This site is a blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
Posts Tagged ‘how to write a music bio’
I genuinely love helping artists find and tell their stories. And as I have expressed many times through articles I have written about the bio-writing process, I am delighted to have the privilege of watching musicians and songwriters discover the most remarkable milestones on their creative journeys, reconnect meaningfully with the real reasons they make music and share their passion with the world.
But I am going to be brutally honest: There are a lot of terribly-written artist bios out there – bios that are so ridiculous that I can’t hear the music over the sound of my own laughter (or uncontrollable sobbing). And your band bio might fit into this category. You may even know your bio is embarrassingly bad, but feel either totally overwhelmed by the prospect of writing about yourself, or simply too lazy to make changes. Maybe you are just unaware that a well-written bio is the most crucial piece of your written marketing materials and that it will be seen (and in most cases, harshly judged) by event promoters, magazine, newspaper and blog editors, venue owners, industry professionals and potential fans. Regardless of the reason you are not investing any energy into your bio, what the f&*k are you thinking?
Our rapidly-evolving technological world has made both computers and the Internet accessible to almost everyone. And, in my opinion as a professional writer deeply in love with the wonderful nuances of words, that has led to one of the most nightmarish consequences of the Digital Age– a consequence that has profoundly affected the way people write about themselves: The Internet has evolved into an untended wilderness, where everyone is encouraged to vomit out (completely unedited) thoughts no one cares about, all over a global audience. Thanks to fully-accessible blogging platforms, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and a variety of other tools that give all of us permission to speak like 13-year-old girls and casually throw the beauty of proper language and grammar under the bus (and then run over it several times to make sure it is truly dead), there is a very blurry line between “some notes and unfinished thoughts to get me started on writing my bio along with some stuff I like about myself, which occurred to me in the shower this morning” and “my polished, professional bio, which I will proudly use to present myself as a serious person and artist.”
If you have writer’s block, or are not sure your bio is working in its current form, here are some of the bio f&*k-ups that I see regularly lead to the most abysmally-written bios. If you can avoid these, you’re on the right track.
1. “And when I was five, I invented the piano.”
Were you kicking along to the beat of music while you were in the womb? Did you start playing the violin at age three? And were you also making up sophisticated songs about your oatmeal in 13/8 time at the breakfast table and singing them into your spoon to the delight of your parents and jealous dismay of your talentless siblings? If you can answer these questions with a confident “Yes” (and you are not currently a child), then allow me to hand deliver a message to you: No one cares.
If you are an adult, your child prodigy years are of no real interest to anyone that will be reading your bio. Mentioning how amazing you were as a child will also encourage someone to gauge how far you’ve come since then, look at the state of your current career (or lack of career) and perhaps even think, “Wow, that’s too bad … what happened?” Plus, a childhood ability to easily pick up instruments and comprehend elements of harmony and melody is not a unique selling point for your story as an artist, because it is something that is shared by a majority of your contemporaries. Briefly celebrating the earliest environment that nurtured your talent can offer an introduction to you. But you need to connect with that moment you decided to pursue your art seriously and made the grown-up decision to turn it into your life’s work and illustrate the thrill of that decision as part of your bio. That is likely where your real adventure began.
2. “Since the beginning of time, there has never been a better singer writing more wonderful lyrics than [insert name of the best singer in the world here].”
Are you the best bass player that ever lived? Do you love to write beautiful songs more than any other unique songwriter? Are your varied influences as a guitarist pretty damn eclectic – more eclectic than anyone who has ever written songs that might be compared to yours? Well, who the hell do you think you are … (and while I’m asking, what exactly are you trying to say, anyway?)
During one of my recent bio-writing workshops at an art school, I shared my pet peeve of bios that make grandiose, assertive, clichéd statements that are not supported by any hard evidence (or by any truly descriptive adjectives or cliché-free phrases). One of the students said, “Yeah. You can only do that if you are Prince.” While I would argue that even Prince should not make obnoxiously-grandiose statements about himself, he probably has. And he can only get away with it because of his lengthy track record of proving his competency as a musician and performer and his “unique”ness as an artist, the unquestionably-loyal fan base he has built and the countless reviews he has received from reputable industry experts saying he is a pioneer in his field (and clearly explaining why).
