Itís how you introduce yourself to the press. Itís your calling card at the
door of a venue youíd really like to play. It represents you. Itís the artist
bio, and I read hundreds of them a year. Only a few of them stand out, some
because theyíre exceptionally well written, and others for just the opposite
By Jennifer Layton
What makes a great artist bio? Writing that makes the artistís personality
or style leap off the page at me. Writing that makes me want to play the CD
immediately because the artist now has my attention. If I read your bio, and
it makes me pull your CD out of the pile of 57 CDs on the floor of my office
and play it right away, youíve written a great bio.
Before you get discouraged, keep in mind that you donít have to be a brilliant
writer to put together an effective bio. When putting yours together, just keep
the following issues in mind.
Here are three major mistakes to avoid in writing your bio:
1. Hyperbole. I have actually received bios containing straight-faced statements
that this artist is the most creative musician in the history of music. Or the
most skilled guitar player in the world. Or (my personal favorite) the most
unique artist ever. These statements set the artist up for unfortunate comparisons,
because the reviewer will then listen to the album and think, ďheís not the
most skilled guitar player in the world! Clapton is much better. Soís Page.
In fact, soís that kid across the street in the garage band ... ď
2. Cliches. Artist bios have their own set of empty, tired phrases that get
used all the time and tell readers nothing. ďJane Smith is a truly gifted artist.Ē
ďJohn Doe has a unique style all his own.Ē ďThis music is a breath of fresh
air.Ē I can usually take sentences like this if they are then followed by specific,
descriptive examples, but most of the time, they stand alone, saying nothing.
3. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Start with spell-check. Then
get several friends to look it over. Have the guy at Kinkoís look it over. Have
your dog look it over. Shell out a few bucks for a professional editor to look
it over. You donít want to make the wrong impression. When I first started writing
for Indie-Music.com, I got a bio from an artist who described himself as an
intelligent folk singer/songwriter, and the word ďintelligentĒ was misspelled.
Donít be afraid to let your sense of humor shine through. When artists use
humor in their bio, theyíre telling me they enjoy what they do, and while they
may take their music and career seriously, they donít take themselves too seriously.
Without humor, your bio can sound like a resume for a regular day job. I get
the idea, reading some bios, that the artist is afraid to use any humor because
they think reviewers wonít take them seriously. I understand that concern. Just
remember that youíre not applying for a job at Citibank. Youíre selling something
artistic and spiritual, something that reflects your soul. Youíre putting yourself
into your music, and youíre trying to get someone else to listen. Relax and
In some rare cases, humor is not appropriate. If Iím getting a CD from a political
folk singer whose songs are about suffering and injustice, then humor in her
bio would be a little jarring.
A lot of the bios I read follow the same rigid formats (these are my influences,
this is my contact information, this is my CD), and I have a couple of theories
on why that happens. Itís not because the artists lack imagination. Itís because:
1. In school, they teach you to write a resume. Thatís about it. Unless you
go to a school for the arts, the only way you learn to sell yourself is with
a professional resume thatís about as rigid and dull as you can get. Hereís
where I went to school, here are my skills, here are my hobbies, etc. If an
artist is brave enough to ditch the day job and try to write an artist bio,
Iím not at all surprised that he goes for what he knows Ė writing a resume.
2. Again, the artist is afraid that if he doesnít come across as totally professional,
we reviewers wonít take him seriously. So he writes a dry and serious resume
and loosens the structure a bit so itís in paragraph form. But itís still a
resume, just like they taught him in school.
So how can the artist stand out? Simply by ditching the resume and being himself.
Iíve received bios in the form of poetry, lyrics, and self-interviews. For a
great example of a self-interview, check out comedian Brian Reganís web site.
The direct link is http://www.brianregan.com/q_and_a.html.
Heís a goofy yet smart comedian, so he wrote a self-interview thatís goofy and
smart. He does have a separate bio on the site with more relevant information
about himself and his career, so an artist can just combine the two by writing
a self-interview that contains all the relevant information without sounding
like a job interview.
Know Your Audience
As a freelance writer, I have four bios. I still get occasional requests for
humor columns, so I have the humor bio, and then I have three versions of my
indie music journalism bio.
An artist should be ready to tailor the artist bio for specific audiences. If
an artist is sending her press kit to a festival promoter in hopes of getting
a performing slot, and the festival theme focuses on political songwriting,
she could edit her bio to highlight her songs that have political themes. If
sheís a political activist, she should definitely make sure her bio mentions
it. However, if the festival is about funny songwriters, and she has a bunch
of funny songs (this would be a manic-depressive kind of artist), she could
tailor her bio to include the fact that she opened a few shows on the last Weird
Al Yankovic tour.
On a more basic level, if you're sending the bio to a venue booking agent in
hopes of getting a gig, his/her needs may vary substantially from those of a
review writer at a magazine, or a radio station DJ, or a concert promoter. For
instance, a venue booker needs to know who you sound like, what other shows
you've played, if you have a large enough PA, and most importantly, if you have
a big enough audience to fill his venue. He may be more interested in your promo
photo and demo CD than your bio. The point is, the more you tailor your bio
(and entire promo package) to the recipient, the better the results will be.
Get to Know You!
So how do you get started? If youíre at a total loss about what makes you
stand out, pick up a tape recorder and interview yourself. Your example here
is Jimmy Rabbitte from the movie The Commitments. Rabbitte interviews himself
out loud all the time, even in front of other people. You donít have to be that
brash, but interviewing yourself can help you find your angle and what kind
of image you want to present.
Write a list of questions you would ask your favorite artist. Then pick up a
tape recorder or use your computerís recording software and answer the questions.
Imagine youíre being interviewed for Rolling Stone. Be yourself. Bring up relevant
stories from your childhood. Talk about the worst gig you ever had. Talk about
the best gig. Talk about what inspires you. Talk about whoís on your CD player
Then play it back. Any common themes in your answers? Any interesting angles?
Any ideas for how to format the bio? When I write artist bios, I get my best
ideas when reviewing my notes after interviewing the artist.
Still Need Help?
If youíre still stuck, surf around to other artistsí web sites and read their bios for
ideas. Ask them who wrote their bios. Donít be afraid to reach out and ask questions.
With the right resources, you can show the world a bio thatís as creative and
interesting as your music!