It’s a clear sign your career is on the rise when a presenter, a manager or a PR department requests your bio. More than simply a résumé fashioned in paragraph form, an artist biography is an invitation to form a relationship with your audience. The best biographies capture your uniqueness as both a musician and human being, providing enough background information to lend authority to your performance. The bad ones seem more like lengthy laundry lists of hard–to-pronounce names and places.
But writing about oneself is easier said than done. Where to begin? For purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus on the long bio, the most important item in your press kit. At about a page long, it’s easy to tackle by breaking down the writing into three parts: the introduction, season information and artist history.
Part One: The Introduction
A good introduction is critical in capturing the reader’s attention, like composer Gabe Kahane’s first lines:
“Hailed by Rolling Stone as ‘one of the year’s very best albums,’ Gabriel Kahane’s major label debut, The Ambassador (Sony Music Masterworks) is a meditation on the underbelly of Los Angeles seen through the lens of ten street addresses. Bruce Willis’ hair, detective fiction, modernist architecture, and race riots all provide fodder for this collection of songs that is as sonically varied as it is thematically focused.”
Incorporating humor and a great quote about his latest recording from a discerning media outlet, Kahane gives us a feel for his personality and his abilities. For the ensemble, you may want to start by talking about how the group formed or was named, like Baladino. After you have set the scene with an engaging introduction describing your best qualities, career highlights and honors are a nice way to round out your first paragraph.
Part Two: Your Performance Schedule
Your second paragraph or section continues your story, including season performances, projects and other salient information. Here you can choose to go shallow or deep, depending on what you want to emphasize. Some use it as a different way to list their schedule, while others spend time on the details of one project, spending a modicum of time on smaller projects or gigs. The truth is, many artists use it as almost a code within the industry. It can reflect a certain artistic direction noted by the types of roles or signify the level of the artist’s current career based on the prestige of the organizations and importance of the roles or collaborative partners. Any career-advancing projects are fair game, here.
Part Three: Your History
Typically, the last part of your biography is reserved for your deeper background information. This can be more than one paragraph but, as noted earlier, should not be a laundry list. A good rule of thumb is to weed out information that is more than five years old, unless you won a Pulitzer (way to go!) or another notable career award. Bios should always include your education and teachers, past recordings, honors and awards, affiliations, and interesting projects and collaborations that are apropos.
Some artists use the last line of their bio to include personal information, but this is tricky. Any information you include should have a purpose, even if it is to show off your talents in other areas – and it should be no longer than a sentence. I love how composer Caroline Shaw ends her biography:
“Caroline loves the color yellow, avocados, otters, salted chocolate, kayaking, Beethoven opus 74, Mozart opera, the smell of rosemary, and the sound of a janky mandolin.”
After reading about her collaborations, projects and winning the Pulitzer Prize, we have a pretty good set-up for this artist. Now we want to meet her and hear her work.
With all this said, order your information in a way that flows effortlessly and sounds like you. I remember working with a young quartet just beginning to land the kinds of gigs that started to attract critics. They collectively wrote a biography that, while technically accurate, was misleading, using hyperbole and super-creative prose to tell their story. The night of their San Francisco concert, a critic from the paper, who had heard some great things about them, decided to review the show. The first thing he did was read their biography in the program. Unfortunately, at least on that night, he didn’t think their performance matched the portrayal of them in their bio and decided to make a point by quoting from it in the review.
Go for proud but modest. Be honest about your work, and don’t hold back on what you’ve accomplished, but don’t be a spin doctor. The only way to lose your audience is through half-truths and overselling – a knowledgeable concertgoer will see through the words once you play your first movement. Words that are hyperbolic such as “leading,” “the best,” “world-class,” “top” or even “noted,” as well as adjectives without context such as “amazing,” or “dynamic,” are danger words. If you are going to use them, back them up with a “dynamite” performance.
The Hub Bio Project
To provide live help in crafting your first biography, I’ll be running the Bio Project on The Hub during the month of October. Become a Hub member, set up a full artist profile with your fledgling bio and join the project. I’ll be answering questions all month, as time permits, with a focus on questions that best help the group.
To recap, here’s an outline of what to consider in gathering information and ordering your first biography. We’ll be following this as a guide in the project.
The Artist Bio: Outline
- Part One:
- The intro with a statement of your “distinguished” qualities
- Top career highlights and honors
- Media quotes
- Part Two:
Your Upcoming Season
- Highlights (or all) of the current season, including performances, projects and recordings
- Part Three: Your History
- Education and teachers
- Honors and Awards
- Personal information