Look at your own bio. Does it humbly describe the sound and feel of your music using tangible adjectives that conjure up a taste, a texture or even a smell (though hopefully not an unpleasant one) that someone that neither plays nor composes music can understand? Does it capture how your music makes your fans feel? And if the tone is a little cocky, do you have some real press quotes from legitimate online or print publications (and not My Mom magazine) to back up that attitude? Yes? Great … now prove it! (Also, might I remind you that there are only 12 notes; get over yourself.)
And as a real-world example to illustrate the point of this particular f&*k-up, here is a bio an artist friend of mine recently asked me to critique. His name and location have been changed for his and your protection (and yes, he fixed it!):
“Flibberty Giblet is a walking contradiction. He is a singer-songwriter, but he has very little in common with most singer-songwriters of today. His tableau of jagged sound stands out like a sore thumb against the airier tones of the Atlantis folk scene in which he thrives. But as dark as his jumbled and oft-disturbing lyrics can be, his melodies are every bit as gorgeous.”
3. “Thanks for describing the water while I’m drowning.”
This may sound unbending, maybe even impossible, but your bio has to get to the point before the first word. (And this f&*k-up is actually an outgrowth of f&*k-up #2.) If the first few words of your bio do not immediately start setting the stage for your narrative, and if your name does not appear in the first sentence, you have already failed. I hold pretty solidly to the guideline that the longest a bio should ever be is somewhere around 750 words (1,000 if you have a creative purpose that necessitates more words and moves the narrative along compellingly). And ideally, this 750-word masterpiece should be an “opt-in” after you have presented a short-form, 250-word bio first and that short introduction piqued further interest. People reading about you have thousands of other artists to read about and even more music to hear, so you have no room to go on long-winded tangents or define the words you are using to talk about yourself.
Sometimes when an artist is particularly blocked about the details that make his/her story worth following, I ask for some examples of music bios that the person enjoys reading, just to get a feel for style and give that person some inspiration. A very young R&B artist I worked with a couple years ago on a bio went through this exercise and sent me a few bios of fairly big hip hop and R&B artists. I was shocked to find that each one of them was worse than the one before it (and even more shocked to find that these bios had come from professional writers). The common problem amongst all of them was the amount of words that were wasted on “posturing” and desperately trying to convince me that the artist was “the best of all time.” Sometimes, the bios spent several sentences or even a paragraph defining a word used, like in the case of this bio, which started with a dictionary-style definition before it even identified the artist it was talking about:
“Natural can be described as innate or instinctive in essence, disposition or temperament. Quite simply, natural can be summed up as God-given or God-inspired because it comes so easily.” (Wow, that is quite simply put! I always wondered what “natural” meant. Thanks so much! Now, what if I don’t believe in God? And, wait … wasn’t I reading an artist bio?)
Present yourself and your music as objectively as possible, then respectfully let readers draw their own conclusions. You won’t make lifelong friends (aka, build a fan base that will support you for life) by strong-arming someone into liking you.
4. “We’re all with the band.”
It is human nature to wonder about the names, birthdays, hometowns and sexual orientations of all the members of your favorite band. It is also human nature not to know the name of the bass player (and not to care enough to even consider asking).
The tendency for a lot of bands when crafting their bios is to ask each member to put together a resume which includes details like education, past bands and other accomplishments, likes and dislikes and then throw all these resumes together to create a total frenzy of information that is ultimately irrelevant to the current band’s mission and music.
While you certainly want to give your fans and others some personal details about you and your band mates, so you can get them invested in your success, the bio needs to have a focused story and purpose. Start your band’s tale with why and how you came together as a group. How are you connected to each other, and why do you make melodic, ugly, dark, dirty, gritty or [insert a description of your sound and sensibilities here] music together? Save your pet peeves, favorite colors and favorite place to eat cheese for a blog post.
