Tunesmith: Inside The Art Of Songwriting
A comprehensive dissection and depiction of the songwriting process and the uncertain world in which the songwriter must live, Jimmy Webb’s brilliant new book is both a textbook and a behind-the-scenes glance, gloriously woven by the writer’s heartfelt love of the art of songwriting and his pull-no-punches guidance through the minefields of the music business.
Webb is one of the most gifted and accomplished songwriters of the century. “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, “MacArthur Park” and “Wichita Lineman” are only the most famous of his hundreds of songs that have been recorded by a diverse group of artists ranging from Glen Campbell, Linda Ronstadt and Isaac Hayes to Urge Overkill, the Scud Mountain Boys and Freedy Johnston.
After a lengthy historical overview of songwriting, Webb breaks down the components of a song, with chapters on lyrics, form, chord progression and melody. He then puts it all together by introducing a new song, “Problem Child”, and walking the reader through the idea, editing and fine tuning of the writing process. The middle chapters may be difficult for the non-musician, as they require a strong musical vocabulary and some understanding of theory.
The inventive diction Webb has exercised in song is even more pronounced in his prose. Combining a down-home, common-sense style (his Okie heritage) with erudite wording, Webb proves to be a very talented writer beyond the little three-minute, three-act plays he is so famous for.
In between the meat and potatoes of the book, Webb carefully sprinkles in anecdotes about his years in the business. He often will not name names, but if you think hard enough, you might know who he is talking about.
Still, such tales are really only a smidgen of what this book is about. From pop to country to films to theater, from the nature of collaboration and the emotional aspect of being a songwriter, Webb offers advice and encouragement that is both straightforward and uplifting. He maintains that there is no right or wrong way to write a song, only a wrong destination sometimes.
Michael Stipe, Burt Bacharach, Nanci Griffith, Stephen Sondheim and Felice Bryant are also interviewed, but it is Webb’s own words on songwriting that leave the most lasting mark: “The paramount joy of the craft is that, however simply it is begun, it can take the songwriter on a lifelong voyage across many distant and wondrous musical seas.”