Subscribers Dan and Patricia both recently asked about effective band/performer bios and promotional blurbs.
So….let’s dive in.
(Rather watch/listen to this article? Click on the video below.)
How to Write a Killer Musician Bio
(For storytellers and performing artists too…)
If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you’ve heard me say “make it about THEM, not you” more times than you’d care to recall.
And still, I see almost nobody doing this.
There’s a huge opportunity to stand out from the crowd when you begin with the audience in mind – what does your READER care about?
Even when writing something as “all about you” as your bio or publicity blurbs, start with them.
Things Your Reader DOESN’T Care About:
- the awards you’ve won (unless directly relevant)
- who you’ve “shared the stage with”
- your formal training
- the names of each CD you’ve released
- your radio airplay
Not that those things are not important – they are – and you’ll want to use many of them to your benefit in your promo materials.
But those aren’t the things that are going to inspire anyone to take action and book you, or come see you perform.
There has to be something in it for them.
Things Your Reader DOES Cares About:
- will it be fun for the audience?
- if fun doesn’t apply, will it be compelling?
- is this act professional?
- will people like it and come out to support it?
- have other people liked it in the past?
- is it a good fit for us?
Working on a Musician’s Bio
With the above in mind, let’s take a look at a bio that was sent to me recently as a rough draft by one of my subscribers.
I’m going to print it verbatim, and offer my comments and suggestions for some improvements.
My general thoughts appear below the bio, and specific comments are in red throughout.
The RUCKUS JUICE JUG STOMPERS have been bringing their old-time, good-time jug band music to audiences in western New York since 2008. Hailed as “America’s happiest music,” jug band music has its roots in the country blues, old-time folk, and early jazz traditions of American music. (STOP RIGHT THERE – I would reverse those first two sentences and sell the reader on the idea of jug band music in the very first line. Keep in mind that some percentage of your readers will drop off with every single sentence in your bio – yes, we’re all pretty lazy and distracted – so you want to sell them IMMEDIATELY on the idea that you are offering something special, and in your case, really fun, and there’s a good reason to keep reading. Sentence #1 doesn’t do that, but sentence #2 sure does.) The band’s captivating, high-energy performances transport audiences back in time as RUCKUS JUICE blends musicianship, creativity and tradition. (Love that you are talking about what the audience will experience.) It’s a “bottomless barrel of musical ear candy” in the words of one eloquent fan. Fans tell the band time and time again that they loved dancing, stomping, singing and kazooing along, too! (I might lose the “fans tell the band” line, as it’s not as credible as the other stuff, but the description of what the audience does during a show is a keeper – how about combining that with sentence #3 so it it reads “…..as RUCKUS JUICE keeps them dancing, stomping, singing, ….”)
Like any traditional jug band, (First five words not needed and possibly work against you – you don’t necessarily want to be “like any traditional jug band”) the JUG STOMPERS’ instrumentation juxtaposes (The next four words aren’t necessary either – attention spans are short – I might start the paragraph right here with “Juxtaposing homespun instruments (jug, washboard, and kazoos) with traditional string band instruments (banjo, guitar, doghouse bass, fiddle and the less-traditional banjolin) (combine previous sentence with next sentence) This is a band that knows how to entertain. Audience members have described the RUCKUS JUICE JUG STOMPERS as “excellent musicianship combined with entertaining showpersonship,” “upbeat music with catchy lyrics that make people of all ages want to sing along,” “high energy with a feel-good vibe,” and “lots good-natured fun.” The RUCKUS JUICE JUG STOMPERS are led by a three-time winner of Rochester’s Best Busker competition, and every performer in the band exudes a love of music. It’s not unusual for the unusual to happen at RUCKUS JUICE’s loose and free-spirited performances—you never know when they’ll bust out a wacky instrument or special guest musicians will hop up and raise a ruckus with them. (Love all this, a little worried about the unsubstantiated quotes but I think they work here. Over time, I would replace those with attributable quotes like “The Rochester D&C said xyz about the band.” I’m also a little concerned that some great lines are buried midway through the paragraph. If there’s a way to bring out the “best busker” line, for instance, that is strong “social proof” that you guys are talented and fun. I said earlier that mentioning awards you’ve won is not usually a priority in a bio, but the exception is when it’s DIRECTLY RELEVANT TO WHAT YOU’RE “SELLING” – in this case, you have been recognized as an exceptional “busker,” which greatly increases the likelihood that your band is a lot of fun. If you’d won “best male vocalist in the 2018 Rochester Music Awards,” that doesn’t necessarily support what you’re promoting, which is a good time.)