5. “My name is Sybil … no, wait! It’s Gertrude.”
If I ever butt heads with an artist while writing a bio, this fifth f&*k-up is the one we most often disagree about: Having multiple professional bios that serve different purposes. Succeeding in the music industry involves a lot of diversifying, and while possible, it is still a rare privilege to make a sustainable living playing your own music. To make ends meet and support a still-growing career, many artists must take up jobs as session players, songwriters for other artists, etc. I sometimes work with artists who are either afraid their persona as a solo artist (or a band leader) is not “professional” enough to get them work in other areas of the industry or just think their roles are so all over the place that they are not connected enough to put together; thus, they want to create several different bios in order to present each of the different “hats” they wear.
I understand the feeling of needing to pay respect to each of your different personae as well as the fear of publicly embracing all the different aspects of your very-diversified artist career. But multiple personality disorder is no fun for anybody. When you cannot find one way to celebrate your many different dimensions, you are communicating exactly the opposite of what you want to communicate to potential employers or collaborators. Instead of saying, “I am 100-percent committed to working hard at making music in all its forms, and I have a deep skill set that reaches into many different areas of the music business,” when you have many different bios, you are basically saying, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, so I’m just doing a bunch of stuff to see what sticks.” Or even worse than that, you are saying, “I will be whoever you want me to be,” which will invite some pretty unsavory and counter-productive characters into your world.
As satisfied and refreshed I feel after reading a beautifully-written bio that invites me into an artist’s rich, inner world, I feel that much more physically and spiritually ill when I find one that misses the mark. Hopefully the above can help you find a direction for your own writing process. If you are still struggling, reach out to your friends (or even your fans!) for feedback. And remember, there is no shame in hiring a professional bio writer!
Julia Rogers is the Editor in Chief of MusicianCoaching.com. She is a classically-trained musician, published author, journalist and music writer. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients, including The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and American Express. She was previously a grant writer and development/marketing strategist for several New York City-based non-profit Arts organizations and has written business development materials and produced online media for a variety of small technology companies. As a songwriter, cellist, bassist, singer and pianist, Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. She has been working with MusicianCoaching.com since 2009.
Because I write so many bios for “DIY” artists, I invest a lot of my time helping people discover how to tell their compelling stories and define the specific qualities of their music and personalities that make each of them different from every other musician out there. Something interesting I have realized as I take people through the challenging self-discovery process is that a lot of artists, at all stages of their careers share a common issue: They are reluctant to celebrate their accomplishments. And they often feel uncomfortable announcing even the major milestones – like EP releases, show and tour announcements, notable press interviews, etc. – that are the product of their hard work as they invest in their growth and development.
Part of this mental and emotional block artists experience is based on crises of confidence that are understandable given the saturation of the modern music market and the fact that the world trains all of us (thankfully) to be modest and realistic about our place in it: “Why is what I do important when there are so many other people basically doing the same thing?” But as someone who aspires to truly make a living making music, the pull to avoid inviting fans and potential fans to applaud your successes and join you on your long and winding journey is also the result of simply not knowing which of your plot twists are newsworthy.
Last year, I wrote an article about how musicians can get the attention of music journalists writing for blogs, magazines, journals and other publications and inspire them to invest in the story of their on-going evolution. Despite all the wonderful online free marketing and PR tools that are available to you as an artist and all the chances you have to engage meaningfully with the press and your fans, sometimes when you have a major milestone to announce in your career, you need a formal press release.
Even if you are not reluctant to announce your accomplishments and are sharing your story on a regular basis through Facebook, Twitter and email newsletters, as well as through your music and compelling live shows, sometimes all this engagement is not enough. As I have repeated many times to artists I work with and in the articles I have written about communication and marketing, just throwing some tracks up on Facebook, expressing your excitement on Twitter about a track you recorded or emailing your mp3s to someone at Pitchfork with a subject line that basically begs an editor, “Listen to my music” will not make you the darling of blogs, podcasts, online music communities, music websites and magazines … nor will it get you to Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall or the Grammys. And, yes, you really do need to go beyond your current fan base and get the attention of media “influencers” in order to forge ahead successfully.
