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What Singers Can Learn From David Bowie

What Singers Can Learn From David Bowie -Lisa Popeil
I write (about) loneliness… isolation… some kind of spiritual search…that’s all I’ve written about in 40 years -David Bowie.

The world recently lost a musical pioneer and visionary.  VoiceCouncil asked Lisa Popeil to share lessons for all singers from David Bowie’s incredible career.

1) Being different can be a plus

Born David Robert Jones in 1947, David Bowie showed an early interest in music and later studied art and design.  Noticeably gifted and focused when young, he was known as a ‘brawler’, easily getting into fights with other children even before the age of six. This tendency eventually led to a fight which damaged the pupil of his left eye, leaving it permanently dilated, but which only added to his striking looks.

At the age of nine, David attended “movement and music” classes and his movement idiosyncrasies was noted by his teachers as “vividly artistic”.

2) One needn’t be the best singer ever

In his Junior School (Elementary School) choir, David’s voice was rated as “adequate” and though vocally agile as an adult, Bowie was never known for great pitch accuracy.  However, with his theatrical bent and fearlessness, David Bowie’s ability to create memorable and emotional vocal stylings was of the highest order.

“Searching for music is like searching for God – they’re very similar” -David Bowie.

3) Discover your theme

When asked by a reporter why he did what he did, Bowie responded “Taking away all the theatrics.. I’m a writer, that’s what I do… I write (about) loneliness… isolation… some kind of spiritual search…that’s all I’ve written about in 40 years.” Bowie brought these themes into full artistic blossom through his music, as well as in his acting, dance and design. This one basic theme led to a life-long artistic journey through which Bowie was able to incorporate his many talents.

4) Changing your name can make you memorable

Early in his career, with little success using the names Davy and Davie Jones (and because Davy Jones of the Monkees had preempted the name in the mid-1960s), Bowie renamed himself after the 19th-century American frontiersman Jim Bowie and his eponymous knife.

5) Start young and expect failures

David Bowie played in his first band, The Konrads at the age of 15, playing at youth gatherings and weddings. He moved onto the blues bands The King Bees, then The Manish Boys, then onto The Lower Third, The Buzz and finally The Riot Squad.  He had five unsuccessful singles released with bands…then, as a solo artist, had an unsuccessful single and a solo album which did not chart.

6) Follow your artistic passions even if they change


From the beginning, David Bowie worked with talented collaborators in all fields of music, costuming, theatrical productions and business

Over his 40-year musical career, Bowie’s musical passions progressed through rock ’n roll, blues, music hall, pop, psychedelia, glam, funk, new wave, world music, electronica, alternative rock, even heavy metal.  Besides playing guitar, he also recorded and performed keyboard, harmonica, saxophone, viola, cello and drums.

7) Beware of drugs – they will ruin your health

David Bowie had a near-fatal addiction to cocaine through the 1970s. It is said that his diet consisted of cocaine, peppers, milk, and cigarettes. Bowie was emaciated for much of that decade and experienced cocaine psychosis with hallucinations and paranoia. Bowie has admitted that he had no recollection of three years of his life.

8) Play well with others

Innovation rarely arises in a vacuum.  From the beginning, David Bowie worked with talented collaborators in all fields of music, costuming, theatrical productions and business.    Though he had several acrimonious and impoverishing breakups with management, creatively he worked with legions of artists during his career. So search high and low for worthy partners, people more skilled or differently skilled than you.

This is the third part in our ‘What Singers Can Learn From’ series.
Previous: What Singers Can Learn From Doris Day
Next: What Singers Can Learn From Prince


Lisa Popeil is one of LA’s top voice coaches. She is the creator of the ‘Daily Vocal Workout for Pop Singers’ CD download (for Male and Female) as well as the Voiceworks® Method and the Total Singer DVD, conducts cutting-edge voice research, lectures internationally and is a vocal health consultant. Lisa is a voting member of NARAS, the Grammy® organization, ASCAP, AFTRA and the National Association of Teachers of Singing. www.popeil.com

  • 50325Lady

    I think another lesson here is to never stop believing in yourself, in your talent, in what you have to offer, and continue to pursue it in spite of all obstacles. David could have given up after his first few lackluster attempts, but he persevered, and brought his gift to the world. That’s his true legacy.

  • Stella Quick

    David reaches out to us with true love. This is the magic in his voice which actually heals us.