“One must approach music with a serious vigor and, at the same time, with great, affectionate joy.”
–Nadia Boulanger, pianist & composer
The Musician’s Way, p. 292
When listeners, journalists, and concert presenters visit musicians’ websites, they absorb the artists’ personalities via images, media, and bios.
All too often, though, musicians write bios that leave music lovers and concert presenters yawning.
Countless bios, for instance, only list cold facts – where performers grew up, went to school, gave debuts.
Although such info may be important, it doesn’t spark emotion among music lovers, trigger professional interest from presenters, provide quotable text for journalists, nor communicate the passion that drives creativity.
Wouldn’t it be preferable for musicians to convey the distinctive aspects of their work along with supplying biographical data? By doing so, musicians can build deeper relationships with fans and provide presenters and journalists with content to share.
Here’s a 4-step process that I use to help rising artists craft compelling bios.
A 4-Step Process to Write a Musician Bio
Step 1: List Items to Include
As a preliminary step, open a new document and list key facts as well as artistically important items.
- For factual things, you might note awards, performances, premieres, press quotes, recordings, professional milestones, major teachers, and educational attainments.
- Artistic content could encapsulate your artistic mission, describe your style and the genres you perform, reveal unusual stories about you, mention artistic influences, and perhaps offer glimpses into your creative process.
Write freely over several days, maybe in bulletted form, and don’t edit much. Let your ideas flow.
Use the third person because your bio needs to be suited to republication in diverse media outlets.
“Use the third person because your bio needs to be suited to republication in diverse media outlets.”
Step 2: Organize Your List
With ample items noted, organize them in groups, placing the highest-impact material first.
Don’t begin with information about your education or childhood – you’ll typically place such details toward the end of a bio.
You might clump similar items together – e.g., solo performances, ensemble experience, recordings – or you could loosely arrange things in reverse-chronological order, provided that your recent work encapsulates the image you want to convey.
If you’re unsure which organizational structure to use, draft two or more configurations.
“Don’t begin with information about your education or childhood – you’ll typically place such details toward the end of a bio.”
In general, start with things that reveal your artistic qualities and establish your expertise so that impatient readers who only read your first paragraph will grasp your musical achievements and activities.
Most of all, maintain a provisional attitude toward your writing because much of what you list could be cut or reordered in the final step.
Step 3: Compose Possible Openings
Well-written leads pique interest, so they’re the most vital part of any bio. Still, it’s tricky to come up with memorable openers, so I recommend that musicians draft 3-4 different possible leads.
“Well-written leads pique interest, so they’re the most vital part of any bio.”
You might use: A. an accomplishment, a quotation, or an event; B. an action statement; C. an image; D. a curiosity trigger; E. a story.
A. Accomplishment or quotation:
Grand prize winner in the Van Can International Piano Competition, . . . Or: Praised by the New York Times for her “velvety tone and sweeping drama” . . . Or: During the 2017-2018 season, soprano Elena Stone will make her Metropolitan Opera debut in the role of Violetta . . .
B. Action or identity statement:
Coloratura soprano Carmen Kilowatt sings opera roles and art songs across the US. (This opener would be followed by examples of Carmen’s repertoire and appearances). Action or identity statements are among the simplest and most effective strategies. You begin with a statement that establishes your artistic identity, and then you follow it with examples. Such an opening statement plus examples can total 3 sentences and constitute your initial paragraph.
A concert hall, a school gym, a city park – all places where Michele performs Bach on her cello. Or: Although dogs sometimes howl when Tom plays his trombone, bandleaders have been favorably impressed. (Humor helps communicate your personality, supply information, and draw readers in.) Following your opening image, you’d list key examples.
D. Curiosity trigger:
Taylor Smith is a songwriter on a mission. . . . (Readers then wonder, “What mission?). Or: Is it humanly possible to stitch together a singing career that combines country, opera, and rock? Industry experts say no, but Madeleine Mayhem is proving them wrong. (Readers want to know: “How is she proving them wrong?”).
E. Story with Image:
“Skinny soprano with the big voice.” That’s how Silvia’s mentors described her, which filled her with dread because so many opera-goers favor girth, especially in the closing act. Time and again, though, her voluptuous singing has outweighed her diminutive waistline, earning her leading roles with . . . (Readers remember the image of “Skinny soprano with the big voice” as well as the lighthearted story of Silvia’s career growth, which spur readers to see and hear her sing.)
Openers to Avoid:
- One of the most exciting pianists of his generation . . . Jettison the hype. Instead, show readers what you do and let them decide whether it’s exciting. That said, if a reviewer has used such language to describe you in a publication, you could start with such a quotation, including its attribution.
- Canadian violinist Selmer Selbach . . . A performer’s nationality could be included later in a bio but seldom belongs in a lead unless the performer’s music evokes his or her homeland. E.g., country musicians might mention that they grew up in particular southern or western US states because doing so adds to their authenticity.
- Known for her exquisite tonal beauty and lush interpretations . . . Says who? Skip unattributed characterizations unless you’re a seasoned pro who’s truly known for something.
Step 4: Construct Paragraphs, and then Revise
With your opener in hand, return to your organized list, and link the items following your opener into rough paragraphs. Don’t aim for polished language yet. Just let the words tumble out; you’ll refine your text later.
As a top priority, craft an opening paragraph that can stand on its own so that readers don’t need to read further to understand your style, mission and career level. Such an opening paragraph can then be extracted by concert presenters for use in their brochures and websites. The length typically shouldn’t exceed 3-5 sentences.
“Craft an opening paragraph that can stand on its own.”
Next, refine your prose in many subsequent drafts, and avoid having your paragraphs resemble lists – instead, use the items you initially organized in lists to craft narratives of your artistic growth and mission.
Expect to create 10 or more drafts before you arrive at a provisional version. After that, continue refining over a period of days, and return to your bio periodically to update and refine.
Employ short paragraphs of 2-4 sentences. Each might focus on one general subject area (e.g., premieres of new compositions, community projects, solo appearances, chamber music, opera roles, awards, education).
Employ basic principles of good writing: vary sentence structure and length, use active verbs, trim modifiers, and cut clutter. When you complete a satisfactory draft, ask colleagues and mentors to critique it.
“Employ basic principles of good writing: vary sentence structure and length, use active verbs, trim modifiers, and cut clutter.”
Next, create versions of differing lengths, perhaps 50, 150, and 250 words or longer for use in your electronic press kit (EPK). Your press kit and website could include both a concise bio and a much longer one that tells a more complete story of your artistic development and goals.
The long bio should include distinctive content and stories that not only inform readers but also provide journalists with content for articles. In fact, by including memorable content, you can attract more media coverage when you perform.
Lastly, if you feel that your writing skills need an upgrade, the following books have proven helpful to many:
- Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Want additional help to craft a bio, publish a website or otherwise advance your career? Contact me to discuss possible career coaching via Skype.
© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © FWstudio, licensed from Shutterstock.com