When you are managing your own career without the help of a PR firm, you must think like an entrepreneur and build marketing strategies that not only show you are a professional, but also drum up excitement about your music and your unique “You, Inc.” brand. And to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to figure out stunning ways to call attention to your bright, newsworthy items as an artist through press releases.
Once you’ve found that exciting item, shout about it! Hiring a professional, experienced press release writer to put together your announcement for you is a great way to capture the moment objectively. But when you are a self-funded music entrepreneur, hiring out is not always an option. Below are 6 tips to help you craft an eye-catching, personal press release that can act as a compliment to your on-going marketing strategy.
- Understand the purpose of a press release. A press release is a written statement to the media that announces a news item, such as a scheduled event (a live show, a record store appearance, a radio performance and interview, etc.), an award or the release of a new “product” (a single, an EP or a full-length album). Some people also use press releases as a way to generate a feature story, because writers, reporters, bloggers and other press people are more likely to consider a full-length story on a band if they first see a formal press release.Many consider press releases to be part of “old fashioned” PR strategies, but when used in conjunction with technology-based promotional strategies, a well-written press release acts as strong support for the other elements of an artist’s press kit and overall marketing campaign. It provides yet another way for you to tell your story as a musician and enrich your brand by shedding light on the fact that you are in motion, proactively putting yourself and your music out into the world and working hard to hone your craft.
- Your press release should have laser focus. The best press releases are short and to the point. The headline needs to go beyond the mundane “Artist Plays Guitar on Stage in Front of People” and provide some juicy detail without being overly clever. (Here is an example of a headline I recently wrote for a pop/country artist releasing her debut album: “Homegrown Pop Singer/Songwriter Kelly Campbell Releases Sweet Therapy EP.”) Also, the first short paragraph – the “summary” – of the most compelling press releases is not more than three sentences long. These sentences need to draw readers in and keep their eyes moving down the page while still expressing all the very specific details about what has happened or will happen.To stick to the “short and sweet” rule, only announce multiple events within the same press release if they relate directly to each other – for example, an EP release combined with an official release party or an extended regional or national tour.
- Cut the “BS.” Use real, meaningful language in your press release – not lofty, empty “BS” that you think will sound impressive – to describe your event. Using big words and industry terms, name dropping or otherwise “padding” your release to convince others that what you are doing is important is just going to make you look like an amateur.Even major PR firms – especially those that churn out a lot of press releases – can fall into the pattern of just “going through the motions” and plugging in information, forgetting that while press releases do follow a set format, there is still a lot of room for creativity and meaningful “audience” interaction within that format. The gist of the two most commonly-made announcements in press releases are “Band Releases Record” and “Band Plays Show(s).” The ability to tell an absorbing story about events that happen often in the music industry within the parameters of the press release format is certainly a challenge. But your job is to grab the attention of and provide something valuable to those that will read hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of press releases in their lifetime, so you simply must.
- Freshen up your bio. Your biographical information is an incredibly important part of every press release, but resist the urge to just directly copy a section from your professional bio verbatim. (And if you do not have a professional bio, please read this article before you even think about writing a press release!) Add a few special details to your artist bio section that offer readers a new spin on you and your music. For example, if you are releasing an EP, you can provide a bit of insight into your songwriting and recording process, which will make people feel more personally connected to you and also compel them to want to buy your music, come to your live shows and interact with you.
- Gather strong press quotes. Press quotes provide essential third-party endorsement of you. Of course, you may very well be sending out a press release because no one has ever formally reviewed your music (aka, you have no quotes), and you want to get people to talk and write about you. Often a very exciting and objectively-written bio can make up for lack of quotes about your band. However, also consider reaching out to popular local bands and musicians you have collaborated with on shows or other projects and ask them to jot down a few thoughts about you and your music, or about the experience of playing with you live and then include the best one or two as quotables for your press release.
