Thirteen lucky steps to writing a great musician’s bio

In my capacity as a CD reviewer I get way too many bios that are nothing more than a weak collection of bland superlatives. If your bio is stinking up the place, use the guidelines below and write a new one. If you’d rather play music than write about yourself, contact me. I’ll write you a bio that won’t require readers to mainline Red Bull.

 Grab them with the first paragraph

It should creatively and concisely give the reader an idea of your style. Don’t start with “She’s played the piano since she was 3.” The most interesting information should be first. Here’s how I started one bio:

Debra Cowan was once asked what kind of songs she writes. Her reply? “Bad ones.” Her captivating warm alto carries each traditional and contemporary folk song she chooses with such emotion, that you’ll forget that they were written by others.

 Who do you sound like?

We all hate answering this question, but it gives the reader a place to start. Ask your friends and fans for suggestions. Be creative and don’t be afraid to combine styles. Do you sound like Maroon 5 fronted by Cyndi Lauper? Old school R&B mixed with metal?

 Who are your influences?

A laundry list of favorite artists is coma-inducing. Take a different approach. Did you listen to your grandmother’s Pat Boone collection? Your cousin’s Nirvana albums? Did you see Dolly Parton on TV when you were five and decide that’s what you wanted to do?

 What is something quirky about you?

Journalists and fans love a good story. It doesn’t have to be music related. I once wrote a bio for an Americana artist who was a distant relative of Jesse James so of course, I used that. Do you have any famous relations? Can you juggle chainsaws? Do you raise exotic lizards? You get the idea.

 Do you have any great quotes?

They could be from someone well-known or a club that loves you and books you every time you come to town. Has a high profile publication mentioned you? A quote from a lesser-known publication is good also if it’s exceptionally descriptive and creative.

 What are some of the most important gigs you’ve had?

Consider prominent venues (even if it was just a showcase), big audiences, wide TV exposure, or Elvis in the audience. (And did you get a quote from him?)

 Have you recorded?

If so, mention titles and year released. Include more detail for your most recent release. Be sure to mention if your producer or session musicians are connected to someone famous.

 Has your music been licensed for TV, movies or games?

A clip on Grey’s Anatomy not only boosts your bank account, but in the eyes of some, your talent.

 What are your goals?

New album coming out soon? New tour? Are you pursuing a label deal? Proud of being independent?

 Numbers can sometimes be important

What are your download numbers? How many dates do you do in a year? Have you charted anywhere?

 Who have you shared the stage with?

This isn’t as important, but it’ll let people know your general sound. Be honest. If you and Adele played at the same festival on different stages, that doesn’t count.

 If you’re a band, include short bios for each member

Include instrument played, experience, and band history. These are usually best at the end or in a separate section.

Are you finding this post helpful? Before you read on please consider keeping me in coffee and my cats in kibble. And it’s only $2.

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 Rein in the word count

Sure, you’ve got unlimited space on your website, but why use it all if no one is going to get to the end of that novel-length tome? Back in the day when we dealt with just paper, it was best to keep a bio to around 500 words since that fit nicely on one page. I still try to do that, especially if the artist is sending paper promo.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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20 Responses to Thirteen lucky steps to writing a great musician’s bio

  1. JD Doyle says:

    As a programmer I definitely want to know about past CD releases, and when they did them. Good job (as usual), Jamie.

    Hey, for your next one, write about organizing a music website…:) Fortunately we seem to be past the intro graphic of animated dancing waterfalls, etc, before a site lets us in, but what I want (yeah, it’s all about me) is information and organization; I want to hear sound clips; and I want to be able to EMAIL the artist directly—I do Not want to fill in a guest book entry, hey, make this easy. Many a time I could not let an artist know I played them on my show because there was no way to contact them. If they only have a Facebook “fan page”…well, I can’t email them from there.

    Oh, and a magazine or internet reviewer kinda needs Large graphics of their CD covers…and lyrics…okay, I’ll stop………

  2. Shari Ulrich says:

    Geez…I’ve been writing my own bios for 30 years – and no one ever gave me any advice as to how to make sure it wasn’t going to put the reader to sleep. Though I certainly try to keep them interesteing, your input is very helpful. THANK YOU!

  3. Hey Jamie,
    I am immediately changing my bio on my website that begins, “Sarah Calvert has been playing piano since she was seven”…….
    ……….
    ……sorry, I just caught even myself yawning. Thanks for sharing the tricks of the trade!
    Sarah

  4. Chris Wilson says:

    Great advice! I checked the bio I wrote against it and fortunately we’re “on the same page” so to speak but it was great to have someone else’s opinion. Too often we write in a vacuum . . . (need to get out of that, the dust is making me cough).

  5. Reece says:

    Thanks a lot for the advice!! It’s a surprisingly big mission, this bio thing. One thing……if you’re writing it yourself, do you speak about yourself in the third person? Wouldn’t that be just a little pretentious?

    Reece.

  6. Chef Bruce says:

    As a guy charged with ‘selling’ musicians to people, I can also recommend writing a second bio; a single paragraph that says it all, it could even be the first paragraph of the longer ‘official’ one… I (and folks like me) have got three to five shows a week to condense into a concise, (hopefully) readable newsletter… And I’d much rather cut and paste than edit… just two cents fer ya…

  7. Pingback: Include music in your New Year resolutions | Jamiebobamie

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  9. “If you’d rather play music then write about yourself, contact me.” These are great tips, though your use of “then” and “than” needs work. 🙂

  10. Amazing piece of advice, I need to take note of some of your key points. We provide Bio writer service and it is very creative writing.

  11. Pingback: Musicians: ten phrases to avoid in your bio | Jamiebobamie

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