Few musical legends can match up to the accomplishments of the late David Bowie. The British entertainer and global personality stamped his mark on the music scene during a career spanning several decades.
Among his many talents as rock and roll superstar, actor, and businessman, was the knack of writing powerful songs. In fact, Bowie is widely regarded as a songwriting genius and has been understudied by many aspiring songwriters. If you’re a songwriter, there are quite a few lessons you can learn from David Bowie.
- Letting Your Music Be Influenced by Place
In interviews with Bill DeMain, Bowie revealed that places where he visited or stayed at were huge influences in the creation of some of his songs. He pointed out that songs on his Reality album reflected the streets of New York, while the album Heathen contained songs which were influenced by the majestic heights of the mountains of Woodstock.
- Mixing Things Up
Bowie admitted to using the cut-up technique, which was made popular by another writer, William S. Burroughs, in the late 1950s and 60s. It involves rearranging prewritten text to create new lyrics and Bowie notes that he had a computer program created in the 1990s to make it easier for him to do it. One of his albums, Outside, had songs which derived much of their lyrics from cutting up text.
Another way that Bowie mixed things up was by taking inspiration from different genres and smashing them together. In the same interview with Bill DeMain, he talked about pulling stuff from R&B artists and even used a riff from a James Brown song for “Fame.”
- Having a 3-Dimensional Mindset
A compilation of David Bowie interviews by Elizabeth Thompson revealed that he saw songwriting, in its usual form, as archaic. “Just writing a song is not good enough,” he said, before going on to explain that a song should have such an effect on listeners that it influences their very lifestyles. This notion ties in with another belief he shared about beginning with the end in mind when writing songs.
David Bowie was larger than life during his time and he has left a huge legacy. Above everything else, the best lesson you can take away from Bowie is to always be writing, as he demonstrated with Blackstar, an album that came out just two days prior to his passing.
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