- Rally around your press release. As with anything else you put out into the world – whether new music, a new website or live performances – your press release will not magically get attention just by existing. You need to rally around it with engaging email and social media interaction. Many musicians use services like PRWeb, expecting that they will pay the fee and the press release will get read by fans and everyone else they want to reach.Services like PRWeb act as tools to help your press release filter through some of the other meaningless noise that shows up in Web searches for the type of music you play. But they cannot provide the genuinely sincere touches that you provide when you energetically write about your event on Facebook and Twitter and respond personally to the excitement of champions for your music. Even when your press release finds a permanent home on the Internet, you need to keep momentum going in the weeks prior to your notable show or album release by reaching out to your fans regularly and sending personal emails to those journalists and music industry professionals that will be thrilled to be among the first to discover you.
So, what about you is newsworthy enough to warrant a press release? The truth is, almost anything you do or that happens to you; you just have to put a spin on the happening that expresses why people should care. Of course, you are not going to formally alert the media the first time your band gets through a song without stopping, every time your band’s drummer shows up for rehearsal on time, or when you finally get more than 10 people to show up at one of your gigs. But you can and should announce anything that really gets you revved up about playing music – especially those memorable events that give fans and potential fans the opportunity to experience your excitement right alongside you.
To mark the end of the year, I wanted to put together a post highlighting some of the notable articles and interviews that have been featured on the Musician Coaching site in 2011. I chose the “Best of” listed below not only because they were some of the most shared on social media sites and the Web in general, but also because they covered some of the most important issues I feel artists and others getting into the music industry should be focusing on as they build their careers.
Are your emails to industry executives being returned? As I discussed in this article about music marketing from mid April, your attempts to reach out could be met with silence because you’re making the following common five mistakes:
- You’re writing a form letter. You may be able to get your message out to hundreds or even thousands of people. But if people feel like you are sending them a form letter about a specific need or a desired business relationship, then it’s over. No one likes to feel like they are just a name on a list. It is perfectly acceptable to cut and paste part of a letter to a certain type of executive, but at least take the time to customize the first few sentences and address them by name. Also, let the person you are contacting know specifically why you are contacting them. What makes you think you are a good fit for what they do and why?
- You’re presenting yourself poorly. This is so common it boggles the mind. I often get emails from people in which their names are not obvious from the email address and not included in the “from” field by their email program. On top of that, they don’t bother to introduce themselves or put any kind of signature indicating who they are or where they are from. Other ways people present poorly include using bad grammar and spelling and saying, “I have talent,” thinking that in and of itself is a major selling point (and the main reason the person on the other end should respond).
- You’re not doing your research. You can much more easily begin a personal relationship with someone when you have specifics about their job function and their professional history. With blogs, LinkedIn and any of the other resources available online these days there is no excuse not to have a good understanding of what people have done in the past and on which projects they have worked. Knowing these things can go a long way in adding a personal touch to the email you are sending someone.
- You have unreasonable expectations. Bluntly asking for a huge favor, a contract, a partnership, a record deal or any other lasting business relationship from a stranger in a first email is inappropriate. I can’t tell you how many emails I get without any information, background or even someone’s name that say something to the effect of “Help! I am really talented and I need you to manage me.” Take your time to get to know someone and what they do. Breaking the ice with an email never instantly leads to a partially executed contract on your doorstep. It’s supposed to lead to building a relationship and getting someone to take you seriously enough to give your material their time and attention.
- You haven’t defined your goals. Vague emails are really hard to respond to. A very common request I get (and I’m sorry, I know I reference this a great deal) is about “getting to the next level.” Do I understand in a general way what it means? Sure. Do I know specifically what people mean by that and what they need or if I am a good fit for getting these people to said next level? No, I don’t have a clue. Before asking someone else for help, make sure that you have clearly defined your goals. Many people respond with knee-jerk responses like, “I want a publishing deal,” or “I need a booking agent.” It’s important to break down these wants into what most people actually mean. What people forget is that for every brilliant partnership, there are plenty of lousy ones. And many of the lousy ones result from people not taking the time to really think through their needs and desires.
