Nine Inch Nails' earliest influences include Ministry and Skinny Puppy, which helped shape 1989's Pretty Hate Machine. The album's liner notes also paid tribute to the hip-hop group Public Enemy and Prince. Another large influence on the band's sound is Gary Numan, which is evident as Reznor once said that "after hearing 'Cars' I knew I wanted to make music with synthesizers". The 2005 single "Only" exemplifies the disco-style beats and synthesizers drawn from Numan's persuasion. Other artists of significance to Nine Inch Nails encompass late 70s and 80s acts such as Queen, Devo, Joy Division, Adam Ant, and Soft Cell.
Reznor has toured with some of his influences, including a brief tour opening for Skinny Puppy in 1988. In 1995, Nine Inch Nails went on tour with David Bowie, who, along with Pink Floyd, had been a significant influence on The Downward Spiral.