owner and publisher, Paul Easton, at his glam new Mix-Factory Studios. Paul formerly worked with
his daddy, Eric Easton. Yes, that Eric Easton, manager of the Rolling Stones.

I happen to have my lyrics in my purse. There at his big contract- cluttered desk, Paul pronounces my lyrics semi-reasonably song-worthy and puts in a call to Timothy McGeary, the popular Naples songwriter/singer whom Paul predicts is our newest rising star on the Nashville songwriting scene.


Co-writing with Tim

Tim is willing. We meet at his Naples garage studio, and the next two hours are sheer exhilaration. It turns out that most songs today are collaborations of two or more writers. Tim runs through the lyrics with his guitar a few times, and then we get down to the business of making it work. Tim fleshes out the chorus. We add pauses, insert and change words, then change them again and again till it flows.

For the next three days, we fine- tune by phone, usually late at night because of Tim’s day job as a Collier County firefighter/paramedic. Tomorrow: more fine-tuning at
Mix Factory, and then Tim’s off for his regular week in Nashville. In the unlikely event our song doesn’t make it onto the stage, watch for the YouTube version on Facebook.

Hope to see y’all at the first annual Island Hopper Songwriter Fest. After that, please forward my mail, and food packages, to Karen T. Bartlett, Music Row, Nashville, TN. (Editor’s Note: As we went to press, we learned Karen’s song made the finals. Stay tuned.)


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