Last spring, I talked to Fred Pessaro, a contributing editor at the popular New York City-based music blog BrooklynVegan. Originally from Washington, D.C., Fred got his start in the music industry as a fan of hardcore and punk music and started regularly attending local shows in his hometown at an early age. His interest in freelance writing and photography and his love for music brought him to New York City, where he began to write for and contribute photos to music publications including Fuse, Time Out and Decibel. He has been working with BrooklynVegan since 2007 and also does some booking in the New York City area.
In this interview, Fred was kind enough to share some “dos” and “don’ts” for artists that want to get covered in blogs and other publications. As he said, “I think if you’re a young band today, the best thing you can do is put together a record and give it away for free. Let as many people hear it as possible. I think that’s important on the recorded front and the live front. Any time someone asks you to play a show, you should take it. If you’re a Twee band, and someone asks you to open for a metal band, play it anyway. If you’re playing first on a 12-band bill at 3 p.m., play it anyway. At the end of the day, playing the show is important, whether there are five people there or 5,000 people there. But it’s also important that your name is on a show, and your name is repeated as many times as it can be repeated. If I were a young band, I would play anywhere and everywhere as often as I could, and I would give away my music to anyone that would hear it. Also, maybe you can do something like print up t-shirts with a catchy design that someone might wear whether they liked your band or not. And sell them at cost. Basically, the more times someone sees your name, the easier it’s going to be for them to recognize it down the road. It’s the idea of conditioning. The more times you mention a name, the more the name will become a part of everyone’s consciousness as opposed to ‘just another band out there.’”
In August, I spoke with the legendary Art Munson, founder of Music Library Report, a comprehensive directory of music libraries and services for composers and songwriters designed to help them make educated decisions about choosing to which music libraries they should submit their work. With nearly five decades of playing, songwriting and producing experience, Art got his start in the music industry playing guitar with Dick Dale and the Deltones in the 1960s. He has done studio and live work with artists such as the Righteous Brothers, John Lennon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams. In the 1980s he built and ran his own home recording studio where he worked with artists such as David Sandborn and Vonda Shepard. Just since early 2001, he has written hundreds pieces of music for production music libraries which have been placed in a variety of films and television shows. He and his wife Robin also run their own small record label, publishing and production company called Munsong Records.
Art shared his own story about getting into the music industry and also outlined some best practices for songwriters trying to choose which production libraries are the best fit for their work: “Maybe the best thing I could say is, ‘Write what you really love to write.’ And there are some parameters to follow with library music. You should have editable music, so the music editor can make really clear edit points. It might be a nice, strong intro that’s no more than four-bars long so you can get right into it. And I fight with that editable point too. Because I want to write songs that are musical and have a nice flow to them. And there’s a place for that also. As I said, there are really no hard and fast rules. But I do try to pay attention to really strong edit points, so that music editor can get in and out cleanly.”
In late October, I featured a guest post by Julia L. Rogers in which she outlined 5 concrete elements that should go into a compelling artist bio. Julia helps me behind the scenes at MusicianCoaching.com and is a classically-trained musician, a published author and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients ranging from the Huffington Post to American Express … and she can be hired to write artist and band bios through the site.
In “5 Tips about Writing Your Own Band Bio,” Julia said, “If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to have promotional material. And your bio is one of the most critical components – if not the most critical component of your press kit. (Sorry, but no one cares about your music if you can’t introduce yourself properly.) Your bio represents your first opportunity to spark interest in someone who will be a champion for your music. Besides communicating essential information about you, a well-written bio portrays you as a professional that has some understanding of the business you’re in – music. And when you take some time to thoughtfully craft it, you convey to your fans, to press, media and labels that you are serious about making music your career.”
And her 5 tips for artists trying to put together an eye-catching bio were …
- Clearly define your mission statement.
- Skip birth and childhood.
- Highlight personal stories and anecdotes.
- Use your long-form bio sparingly.
- Plan to update all your bios often.
