An artist bio is the narrative that leads people from your work– music, dance, painting or whatever– to you. It satisfies the natural curiosity that is aroused when people dig what you do. It helps fans and industry types get a better sense of who you are, where you’ve been and what you’re all about. Ideally, a great bio will highlight your accomplishments and also celebrate your unique humanity.
Because I’ve worked on both the publicity and booking sides of the music business, I’ve read hundreds of musician and band bios. Many of them read something like this:
Paul graduated with a degree in music from Brain University. He received his MFA in Trombone History from the esteemed Academy of Big Ideas and his Doctorate of Trombonology at the world-renowned Conservatory of Wind. As a member of the band Sock It To Me, he toured the world and played at various famous festivals such as the World BoneBop Festival of Mumbai and La Fiesta del Trombón in Juarez. After six years with Sock It To Me, Paul launched his solo career. His first CD “Low Drone to the Moon” received positive reviews and spent 15 weeks as the number one new album on the National Trombone Radio charts. Paul is currently in the studio recording his follow-up CD “Blow That” and will soon be leaving for a seven week tour across Florida.
This tells us a lot about Paul’s credentials and accomplishments but doesn’t really give us much insight into Paul. (My first question would be: “Why the trombone?”) Don’t get me wrong, inclusion of what one of my clients aptly refers to as the “pedigrees” is super important. Artists work hard and their bios should reflect that. But when a bio is nothing more than bullet points disguised as a narrative, it begins to sound like an adult in a Peanuts cartoon: “Mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah….”
Your bio is more than your resume. It’s your story.
Most people use their bios for websites and/or promotional purposes. Of course, part of the goal is to establish credibility, especially if the person reading it is in a position to advance your artistic efforts. (i.e. program managers, concert promoters, curators, etc.) But while making a professional impression is important, establishing a human connection is equally so. I firmly believe that at their core, people want to feel it. There is something innately powerful when you relate to another person’s humanity, even if you have not shared their exact same experiences. I think of these little sparks of recognition as soul anchors. We’re all looking for them, whether consciously or unconsciously. In terms of a bio, anytime your story resonates with another person, even the least bit, it creates an opening. It makes you more accessible. It packs a bigger punch.
In that vein, Paul’s bio might read something like this:
When Paul was four-years old, he had a habit of running away from his mother in the grocery store. During one particular shopping trip, Paul’s mother gave him a toy trombone as a bribe to get him to stick close to her. Paul was enthralled with the exciting sounds that came out of his new toy. He blew and tooted up and down the produce aisle. Thus began a lifelong passion.
Paul’s childhood was spent taking trombone lessons from the music director at the family’s church, listening to Raul de Souza recordings and playing in various school bands. After high school, Paul entered Brain University, where he studied music theory by day and performed in a lounge band at the Red Lion Inn by night. After graduating with a Bachelor of Music, Paul went on to receive an MFA in Trombone History from the Academy of Big Ideas and a Doctorate of Trombonology from the renowned Conservatory of Wind.
Although he enjoyed his time in academia, Paul was hungry for more opportunities to perform. He landed a gig with the famous Cincinnati funk trombone band Sock It To Me, led by Grammy nominated trombonist Jack Weed. During his six-year run with the band, Paul toured extensively and performed at prestigious festivals such as World BoneBopFestival of Mumbai and La Fiesta del Trombón in Juarez. In 2009, Paul left Sock It To Me to pursue a solo career. Inspired by the tonal similarities between whales and trombones, Paul wrote and recorded “Low Drone to the Moon.” This debut CD is a 15-track collection that features contrabass trombone, didgeriddo and synthesized whale vocalizations. The recording received sparkling reviews and spent 15-weeks as the number one new album on the National Trombone Radio charts. Paul’s follow-up CD “Blow That” is schedule for release in December. He also has plans for a seven-week tour across Florida. The first performance is scheduled for January 11th in Chattahoochee.
Of course, this second sample is a playful exaggeration and, structurally-speaking, would have been crafted a little differently were it a real bio. But the point is it gives us a tad more insight into Paul and what his artistic trajectory has been. It also makes note of his accomplishments. There are certainly more formal situations that call for a succinct, fact-based bio void of colorful details. I don’t dispute that. But in most cases, the full arc of the story can unfold, including both pertinent facts and personal anecdotes. The key is in the balance between the two.
I recently had a spirited discussion with a marketing copywriter. She is of the opinion that writing a bio is about rolling out the bling, dropping the big names and firing up the bright lights. If the sole intention is to impress, then I don’t necessarily disagree with her. But sometimes too much razzle dazzle can feel suspect. Substance is called into question. The story has to be grounded in something. While I have never had a client ask me to outright fabricate elements of his/her bio, I have had people ask me to embellish the story so they appear more important. What’s unfortunate about this is that people shortchange themselves. They don’t give themselves credit for being the unique individuals that they are. They don’t give their life experience the weight it deserves. People are infinitely more interesting than they believe themselves to be. And the trouble with embellishment is that it moves things away from authenticity, which in my mind is essential to a strong bio.
Our humanity is no small thing. In fact, it is fundamental to our expression and to our accomplishments. Stories have a natural flow and rhythm. When crafted with care and intention, they present a balanced picture of what we do and who we are. The Tao of the Bio allows us to blow their minds and wiggle into their hearts.
“Who you are is always right.”
– Deng Ming-Dao