Subscribers Dan and Patricia both recently asked about effective band/performer bios and promotional blurbs.
So….let’s dive in.
I’m going to work on an artist bio below, and we’ll end up with a bunch of key takeaways for yours as well.
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.
Thorough, insightful and the push I needed to help a friend. Thank you for taking the time to create & share this.
Hey! I wrote a short bio-inspired by this article!
“Gary Albert takes audiences on captivating, magical and awe-inspiring sonic journeys with what has been called “… a multi-instrumental dream” and “… a cosmic one-man symphony”.
The lines are blurred between a poetic neoclassical, impressionistic sound that is uniquely his own, with an emotional electronic and goose-bump-inducing cinematic flair.
Balancing a timeless sense of organic instrumentation with his fluttering flutes, pulsing pianos and velvet vocals, all combined with expertly nuanced looping, layering and dreamy FX, this compelling musical cocktail invites you to sit back and drink in a riveting and emotionally arresting live performance experience to remember”.
Glad it was helpful!
Hey folks – I just published a new YouTube video on writing a bio. Hope this is handy for you! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10vZ_1TENkI
Very helpful, educating & eye-opening. I liked the distinction you made between promo materials & Bio. Good point. Also the analysis of their bio. An interesting point here is that they didn’t mention any band member personally nor his biography ( shouldn’t a Bio include some Biography ? ) but maybe it is unnecessary…I don’t know. The 2nd 50 words version is the killer one in my opinion. Great intro. You’ve earned a new reader 🙂
Thanks for the kind comments, and yes, a longer-length bio can certainly include personal info on the musicians.
Glad it was helpful!
Currently writing my artistic history now. Currently never thought it would be so hard to do. I’ve never bragged on myself before just for others. This will be the first one.
Hi Dave! I’ve been hired to write bios for a few bands for the first time and I was looking for something that would help me figure out how to plan out my rough drafts, I found this article to be incredibly helpful. What I most appreciate is the editing breakdown in each paragraph and the tips on what to focus on and cut the unnecessary things. I feel prepared to take on these assignments and turn in the best bios possible. Thank you so much!
You’re very welcome! Good luck with the bios.
What I most appreciate is the editing breakdown in each paragraph as well as the suggestion for a short, medium, and long bio. I love words and despise the TLDR culture but alas, here we are!!! You also confirm the need to highlight personality which is how I write bios! Thanks for your time.
Thanks for the good words, Alysia!
Hey Dave. Thanks for your great articles and spot on advice. I needed to write a short artist bio this week, and knew exactly where to turn to figure out what I should do. Following your blog has certainly helped me get a lot more work as a storyteller. I am grateful.
Awesome, Darrin. That makes it all worthwhile!
Thanks so much for this great post. I’m revising my bio, but was getting stuck. Your guidance is a real help.
Glad it was useful, Afi, and good luck with your bio!
Great article! I found this through a google search, and it has definitely been the most helpful for me in working on my bio! I feel weird putting myself forward sometimes and worry about coming across as boastful. That pointer of making the bio about the people who will be hearing my music really helped me to put my writing into perspective and got me over the hurdle to actually write it! In hindsight, my old bio was basically the epitome of what you said not to do, and now I think I will have something much more engaging
Awesome, Nate! Best of luck with it…
Right from the first comment I knew you nailed it. Another excellent post with truly useful advice. If musicians, songwriters, performers, artists of any kind, read this post they would have more success promoting themselves. Once again: thanks. 🙂
You are very welcome Naomi!
I always love your posts and think you were spot on with the suggestions and revisions in the bio example. However, I have to disagree with you on 2 points regarding what the reader doesn’t care about…Who you’ve shared the stage with and Radio airplay. As long as you have opened for and/or toured with a National act I think that is very relevant and adds credibility to an act. Obviously if you have just played with other “local bands” I agree…don’t out it in there but if it’s a National act and especially if you’ve shared the stage with several different ones I think it can “one up” you from other acts. Regarding Radio play…yes not quite AS relevant but obviously if you are booking a show in say Lincoln Nebraska and not from the area but a local or College station in the area is playing the heck out of your music that alone could make or break the difference as to whether a venue books you there.
I do agree with you though as I see MANY bios that say way too much “amateur” sounding things like they won a grade school singing contest etc… Again, love your stuff just wanted to share my input based on my experience as well ;), cheers
Hey Chris – great to hear from you, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. And you bring up a great point in terms of different things mattering in different situations. The Lincoln NE example is spot on – I was thinking more in terms of the kinds of gigs I do in regional arts centers, libraries, community events, etc, but for a touring musician it would be a different set of concerns.
Yes, makes sense. Either way you brought up great points 🙂
What a cool article, it’s so helpful to my blog
This is very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share this
Happy to Chris, thanks for letting me know.
We appreciate your dedication and support to the music community.
Johnny Bash (vocalist) & David Aaron V.O. & Tap dancer talent
This is what I av been looking for.
That’s great to hear, beatbox5.
Wow, just skimming this article has provided me with invaluable info. I’m gonna dissect this thing and absorb all the goodness I can get out if it, Thank you so much for answering what I thought was a simple question and all the subsequent followup questions I would have had from a lesser article.
Glad you found this Derrick!
Thank you for your permanent help to musicians needing advice.
I wish I had enough time to read everything you publish.
Probably, I have to learn a lot more to apply your suggestions to my own needs.
As a free-lance orchestra conductor, it sems to me that I miss a supporting network, money and fame.
-a network : if I write (or call, or even sometimes meet) people, it is never as efficient as when someone else recommends me, especially if he (or she) has some kind of power.
-money : that goes without saying. In any field, with money one opens all doors, gets the press articles needed, TV shows and the like.
-fame : especially in the field of conducting, be famous (for any good or bad reason) is much more important than be good. Who knows the difference between a great conductor and a baton shaker ? Only the musicians in the orchestra. No journalist, no political man, no decision maker ever asked the opinion of the musicians…
If you set a monkey in front of the New York Philharmonic, the orchestra will play anyway. Maybe less greatly than with a true conductor, but it will play.
So, we face an unfair competition.
I did not find the true way yet…
Greatly appreciate this blog Dave! What it impressed on me is my need to compress / focus / feature what I do best.
And I looked up the Rukus Jug Band Stompers on youtube–they do look like a lot of fun!
And I did find all of the Ohio source material you suggested.
Enjoying your posts. Thanks again.