Prolific songwriter Jonathan Mann has been writing and recording one song per day since January 1, 2009 for his Song A Day project. For over 1,000 days, he has been posting a daily – usually humorous – song to YouTube that touches upon news and current events. A graduate of Bennington College in Vermont, Jonathan started playing guitar and writing songs when he was inspired by the music of Bob Dylan at age 12. Song A Day has earned him a great deal of press attention and brought him a number of interesting collaborative projects. He has appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show and has been commissioned to write songs for companies including Apple, TechCrunch, Dobly, ChaCha, Cisco, Microsoft, Groupon and AirBnB. Last spring, he used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise $13,000, which funded his record Song A Day: The Album.
A couple weeks ago, Jonathan was kind enough to tell me the story of how he first started playing music and provide some insight for other artists trying to stay inspired to write new music. He also discussed how people can leverage YouTube as well as other online (and offline!) tools in order to get their music heard, find opportunities for collaboration and build personal relationships with their fans: “One of the biggest things I’ve observed regarding YouTube is that you have to collaborate. If you want to grow your audience, you find people that you like and that you respect from YouTube, and you reach out to them with a good idea, then collaborate with them and make something. That way, your audience gets to see them, and their audience gets to see you. I started making online video in 2005 right when YouTube started. And had I known that collaboration was one of the biggest tricks on that platform, maybe I would’ve done more of that.”
When asked about time management/finding the time to write, Jonathan added, “…it’s really just about commitment. You just have to commit to doing it. I would also encourage people to do a song a day … Just challenge yourself to do it for a month. Once you commit yourself to it, it just becomes part of your life … What you do when you do that is set yourself up to make great music. If you do that every day, just by sheer probability, something you make is going to be great.”
Of course, I have more interviews and articles from some incredibly talented, knowledgeable folks coming up in 2012, so stay tuned. Happy New Year!
The following article is a guest post by Julia L. Rogers. Julia helps me behind the scenes at MusicianCoaching.com. She is a classically-trained musician, a published author and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients ranging from the Huffington Post to American Express (and writes artist and band bios!).
As an artist or band, you’re going to be repeatedly forced to explain yourself. And if you are incapable of communicating – in words – who you are, what you sound like and why someone should care, you’re not going to go very far. In short, you’re going to need to write a bio.
The most important thing to remember is that your artist bio is not a rambling autobiography or the introduction to your future memoirs: Your bio is a professional sales tool. But many new or emerging DIY artists cannot necessarily afford to pay a high-quality professional bio writer and are tasked with writing their own. When you sit down to write your bio, you need to know that it is just a small part of a much bigger picture: your marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy must communicate what you have to offer to your fans. And you need to show your value in terms your fans can understand.
If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to have promotional material. And your bio is one of the most critical components – if not the most critical component of your press kit. (Sorry, but no one cares about your music if you can’t introduce yourself properly.) Your bio represents your first opportunity to spark interest in someone who will be a champion for your music. Besides communicating essential information about you, a well-written bio portrays you as a professional that has some understanding of the business you’re in – music. And when you take some time to thoughtfully craft it, you convey to your fans, to press, media and labels that you are serious about making music your career.
The following are some tips for writing a riveting bio that will make people want embrace you and your music.
- Clearly define your mission statement. Before you even think about writing a bio, you have to have a firm grasp of your story and of what your music sounds like. This concise description of your music and who you are as an artist or band should not exceed a couple sentences; in fact, some of the most effective band mission statements are phrases of about 5-10 words. Think about your mission statement the same way you’d think about an “elevator pitch” in the business world (and as a serious artist, your career isa business!) – how you would describe your band if you got into an elevator with someone who asked, “What’s your band like?” or “What kind of music do you play?” and had only a few-floors’ ride to explain yourself.If you don’t already have a mission statement, and the prospect of summing yourself up briefly terrifies you, think about what your devoted fans might say about your music. Who do you sound like? Which qualities set you apart from other bands within your genre? You can even enlist the help of your fans with a fun survey via email that asks them to describe you and what your music means to them. Because the best band bios highlight a band’s individuality in a language that speaks directly to fans and potential fans, having a mission statement that provides an unobscured view into what others say about you and the music you create – and not just into your own perception of why others should love your music – will most effectively speak to those that read your bio. If you use this statement as a powerful intro, you’ll have a better chance of captivating others and propelling them into the subsequent sentences and paragraphs.
