What Bowie & Queen’s Frenzied Night of Music-Making Teaches about Collaboration

“Under Pressure” shows the necessity of working together

Most of us agree that collaboration, when it goes right, can be a positive and useful tool. Successful collaborations can get us further than we can go alone and provide rich fodder for high-quality written content. However, is collaboration necessary? Working together can be hard; do we need to do it?

The answer is yes. You don’t know what will come out when you put unique minds, expertise, and personality into the Machine of Collaboration. But that is the point—you will always get more than you could get working alone.  

The benefits of collaborating make it worth a try. Collaborating can improve good ideas and drum up new, maybe even thrilling, ideas. Take content writing as an example. Sending a specific writing assignment to a content mill and getting a regurgitated product is okay. Still, it doesn’t pay off in the same way as working directly with collaborative copywriters—using them as sounding boards, sharing your dreams, and getting their ideas in return.

4 lessons on collaboration from “Under Pressure”

An example of a famous collaboration comes from a night of song-making with rock icon David Bowie and the legendary band Queen.[i] Their efforts culminated in the hit “Under Pressure,” which has inspired numerous spinoffs and much joyous head bopping. The story of this historic effort has unique insights to apply to your next project.

#1 Make room for spontaneity

Bowie and Queen didn’t plan to create a new song together that night in the late 1970s. Bowie stopped by Queen’s studio for a jam session. After covering various established tunes, they started to improvise, and things progressed.

Clinging too tightly to an agenda during a meeting with collaborators can choke off new ideas. Leaving room for spontaneity provides the space people need to discuss what they are passionate about, possibly making way for the next big idea.

For example, while we were meeting with a client about content for their website, they mentioned their company had just internally published a new brand book. We were interested in seeing what they had done, and the exciting new tones inspired us to make spinoff articles. We hadn’t set up the meeting to discuss the company’s new brand book, but it inspired a natural conversation with good results.

#2 Elevate other’s good ideas

Sometimes we enter a collaboration intending solely for others to acknowledge our brilliant ideas. Advocating for your ideas is important, but it is equally important to listen to what collaborators are doing and say something if inspired by what you hear. Others may not recognize their own genius.

Elevating another’s genius is what happened with the iconic “bum-bum-bum-bippa-bum-bum” bass riff for “Under Pressure.” Queen guitarist John Deacon played with the riff before the group got hungry and moved on to dinner. When they returned to playing music, he had forgotten the riff. However, the group (some sources said it was Bowie, others said it was the band’s drummer) remembered and even played it back to him.

Elevating the brilliant ideas that arise during a collaboration—regardless of who comes up with them—improves the work.

#3 Recognize breakaway moments

In theory, collaboration looks like a seesaw. Give a little, take a little, and you’ll find balance. However, in real life, that is not always the case. Sometimes one person will get inspired and want to take the piece in a certain direction. It’s important to recognize these breakaway moments and adapt. If one person takes over a piece of music (or a piece of content), the whole effort still has been a collaboration—how else would they have gotten inspired?

Take “Under Pressure,” for example. Queen composed the riff, and then all four band members and Bowie separately added their vocals (take a listen, and you’ll see how this makes the piece different from anything you’ve ever heard before). It needed a unifying touch, though, and so Bowie took charge. He had an idea for combining the vocals, and Queen let him take control.

Even though all four members of Queen contributed to the vocals, Bowie ultimately owned them. This doesn’t diminish their collaborative efforts. If they had advocated for equal shares in creative power over the lyrics, the piece likely would not have come together to become a classic.

#4 It may get messy

Bowie and Queen, specifically frontman Freddie Mercury, fought over how to mix the song for the final product. Their differing opinions were important to the song’s success, but they didn’t always agree.

Healthy debate is necessary for a successful collaboration. As long as both parties respect the creative genius of the other, disagreements and challenges make for a more refined end-product or idea.

Collaboration can produce brilliant work

“Under Pressure” is a uniquely compelling song because of its collaborators. Even though it was introduced to the public in 1982, it remains a piece of pop culture today.

Successfully working together takes effort and may require you to relinquish control over a beloved idea or elevate the work of others. Ultimately it will pay off in a better product, though. Collaboration is worth the effort.

And that is why choosing to work with collaborative copywriters—those who understand coming up with content is better together—can produce more insightful ideas than mining content alone and creating it independently.  

[i]Chang R. Inside David Bowie and Queen’s ‘tense’ recording session for “Under Pressure.” Biography. https://www.biography.com/news/david-bowie-queen-under-pressure-recording-session. Updated September 8, 2020. Accessed August 2, 2022.

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