Dan Kimpel was kind enough to add his tips on writing an excellent band / artist biography to The Music Snob wiki, which we are featuring here because it’s a very popular article…Hope it gives you some good ideas for your own bios!
Writing a Great Band or Artist Biography
A bio is the cement that holds your presentation together, creates your identity, brands your style and leads the reader directly to the music. Ideally, your bio should be applicable for multiple purposes: a key ingredient in your press kit, an essential element on the homepage of your website and as an easy introduction to bookers, journalists, fans and the music business at large. Music people are intuitive about press and publicity materials, and if a bio is non-existent, shoddy, poorly written, off-putting or amateurish, odds are the music it represents will share these same adverse qualities. Keep in mind that if you are using your bio to generate press, oft-times overworked and underpaid journalists with lift the exact phrases and words in your bio for articles and reviews.
Recording artists, songwriters, musicians, composers, performers and producers all benefit from having well tailored, professional bios. In this article MC advises your how to create an effective bio in reverse, by advising you what not to do.
1. Don’t tell, show. Beware the hackneyed cliché, the imprecise metaphor, and the goofy, strained adjective. “Joe Jones is a brilliant artist,” or “Sue Smith is destined for stardom,” are lame and off-putting. The bio must lead the reader to his own conclusions. Telling a reader what to feel or think may lead to the exact opposite impression.
2. Avoid the time machine. “She began playing piano at the tender age of four, and by age five….” Instant naptime. Begin your bio in the present, and then go back in time, but only so far as the story is fascinating. Beware dating yourself: if you’ve had an extensive career, you may want to be non-specific about years and simply summarize the main points and experiences.
3. “After a successful career in the marketing business, he decided to return to his first love, music.” Career choices that have nothing to do with music are needless distractions in a written bio. They may also illustrate a meandering, indecisive path. Music professionals don’t want to know how about your straight job. Do not include facts that don’t impact the music. For instance, it may be pertinent to say you ride horses if you have songs about horses, or have written songs while riding horses or can draw some correlation between horses and music. Otherwise, leave those horses in the pasture. Information about your educational background, work experience, broken marriage, prison term or dysfunctional childhood should be referenced only as it relates to your music.
4. Beware of grandiose comparisons. “Susie Stiletto combines the sensitivity of Joni Mitchell fused to the aggressive lyricism of Alanis Morissette, combined with the melodicism of Sheryl Crow.” This tells us nothing about the subject and she’d certainly need to be a mind-blowing, powerhouse artist to rank comparison to this triumvirate. Using others as reference points projects a “wannabe” status.
5. Be aware that certain tired phrases that will trigger the hype meter. “Eagerly anticipated,” “critically-acclaimed,” and “best kept secret” are three such onerous offenders. Other overused terms include “unique” (who isn’t?) and “passionate.”
6. Check all spellings and grammatical uses, especially if you’re planning on using your bio to solicit reviews or features in the press. Bad copy is galling to those whose livelihood is the written word. Keep your words in the “active tense” i.e. “John Smith incites his audience,” as opposed to the passive: “the audience is incited by John Smith.”
7. Exaggerating or outright lying. Being on the preliminary Grammy ballot does not deem you “Grammy-nominated.” Likewise, charts no one has ever heard of and awards with questionable luster will make you appear suspect and marginal.
8. Being generic and safe. Name and claim your musical style, and let the bio reflect the category. A seething, pierced, neo-punk aggregation and a soothing, cerebral instrumental artist can’t possibly share the same metaphors. Your bio must speak to the reader in the exact same voice as your music. Speaking of voices, interjecting direct quotes is a device that established artists have in their bios to lend immediacy and fire to the piece. Consider having your own words describe your music.
9. Too much verbiage is a turn-off. A one-page bio is standard length; a longer bio is fine only if your story warrants the additional pages. Otherwise, less is more.
10. Not keeping it current. Your bio, just like your pictures and the other elements in your press kit and website, need to be kept up to date.
11. Not keeping it to a standard format. Although you may be tempted to let your creativity run wild with stylized, fictionalized prose, it may be off-putting or confusing to your readers.
12. Don’t puff up your credits. For a new artist without significant history, it is preferable to emphasize elements of your personality, creative process, or an interesting fact about your upbringing or inspiration, but again, only if it relates to and is reflected in your music.
It you’re not comfortable as a writer, penning your own bio may be as frustrating and fruitless as trying to take your own pictures. Hiring a pro that understands the marketplace and your music is a worthwhile investment. Although you may be tempted to ask a friend with journalism experience to assist you, make sure that he or she can capture your music, and your individuality, in sparkling prose specific to music. Don’t be intimidated, and make sure the writer will be amenable to making changes, corrections and rewrites until you’re satisfied; it’s your bio.
About the Author: Dan Kimpel
Dan is the author of best selling music biz books, Electrify My Soul: Songwriters and the Spiritual Source (Cengage/PTR); How They Made it: True Stories of How Music’s Biggest Stars Went from Start to Stardom (Hal Leonard) and Networking Strategies For The New Music Business (ArtistPro/Thomson) the follow up to his best-selling title, Networking in the Music Business. Kimpel has penned over 200 bios for clients ranging from Grammy-Award winning producers to independent artists. For more on bios visit his website.
4 thoughts on “How to Write a Great Band or Artist Biography”
Thanks for this amazing article. I am not sure what a good bio looks like (got any suggestions of an indie artist?), but I sure know I have made every one of these mistakes. Back to the drawing board.
This article should have been titled “What not to do when writing a bio” This didn’t give me any new ideas. It only narrowed the few ideas I already had. I should write an article titled, – How to write a killer “how to write a bio” article- and i’ll just use this as a reference of what not to do.
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