- Skip birth and childhood. Unless you are currently a child prodigy, if the “history” / “experience” section of your bio starts with any version of “I was born …” and goes on to include, “Then I played ‘Earthquake McGoon’ in the Louis Pasteur Elementary School production of Lil’ Abner …” you must regroup. Even if you believe to your core that your music career was launched when you played a singing tomato in your first-grade class’ play about the food groups, stick to relaying experience that directly relates to your current band / solo project and the type of music you play. Additionally, if you are in the process of writing your bio and find yourself having to type some version of the sentence, “Unfortunately, the band split due to artistic differences, and she left to pursue other projects” one or more times, you should probably backtrack and edit yourself.Another major sign of an amateur-circuit band bio is that it contains a series of mini bios that relay each band member’s age, influences, years of experience, former bands, etc. Make sure your audience knows the names and key roles of each of your band members and stop there. You’re not trying to sell your band on the talents of pieces of the whole.
- Highlight personal stories and anecdotes. While your band bio does need to be professional, it also needs to tell an interesting story. If you look at a random sample of band and artist bios on Facebook, you’ll notice that most of them are dull, predictable and follow a standard formula. They will likely include the following statements in some form: “The Nantucket F**kers will rock you as you have never been rocked before;” “Candy Kandy has loved to sing from a very young age;” “The members of Bobbi Kennedy and the Politicians met in high school and have been playing together ever since.” (Fake band names have been created to protect thousands of guilty parties, and apologies to any real persons accidentally named.) Musically-inclined people meet and end up playing together all the time, so if that is the most revolutionary event in your band’s saga, you need to realize that it’s already been played out thousands of times. Most band “meet cutes” are not very interesting to anyone outside the band, and most “how he/she got started” artist stories would sound exactly the same devoid of personal, unique and potentially funny details.Start your bio with your mission statement – your opportunity to tell your audience what to expect and enrapture them enough to get them to keep reading – and then make sure all the particulars that follow about your history and playing experience could not belong to anyone but you. There are a lot of talented, hard-working musicians out there; thus, without traces of your inimitable personality, your musical aptitude and your many years of study and practice alone are not necessarily going to make for an extraordinary narrative.
- Use your long-form bio sparingly. Your long-form (long) bio is best kept to no more than 750 words. (And it really should be about 500 words.) Your short-form (short) bio should be about 250 words. As a rule of thumb, your short bio is just your long bio stripped of a detailed history, focusing heavily on your mission statement and current projects like recently-released music, collaborations, etc. When you’re determining where to use each bio on your website, social media pages, and in your press and promotional materials, keep in mind that people in general have very short attention spans. You should definitely include both your short and your long bio (in different but inter-linked places) on your official website. But most of the time, your short bio will suffice for your social media pages and even when you’re sending out music and information to the press (especially unsolicited). Those that want more from you will ask, and then you can send them the long bio. Plus, one of the purposes of your Facebook page and other social medial pages is to redirect fans to your website, where they will be able to read the finer points about you and your music, merch, etc.
- Plan to update all your bios often. When you are an active, engaged artist your story is dynamic and always unfolding. And your band bio is a way to inform others what is happening now. Thus, you need to keep your short and long bios up to date. If you experience a big milestone – if you land a big show, get management, book a tour, sign on with a label or celebrate any other major success – you need to revise your bio immediately. However, you should be revisiting your bio at least once per month, even if all that happened to you was that everyone showed up to rehearsal on time and none of you got the swine flu that was going around. A well-crafted bio is a forward-looking document that reflects where you are now and your plans for the immediate future. If you don’t update it frequently, others will think you’ve become inactive.
Above all, remember that your band bio needs to have a positive tone, be straightforwardly enlightening and filled with positive comments – and even second-party quotes — about you. The narrative has to be interesting enough to get the reader to not just listen to your music, but take action and a vested interest in your success.