“One must approach music with a serious vigor and, at the same time, with great, affectionate joy.”
–Nadia Boulanger, pianist and composer (The Musician’s Way, p. 292)
When listeners visit musicians’ websites, they absorb the artists’ personalities via images, media, and bios.
All too often, though, musicians write bios that leave music lovers yawning.
Countless bios, for instance, only list cold facts – where performers grew up, went to school, gave debuts.
Such info might be important to readers who are already curious about the performers, but it doesn’t generate emotional interest nor communicate the passion that drives creativity.
Wouldn’t it be preferable for artists to convey the joyful nature of their work along with supplying data?
Here’s a 4-step process that I use to help rising artists craft bios that win over listeners and presenters.
A 4-Step Process to Craft Compelling Bios
Step 1: List Items You Might Include
As a preliminary step, open a Word file and document key facts: list events, accomplishments, and stories.
Write freely over several days, maybe in bulleted form, and don’t edit much. Let your ideas flow.
You might note awards, press quotes, educational attainments, artistic milestones, and tidbits about your creative process.
Also jot down descriptive snippets that allude to your style.
Use the third person because your bio needs to be suited to publication in diverse media outlets.
Step 2: Organize Your List
With ample items in hand, 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 – such as solo versus ensemble performances – 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.
In general, start with things that reveal your artistic qualities and establish your expertise, but maintain a provisional attitude toward your work 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 leads.
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 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 statements are among the simplest and most effective strategies: you begin with a statement, which establishes your artistic identity, and them you follow it with examples. Such an opening can total 3 sentences.
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.
D. Curiosity trigger:
Taylor Smith is a songwriter on a 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.
“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 . . .
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 point out that they grew up in particular southern US states because it 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 Revise
Returning to your organized list, link the items into rough paragraphs with the first item following through on your chosen lead. Then, refine you prose in subsequent drafts – expect to create 10 or more before you arrive at a final version.
Employ short paragraphs of 2-4 sentences. Each might focus on one subject area (e.g., premieres of new compositions, solo appearances, chamber music, opera roles, community activities, awards, education).
Employ basic principles of good writing: vary sentence structure, use active verbs, trim modifiers, and cut clutter. When you complete a satisfactory draft, ask colleagues and mentors to critique it.
Next, create versions of differing lengths, perhaps 50, 150, and 250 words or longer for use in your press kit. For the main bio on your website, it could suffice to use a version of 150-200 words.
Lastly, if you feel that your writing skills need an upgrade, the following titles have been helpful to many:
- Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © FWstudio, licensed from Shutterstock.com