Writing A Bio

A bio is the cement that holds your presentation together, creates an immediate identity, brands a style and leads the reader directly to the music. Ideally, your bio should be applicable for multiple purposes: to serve as a key ingredient in your press kit, as an essential element on the homepage of your website, on all of your social media, and as an easy introduction to bookers, journalists, fans and the music business at large. You can request professional bio services from Dan Kimpel by filling out the form on the contact page.

Recording artists, songwriters, performers, producers and composers all benefit from well-written bios. "Send me a link to your bio and music," is usually the first request you'll get!

In this age of cut and paste online journalism, a writer will often appropriate every single word of your bio, tack their byline on it, and submit it to a website or other electronic outlet. Having a finely tailored bio ideally allows you as the artist, or your management and publicity team, to control this narrative.

WRITER BEWARE:

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 P!nk, combined with the melodicism of Lady Gaga...” This tells us nothing about the subject. She’d certainly need to be a mind-blowing, powerhouse artist to rank comparison to this triumvirate. Using others as reference points displays a “wannabe” attitude and is patently misleading.

5. Be aware that certain tired phrases that will trigger the hype meter, especially in overworked journalists who are endlessly subjected to fevered and effusive prose. “Eagerly anticipated,” “critically-acclaimed,” and “best kept secret” are three such onerous offenders. Other overused twaddle might include “unique” (who isn’t?) and “quickly becoming a household name.” Eeeek!

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. Avoid 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 that reflect questionable luster will make you appear fraudulent and marginal.

8. Music is not generic. Name and claim your musical style, and let the bio reflect the category. A seething, pierced, metal core 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 in this way.

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 be dismayed by your lack of credits. For a new artist without significant history, it is usually better to emphasize elements of your personality, creative process, or an interesting fact about your upbringing or inspiration, but only if it relates to your music.

13. It you’re not comfortable as a writer, don’t attempt to write your own bio; it 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 they can capture your music, and your individuality, in sparkling prose. Don’t be intimidated, and make sure the writer will be amenable to changes, corrections and rewrites until you’re satisfied.

SOME EXAMPLES

In creating a bio for the legendary Grammy-Award winners Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, I dropped the hammer on their miraculous achievements up front:

“As creators of over 100 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums -- 16 Number One pop hits, 25 Number One R&B smashes, plus three Grammies with seven nominations -- Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are rightfully acknowledged as the most prolific hit makers in modern music history.

But these colossal numbers and sterling accolades simply illuminate one frame within a much larger picture. Statistics aside, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' indelible mark on modern pop and soul has given the music a dignity and a richness that is a blessing to audiences worldwide. The Minneapolis, Minnesota natives, in collaboration with a slate of superlative artists, have redefined R&B and pop music by distilling the purest essence of its rhythmic soul and infusing it into luminous productions and equally stunning songs.”

Big & Rich as iconic country artists, required a similarly grandiose approach:

“A band, a brand, a bond and a brotherhood: Big Kenny Alphin and John Rich – Big & Rich – have blazed an indelible mark on modern country music, not simply by breaking rules, but by setting them on fire. Captivating a multi-generational community of listeners with their sterling songcraft and recorded performances, now a decade and a half into a storied career they tour the country for over 100+ dates annually, presenting electrifying concert spectacles of ceaseless energy and outrageous personality.”

Of course not everyone I write about has such illustrious credits. For indie artist Arielle Silver, I began by focusing on her musical and philosophical traits:

“Arielle Silver crafts songs that are luminous, literate, and alive. A Thousand Tiny Torches, the singer-songwriter’s new Indie Folk Americana collection, is a testament to her renewal of inspiration, the rekindling of dreams, and the redemptive power and connective compassion that defines her artistry.”

Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based Parker Bossley has a compelling backstory that I included about halfway through his bio:

“Living an itinerant existence, Parker wrote his new songs while living in Airbnb digs – including an RV with a leaky roof parked in Lincoln Park in East Los Angeles, where sporadic gunshots would provide the backbeat. “On my daily neighborhood walks I would get called out as ‘Duran Duran guy’ thanks to my flamboyant outfits,” he remembers. “Fortunately, LA winters are pretty dry and it was very cheap – I could live off of 50 cent tacos.”

I utilize a quote from Nashville singer-songwriter Letitia VanSant along with song descriptions to establish her point of view on her indie release The Circadian:

“As a songwriter, Letitia VanSant utilizes exacting imagery as she details a crawlspace under the stairs; stubborn roots of English ivy vines; boxed wine and stories over candle-lit card games. “I have a lot of respect for classic country songwriters who have a point that’s really focused,” she explains. “They dig deep down and express it with just a few words. I aspire to being understandable from the song itself. It’s a miracle that we’re on this planet and alive, and can vibrate the world with music. I want to share these moments of gratitude.”

For Roscoe & Etta, I needed to establish in the first paragraph that they were a new duo with individual histories, and how they chose a collective name for their pairing:

“With ornery tuning keys and rattling fret boards, Roscoe and Etta are a pair of aged arch top guitars possessing wills of their own. Anna Schulze and Maia Sharp are two singer-songwriter-producers who play these instruments and claim title to their names as Roscoe & Etta, on their eponymous debut.”

Rock Bands benefit from forceful imagery:

“A band and an audience united in one inseparable union of musical thunder and sensational spectacle: Welcome to the world of Beasto Blanco. Whether illuminated in the spotlights of cavernous arenas or headlining packed theaters and clubs on their recent “Monstrous Things” tour, the band’s mission is unwavering: to create an immersive experience where everyone is welcome to join an extended family whose support is unconditional and authentic.”

I hope these brief examples give you an idea of what makes an effective bio. Keep in mind that 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 and it that it represents will share these same adverse qualities.

- Dan Kimpel