All Levels


iOS Apps by justinguitar

The JustinGuitar Store


Buying things through the links below cost you no more but contribute a little to the site! Thanks, J.


Justinguitar - Free Guitar Lessons

Pete Cunnah on Bukowski

The Songwriting Lessons

So after a lot on pontification and heated debate, Pete decided to write down his arguments against the Bukowski poem which I hold so dear. Pete is well respected and successful songwriter. He wrote and sang the worldwide hits "Things can Only Get Better" and "The Best Thing" with his band D:Ream and has produced many successful pop artists.

He has a very good point, well several. That is not to say that I agree with every point, but that is the point. We all think and act and write differently and there is no way that is more or less valid than any other way. What counts is what you have in the end.

Another great writer, Mike Batt (the writer behind many of the Katie Melua hits), told me once that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

Notes From Pete:
I was shown this poem by Justin on his site and I was dumbfounded by what the beat poet Charles Bukowski wrote referring to his world. As it turns out Justin said it has been inspiring his writing for years. I was so taken aback I had to tell him this was almost all contrary to my entire experience of writing songs.

Hence the inspiration behind this piece. I'm not a teacher, I have not learned song-writing formally from teachers, it's just something I got into along the way and 30 years and some hundreds of songs down the line this is the first time I've tried to formalise my thoughts on the process.

So you want to be a writer? by Charles Bukowski - a rebuttal...

if it doesn't come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don't do it. 
All in one go - rarely. In my experience when something comes I gotta work it. Most fledgling ideas get sketched out some way then fleshed out later. You put it down, you walk away, come back to it, turn it on its head, play through the riff, jam sections - whatever it takes to mould it, build it & forge it.

unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut,
don't do it.

A little bit of that. You can come at this from a multitude of angles. Learning to take an emotion and write from it is just as valid as taking a workman like approach.

If you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen 
or hunched over your typewriter for words, don't do it.

Nearly every writer I know has to at some point or another sit for hours staring at their screen. In my experience many major writers labour long & hard over their songs but it is the lyric that slows them down at the end of the day.

Yes, if it's not coming then get up, break the spell for a bit, or alternatively leave it for a longer time, (I've managed three years with one song I can think of.) There are many techniques you can develop for distraction and inspiration. I find any kind of oblique strategy can break the spell.

But it still comes back to putting in the time, thinking, feeling and repeatedly playing the song over & over on guitar; listening to it time after time, either in the car or at a friend's house. When you perform live, or play back your song in different environments to others, you hear it differently as if through their ears. You will know if it's working or not.

If you're doing it for money or fame, don't do it.
I'm bored of hearing this from so many people. Why can't everyone be honest and say of course we do. If it works out for you and you find success don't knock it. Everybody wants the love, no one wants posthumous recognition - at least no one I know. What point is there in writing a song and having it gather dust on your shelf at home? Of course you want it to reach out & touch as many people as possible - this is the real payoff.

It's fairly obvious that people who want to make money work in finance. Most musicians who make music deserve to be paid, but more often than not pay to play.

Fame is an interesting by-product of getting the music right. I had a number one in the UK in 1994. I had groupies & stalkers. I had the cars, the drugs and the paparazzi. But chances are you've never heard of my group. This is the transient, mercurial nature of fame, but I would deny it to nobody. Some of it was amazing. But I lost touch with the music and the muse.

if you're doing it because you want women in your bed, don't do it.
Oops - I did. And it worked. What teenager never looked around his school and made the connection between the guitar, the sex & the glory. All the best musicians have sex appeal.

if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don't do it.
Writing and rewriting is probably the only way to finish anything. Rarely does a song come complete. Drafting and re-drafting will either reinforce a good idea or make you discount it altogether.

if it's hard work just thinking about doing it, don't do it.
Yes, a genius just sits down and does it all in one take, but these people are exceptions not the norm. For the rest of us it's all about hard work, till you have the breakthrough moment. By that I mean the lyric, chorus melody, bass-line or lead guitar riff that gives you the starting point.

if you're trying to write like somebody else, forget about it.
We all start by emulation, we articulate & gesture like our parents so we learn to walk and speak, When we copy our peers dress sense as teenagers it helps us work out who we are & where we're coming from. Later when we latch on to our heroes we wanna be them. If you look more closely at any song you can uncover a trail of references & influences.

First you learn to play your favourite licks & then you learn your idols' songs. These then become templates upon which you make mistakes, until your own voice appears & your own style emerges.

Emulation is healthy: Nirvana were apeing The Pixies when they wrote 'Smells like Teen Spirit'; miffed at not getting to write the lyrics to 'My Way' Bowie wrote "Life on Mars" - not bad for being pissed! It's not just about trying to write like somebody else - why not write better than them? Try and write past them. Don't give up because your heroes are better than you, they were just there before you.

If you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently.
That pretty much contradicts statement three then.

if it never does roar out of you, do something else.
We're repeating ourselves here.

if you first have to read it to your wife or your girlfriend or your boyfriend or your parents or to anybody at all, you're not ready.
Who else is your first point of call and your longest suffering critic ? The worst mistake to make is to act on their reaction alone because inevitably it is biased.

don't be like so many writers, don't be like so many thousands of people who call themselves writers, don't be dull and boring and pretentious, 
Who sets out to be any of these things in the first place? Lets face it if you've chosen music as your career to the exclusion of everything else then you're not likely to be dull. If you've got the front & audacity to stand on a stage & perform then you're no shrinking violet.

don't be consumed with self-love. the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep
over your kind. don't add to that. don't do it.

I'd agree with that. Fame can make you so up your own backside if you lack good band mates & confidantes there'll be no one to stop your ego from running wild.

unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or
suicide or murder, don't do it. unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don't do it.

I sometimes have the sun and burning gut thing happen. Other times I have to sit and work at it.

when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you. there is no other way. and there never was.

I remember when I first invented sex. I spent a long time figuring out countless positions with Barbie & Action Man (GI Joe) I thought I'd pretty much figured it all out until I lost my virginity to a nurse & I can tell you now - there is always another way. Just Do It!


Lesson ID: SO-011