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 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 and producers all benefit from well-written bios. "Send your CD, bio and picture," is usually the first request you'll get!

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. 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.

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 are “unique” (who isn’t?)

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 contain 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, 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 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 he or she 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.

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.“

Of course not everyone I write about has such illustrious credits. For indie artist Tyrone Wells, I began by focusing on his most obvious traits:

“First and foremost there is the voice: a soulful sound improbably channeled through the body of a tall skinny white boy. Meet Tyrone Wells, an artist whose soaring career spans national tours and a burgeoning catalog of songs featured regularly on network television’s most popular shows. Tyrone makes it all work on his own terms, as an audaciously independent artist with an undeniable connection to his audience.”

Sometimes quoting a lyric gets an immediate point across.

“’Maybe I’m just a mental case/Spittin’ in this booth,’ suggests emerging West Coast rapper, DToX. With deft rhymes matched to relentless beats, his music would indicate otherwise as the imaginatively named creator powers up testimony to his thoughtful and provocative brand of urban truth. There is no substitute for authenticity, and in a genre crowded with bling-encrusted poseurs, DToX handily cuts through the clutter with command and vision.”

For Corrinne May, I utilized both a quote and a lyric to make the point:

You keep me flying, you keep me smiling
You keep me safe in a crazy world
You understand me, embrace my fragility
You keep me safe in a crazy world
And in your arms I find the strength
To believe in me again
--"Safe in a Crazy World"

“With accomplished musicianship and exquisite soul, Corrinne May evokes words and music that are both generous and genuine, stories she reveals in a voice of striking purity and undeniable magic.

Her self-titled debut presented a calling card to audiences in the U.S., Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Japan and Singapore. Now, the suite of songs that compromises Safe in a Crazy World extends Corrinne's worldwide appeal as it speaks of her connection to those around her. She explains, ‘With the first record I was pouring out the feelings of being in a new place, searching, leaving the family. The new album is happier, there's more of a feeling of being settled and wanting to be involved with the world.’”

Rafael Moreira needed a bio that bridged all elements of his career:

“Guitarist Rafael Moreira is an intuitive musician whose instincts and passions are balanced by his versatility and technical dexterity. Known to concert and record buying audiences worldwide as a preeminent musician, Rafael recently completed the initial season on-camera as the lead guitarist for the hit CBS series, Rock Star: INXS. Now, with the release of Acid Guitar, his full length CD, Rafael commands center stage as a songwriter, bandleader and vocalist. Concurrently, Rafael is recording and gigging with his rock power trio, Magnetico, at venues including House of Blues and The Roxy in Los Angeles. (Watch for more live dates and download the band’s music at www.myspace.com/magnetico.”

Rock Bands need more forceful imagery:

“Thundering power fused to sparkling accessibility: from the downbeat, Paperback Hero is a band blessed with both strength and intellect, champions of a monumental sound elevated by an endearing, prophetic optimism.”

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 personality it represents will share these same adverse qualities.

- Dan Kimpel