How To Write Your Artist Bio
What is an artist bio? Why do you need one?
An artist bio is an advertisement for you or your band. Its main purpose is to sell the music products or services you provide to those who would be your customers. These “customers” could be in one or both of two separate but related markets:
- The consumer market (fans)
- The business market (“resellers” such as labels, Agents, distributors, venues, festivals, TV shows, radio, films, and advertising)
In order to write your artist bio, you should think like an advertising executive. This is all about marketing and sales. After all, music is a business and to have success you will need revenues (money, income) from sales. While some artists are uncomfortable with selling their art because they feel it somehow compromises their creativity this is a misguided attitude. As Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby recently said:
“Money is nothing more than a neutral exchange of value. If people give you money, it’s proof that you’re giving them something valuable in return.”
Let’s get honest with ourselves here and now. The reason we are here is we want people to hear our music. We want them to know about us and our music. No matter how great we and our music are, if nobody knows about it then we are doing it only for ourselves, and that is NOT why we are chasing our dreams of being a successful professional musician or artist. The word “professional” by definition means we get paid for what we do. Let’s embrace that while we ponder the reason we even need an artist bio as a tool to market ourselves.
We want the world to know about us and our music. We want the world to enjoy and appreciate what we do. And importantly, we want to be paid for the value we provide with our art. We need this if we want to be able to dedicate ourselves full time to our art and if we want people to be aware of what we do, listen to our music, come to our shows, or license our music for use in visual media or advertising. There IS money to be made in music and handling the business of your art is a critical part of success as an artist.
Now we have that out of the way, let us return to the artist bio.
Bios are used as a component of the electronic promo kit (EPK) on a website and on social media. The bio is written about you or your band as an advertisement for what you do. Since you aren’t a household name (yet), you will need to grab your future fans’ attention and tell them clearly and quickly why they should know about you and listen to you. The bio needs to be written in the third person so it sounds like someone else is writing about you. (Don’t use the first person. There are a few exceptions to this rule that I will explain later in this article). As a student, you might also use your artist bio as supplemental material to apply to colleges or for an achievement scholarship.
About 80% of ad viewers never read past the headline so having a great headline is 80% of your work. Since not every artist bio needs a headline, the first sentence will function similarly in the absence of a headline or header to your bio.
Think Like an Advertising Copywriter
What does it mean to think like an advertising exec, as I implored above? Copywriters are those creative writing types who write advertisements. Writing great ads is more of an art than a science. It might be a good idea at this point to consult some sources on how to write great advertising copy. There are many books, blogs, articles, and websites on the subject but you could also just search around online to get a general idea of what the professionals suggest. Here are a few examples of quotes I found from some of the most legendary ad writers and critics of advertising:
“Advertising is the art of persuasion.” — William Bernbach
“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”
— Mark Twain
“The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.”
— David Ogilvy
“Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them and sometimes it’s an ad.” — Howard Luck Gossage
“By definition, remarkable things get remarked upon.” — Seth Godin
“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.”
— William Butler Yeats
The takeaway here is great ads don’t write themselves and history also shows a great ad can make a product and a company. Think about the ads that have had an impact on you and your own buying decisions. What grabbed your attention and held it? If you start paying attention to the ads you see during your day, there may be things to be learned from analyzing them and their approach. Pay special attention to the writing.
Take your time to study and think about the quotes above and other information you find as you search. There is wisdom here. Our goal should be to communicate as clearly and briefly possible (in writing) just what makes us unique, why people should be interested in us, what advantages we can offer over the competition. If we want them to remember us, we need to communicate in language they understand and can relate to. This might take some research but the benefits are worth it, as any advertising executive would tell you.
Cutting Through The Noise
The first rule of writing advertising copy is it needs to grab the attention of the reader. This isn’t easy, as people are busy and not inclined to stop what they are doing to read about you. The average person is bombarded by as many as five hundred advertising messages a day so it’s challenging to cut through all the noise and grab attention. According to research, even if they do stop to look at your ad copy, they will devote between three to eight seconds to reading it before deciding they want to continue.
About 80% of ad viewers never read past the headline so having a great headline is 80% of your work. Since not every artist bio needs a headline, the first sentence will function similarly in the absence of a headline or header to your bio. It’s a good idea to start with something catchy to get their attention. Avoid the mundane.
What’s Your Story?
Everyone loves a good story. This is your opportunity to tell yours. Now you have a catchy headline, dive into your background and tell your story in the most interesting and compelling way possible. Don’t forget to use the language of your prospects and to connect the back-story to what you do and why they should continue paying attention to you by continuing to read. How you structure the bio is up to you and it should fit your personal (and musical) style. For example, a bio for a classical performer might look very different from one for a heavy metal band. Think about the length and use as little space as possible to tell your story. Most bios will be less than a page. We might call this a “short-form” bio. There is also a “long-form.” I will address that briefly at the end of the article.
As a simple suggestion, you could follow this format:
- Early years: write about your formative experience(s) that made you decide to be a musician. For a band, you can tell the story of how you originally formed. You might mention if you came from a musical family and some details about the experience. Or maybe there was a performer you saw live or certain recordings that had a major impact on you as a youngster. Maybe you were musically active in church. You can also mention your early musical influences.
- Middle years: this might include information about your music education, successful performances you had, your principal Teachers, tours, recordings, or anything else recent and/or current in your musical career. It’s okay to mention musical influences in this section as well.
- In the final section, you could mention your future plans but be very careful to describe them as if they are already happening. By definition, you cannot talk about the future in a bio. The way to do it is to talk about the future as if it is now. For example, if you are planning to record and release an album or a single, you can say “currently preparing to release” or something similar. If you are graduating from college, you might say you are “a graduate of….,” This way the bio can stay current for a year or so. You shouldn’t need to update your bio too often so it’s okay to speak of the future in the present tense as if it is already coming to pass.
As I mentioned earlier, use the third person. Do not speak in the first person. The reason for this is you want Publicists and News Editors to be able to cut and paste information about you. There is an exception to this rule: if you are using social media pages such as LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter, many individual artists choose to write in the first person to make it seem they are speaking directly to their audience in a more personal way.
How you structure the bio is up to you and it should fit your personal (and musical) style. For example, a bio for a classical performer might look very different from one for a heavy metal band.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
You only get one chance to make a first impression and the bio is often this chance. If you are posting online or including it as part of your EPK, make sure you pay attention to the visual impact. As with designing a resume or writing a cover letter, this includes fonts, colors, use of headers (or not), layout, spacing, and other design elements that serve to unify all your materials. You might also consider the search terms you want people looking for to find you online and use those terms in your bio to make it easier to find you.
There’s a subliminal judgment readers make even before they start reading, based on the initial visual impression they get from your materials. So make the effort to get it looking sharp and of course avoid obvious errors such as misspellings, grammatical mistakes, wrong use of capitalizations, etc. It might make sense to have a friend or professional Graphic Designer or Editor take a look before you go public with your artist bio. They might catch some mistakes you have missed or have suggestions to make it look and read better.
Think of your artist bio as the first point of contact most people will have with your brand. While it’s a requirement to have some sort of bio for promotional purposes, it’s also a tool for developing the story behind your brand and your music. The industry “standard” is a short bio (less than one page) but you could also take a stab at writing a longer version. You might have it for sale as an in-app purchase for your die-hard fans or turn it into a book later to tell your whole story. Either way, writing your artist bio is a useful exercise in defining who you are, what you do, and why you do it. It’s also your opportunity to tell it to the world.
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