The RUCKUS JUICE JUG STOMPERS formed when like-minded musicians kept running into each other on Bluegrass Tuesdays at Johnny’s Irish Pub and decided to form a jug band. They cobbled their name together from a line in a Memphis Jug Band song about some particularly potent moonshine (pronounced “roo-kus juice”) and dubbed themselves JUG STOMPERS to pay homage to Gus Cannon. (I would reverse first two sentences here also. #2 is more compelling than #1, and may answer a question in your reader’s mind. You could even start the paragraph with “So what IS ruckus juice?”) The band draws its repertoire from nearly a century of musical history, true to the traditional canon of jug band music from the 1920s and ‘30s and the revival of the ‘60s, and influenced by the more contemporary music of the latest half-century. Ever-evolving, the band also peppers in several original compositions that feel like they could have been written long ago. Fans appreciate what they’ve called a “clever and eclectic repertoire” and “a great laundry list of standards that patrons of all ages can enjoy!”
Over the past decade, the RUCKUS JUICE JUG STOMPERS have performed at many clubs, breweries, wineries and cideries in western New York. The band has more festivals than they can count under their belt, including the Lilac Festival, the Real Beer Expo, Steampunk Festival, Park Ave Fest, Ribfest, Clothesline Arts Fest, I-Square Fall Festival and the Canandaigua Arts & Music Fest. (Ditto for this paragraph – sentence 2 is stronger than sentence 1. More gigs than you can count beats “have performed at many clubs, breweries, etc” any day.) The RUCKUS JUICE JUG STOMPERS have been invited back for performances at neighborhood events, local festivals, senior living facilities, residential facilities for at-risk youth, summer camps and school art shows. (Invited back is key! If there’s a way to combine the first three sentences into two, then sentence one is all about more gigs than you can count, and sentence two is all about being invited back) Crowds enjoy the “historical and hysterical commentary on songs, band banter, [and] accepting requests.” One of the highest compliments we receive is that we are asked to play fans’ private parties and weddings. (You switched to first person here – saying “we” – bios should always be written in the third person as if you’re talking about some entity other than yourself, as you did in the rest of this bio. I also think this last sentence is a bit too unsubstantiated and generally sounds less professional than the rest.)
General Thoughts on This Band Bio
It’s Really Well Written!
Kudos. Covers lots of bases, plenty of variety, and written in a very accessible style. Also took the needs of the reader in mind.
It Piqued My Interest a Number of Times
You guys sound professional but also FUN, which, for the type of music you perform, is ideal. Made me want to see you perform.
It’s Damn Long!
I’d suggest preparing three versions of this bio – short, medium, and long.
(Most people will never get past the short version.)
You want to make it dead simple for media, bookers, and potential audience to get a very quick handle on what you’re about.
There will be a place for the long version (I’m thinking of your website, a concert program, festival booklet, etc), but I suspect something shorter and punchier will be used far more often.
Sample Short Band Bios
(~50 words) Hailed as “America’s happiest music,” jug band music has its roots in the country blues, old-time folk, and early jazz traditions of American music. The Ruckus Juice Jug Stompers, led by a three-time winner of Rochester’s Best Busker competition, dares their audiences not to sing, dance, stomp, and even kazoo along!
Or, how about this?
(~50 words) What happens when the three-time winner of Rochester’s Best Busker competition assembles a jug band to perform “America’s happiest music” with all manner of banjolins, washboards, kazoos, and fiddles? Well, people dance, stomp, and sing. A lot. This is The Ruckus Juice Jug Stompers.
How to Make a Medium Length Artist Bio
(80-100 words or so) Take the short version of your bio and add some social proof (quotes, high profile gigs, etc), show some humor (if appropriate) or personality, mention some of the more intriguing or unusual instruments that you play, or your unique repertoire.
(My own band‘s bio starts “With three voices, 55 strings and a pair of cow bones, The Canal Street String Band puts a brand-new shine on some seriously fun old American music.”)
More or less what we ended up with above, but I might give the second, third and fourth paragraphs each a heading, just to make it a bit easier to digest.
Something like “A RUCKUS JUICE PERFORMANCE” (para. 2), “BAND ORIGINS AND ETHOS” (para. 3), and “BAND EXPERIENCE” (para. 4)
Writing an Artist Bio: Other Considerations
Some other thoughts and suggestions for writing (or improving) your own bio:
- be intriguing
- show personality
- tell a story – people are wired to respond to them
- write each sentence with one objective – to get the reader to the next sentence
- did I mention to make it about them? who are you writing for and what do they (or their audiences) get out of a booking with you?
One More (Great) Idea
Many thanks to Dan Walpole, author of the rough draft above, for the following idea, which I love.
“Going to a website like WordArt.com to create a word cloud of my draft of my bio helped me see which words were used frequently and what themes might emerge if someone skims my bio. I then played around a bit with the art and generated several random ones until I found a juxtaposition that struck my fancy. I’m still not sure what I’d do with it, but here it is, in case it’s of interest to you.
As the TLDR (“too long, didn’t read”) culture emerges, this may be the new bio.”
I feel like this word cloud accomplishes several important things really well:
- it conveys what you do almost instantly
- it demonstrates some level of creativity and/or taste
- it gives visual learners something very accessible
So why not make one of these to visually accompany your bio?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. The “Comments” section is just below.
About The Blog
Since leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.
Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.
The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.