Reading time: 5 minutes

Much has been written about David Bowie since his death. That he was prolific. That he was protean. That he straddled musical and artistic genres from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke to the Berlin era to Tin Machine.

But Bowie was also remarkable for three things in particular. First, his foresight; second, his willingness to learn from subjects well outside his comfort zone and third his signature hair styles. We take a look below at what David Bowie can teach any startup.

Scream Like a Baby

When Bowie signed his first recording deal in the mid-1960s, he negotiated a reduction in his advance on the condition his master recordings were returned within a shorter period than was the industry standard. At the time, this was unheard of – the studio was king and recording artists were glorified employees.

The parallel with raising funds for your startup is obvious. Bowie bet – rightly – that his records were his principal asset and that over time, his assets would increase in value. He did not see an advance – or angel investment – as the end goal. He understood that there was no need to cede control unless absolutely necessary.

Teenage Wildlife

While Bowie was nothing short of prolific in terms of his own musical output, he also produced two seminal albums of the 1970s: Lou Reed’s Transformer and Iggy Pop’s Lust of Life.

The phenomenon of the artist as the producer was relatively novel for its time, particularly an established, singular artist such as Bowie. Nevertheless, listening to, for example, Transformer, you cannot hear any trace of Bowie as his androgynous Ziggy Stardust persona. Sure the album is flamboyant and sexually ambiguous, but it’s nevertheless pure Lou Reed and pure New York in the early 1970s.

The lesson for startups is clear: ensure you understand every aspect of the production process. If you don’t know how each discrete element of your business works – whether outsourced, in-house or otherwise – your end product will suffer. Do not be afraid to collaborate. Think widely and deeply about how you can apply your vision to similar products or services in the marketplace.

Because You’re Young

In 1994 the internet was in its infancy. In the same year, Bowie released a CD-ROM with his song “Jump, They Say”. So what? Here’s the thing. A listener could make their own music video of the song. In 1994.

Fast forward to 1997. Back then people thought Internet Explorer was amazing. Others seriously considered paying for 1 MB of storage on their Hotmail account. Google was just a twinkle in a programmer’s eye with bad teeth and a pimply complexion. Most people thought the Asian financial crisis consisted of getting a bad exchange rate on Thai baht.

Bowie knew that the internet was a game changer for music so what he did was look for new revenue streams. Where did he look? Not at selling more merchandise. Not at increasing his touring schedule. But high finance.

Bowie was the first musician to issue bonds to investors backed against future income from his back catalogue. The bond issuance was so attractive to investors that Bowie raised 35 million pounds for bonds paying 7.9% over ten years. While the bonds would ultimately be junk rated, the point remains – always look outside the square to see how to generate income from your asset.

It’s no Game (Pt 1)

To understand the internet’s possibility, did Bowie limit himself to its relevance to music? Obviously not. Who else do you think helped the New York Yankees – the Yankees! – develop their first ever website?

In fact, so enamoured was Bowie with the idea of the internet and its ability to transform the manner in which we consume music, in the late 90s he started his own internet service provider. On BowieNet, fans had early access to tracks, a discussion forum, behind the scenes footage – it was, in effect, a music focussed social network. Sound familiar? I’m looking at you MySpace, Facebook and Pandora.

If anyone understood customer/user experience, it was always going to be the Think White Duke. While BowieNet would ultimately slide into oblivion, Bowie knew better than anyone the importance of change and the impact of technology. In 1999, during his now-viral interview with BBC’s Jeremy Paxton, Bowie predicted internet culture’s rise, saying “What the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable”. No one has since spoken a truer word.

Let’s Dance

As a final point, let’s not forget that in the last 18 months of his life while battling cancer, Bowie released an album, shot video clips and premiered his first play. He probably also had a hand in lifting sanctions on Iran. His output was extraordinary and work ethic, unmatched – that, if nothing else, is instructive for all.

What do you think? Tag us on Twitter @legalvision_au and let us know.


Redundancies and Restructuring: Understanding Your Employer Obligations

Thursday 7 July | 11:00 - 11:45am

If you plan on making a role redundant, it is crucial that you understand your employer obligations. Our free webinar will explain.
Register Now

How to Sponsor Foreign Workers For Your Tech Business

Wednesday 13 July | 11:00 - 11:45am

Need web3 talent for your tech business? Consider sponsoring workers from overseas. Join our free webinar to learn more.
Register Now

Advertising 101: Social Media, Influencers and the Law

Thursday 21 July | 11:00 - 11:45am

Learn how to promote your business on social media without breaking the law. Register for our free webinar today.
Register Now

Structuring for Certainty in Uncertain Times

Tuesday 26 July | 12:00 - 12:45pm

Learn how to structure to weather storm and ensure you can take advantage of the “green shoots” opportunities arising on the other side of a recession.
Register Now

Playing for the Prize: How to Run Trade Promotions

Thursday 28 July | 11:00 - 11:45am

Running a promotion with a prize? Your business has specific trade promotion obligations. Join our free webinar to learn more.
Register Now

Web3 Essentials: Understanding SAFT Agreements

Tuesday 2 August | 11:00 - 11:45am

Learn how SAFT Agreements can help your Web3 business when raising capital. Register today for our free webinar.
Register Now

Understanding Your Annual Franchise Update Obligations

Wednesday 3 August | 11:00 - 11:45am

Franchisors must meet annual reporting obligations each October. Understand your legal requirements by registering for our free webinar today.
Register Now

Legal Essentials for Product Manufacturers

Thursday 11 August | 11:00 - 11:45am

As a product manufacturer, do you know your legal obligations if there is a product recall? Join our free webinar to learn more.
Register Now

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a commercial law firm that provides businesses with affordable and ongoing legal assistance through our industry-first membership.

By becoming a member, you'll have an experienced legal team ready to answer your questions, draft and review your contracts, and resolve your disputes. All the legal assistance your business needs, for a low monthly fee.

Learn more about our membership

Need Legal Help? Submit an Enquiry

If you would like to get in touch with our team and learn more about how our membership can help your business, fill out the form below.

Our Awards

  • 2020 Innovation Award 2020 Excellence in Technology & Innovation Finalist – Australasian Law Awards
  • 2020 Employer of Choice Award 2020 Employer of Choice Winner – Australasian Lawyer
  • 2020 Financial Times Award 2021 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500
  • 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review
  • 2021 Law Firm of the Year Award 2021 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards
  • 2022 Law Firm of the Year Winner 2022 Law Firm of the Year - Australasian Law Awards