He is a co-founder of the rock band Dire Straits, with whom he spent three years. After quitting the band, Knopfler embarked upon a solo career as a recording artist. Knopfler initially created smaller record labels, publishing companies, and indie labels.
Knopfler has encouraged the advent of online purchasing music since 1995, although he concedes the necessity for other avenues of the distribution and sale of recorded music.
Knopfler was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to an English mother, Louisa Mary, a teacher, and a Hungarian Jewish father, Erwin Knopfler, an architect.
When Knopfler was two, his family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, England, where he grew up and later attended Gosforth Grammar School.
By the age of 11, Knopfler owned a guitar, a piano and a drum kit, and by the age of 14, he was playing and singing his own compositions in folk clubs.
After attending Bristol Polytechnic, Knopfler became a social worker in London, where he shared a flat with John Illsley.
Knopfler's older brother Mark also played the guitar. David introduced Mark to John Illsley, a bass guitarist, and after gaining the interest of drummer Pick Withers, the four founded the rock band Dire Straits. One of Mark's friends came up with the band's name, which was supposedly a reference to their financial situation at the time the band was beginning to gain notice in the music industry. David however, asserts on his website that "[the] notion that the band were literally in dire straits is largely retrospective myth making and not really factually supportable. We all had day jobs until we got a whacking big advance from Polygram".
Knopfler played rhythm guitar beside his brother, who was lead guitarist in the band, and David appeared on Dire Straits' first two albums: Dire Straits (1978) and Communiqué (1979). The stress of composing, arranging songs, recording the then-requisite two albums and tours to support them took its toll on the brothers, and David left the band during the recording of their third album, Making Movies (1980), leaving him uncredited on the album. There is concert video footage, however, of David playing with the band live on several tracks of this album.
After leaving Dire Straits, Knopfler released his first solo album in 1983, titled Release. Mark Knopfler and John Illsley both played on the album. Harry Bogdanovs, a lifelong friend of Knopfler, is credited with having co-written three of the tracks and playing synthesizer. The album was supported by the single "Soul Kissing" on the label of Peach River Records. The single was a minor commercial success, peaking at #82 in the UK Albums Chart, after Knopfler retrieved the rights from the bankrupt record label.
Behind the Lines, his second album, was released in 1985 and his third solo album, Cut the Wire, followed in 1986. In 1988, the U.S. label Cypress Records released his fourth album, Lips Against the Steel.
Knopfler scored the soundtracks for the films Shergar (1984) and Laser Mission (1989), and the German productions Treffer (1984), Jakob hinter der blauen Tür (1989) and Der grosse Bellheim.
Lifelines in 1991 released by Phonogram, was recorded in Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios. That album was followed in 1993 by The Giver, released by MESA/Bluemoon in the U.S., and Ariola in Europe. Its sparse, acoustic arrangements received positive reviews, as did 1995's Small Mercies, which Knopfler co-produced with Harry Bogdanovs, featuring Chris White on saxophone. In 2001, Knopfler worked with Bogdanovs again to co-produce the album Wishbones, which has guest appearances by Chris Rea and Eddi Reader. His ninth solo album, Ship of Dreams, which also included Chris Rea, was released in 2004.
In May 2005, Knopfler published a book of poetry, Blood Stones and Rhythmic Beasts, which was released by the UK's BlackWing books (ISBN 0955026008).
The Canadian jazz label Justin Time Records released Ship of Dreams in October 2005 with an alternate rendition of "Tears Fall" featuring Megan Slankard (replacing Julia Neigel on the original European release). Knopfler's tenth solo album Songs for the Siren was released in 2006. Recent songwriting projects with other artists have included sessions with Amilia Spicer, Mack Starks, Megan Slankard and Wendy Lands.
He played various acoustic and electric gigs in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Turkey and Australia from 2007 to 2009 with Harry Bogdanovs and his band.. A new double CD Acoustic, which contains unplugged renditions of new and old songs was released in 2011.
Knopfler continued to tour in Spain, Germany, the UK, the United States and Canada in 2012 to 2015. The first-ever limited edition live album, Made in Germany (recorded in Erfurt, Germany during the 2012 tour with Bogdanovs), was released in April 2013 exclusively via CDBaby.com. Knopfler is currently recording a new studio album due for release September 2015 ( working title "Grace") when he will be touring Germany with Harry Bogdanovs.
Knopfler is married to art professor Leslie Stroz. He has one son with former wife Anna Perera.