Are most musician bios really “a mine of useless information,” the term arts critic David Lister used to describe the biography of virtuoso violinist Julia Fischer that was printed in a concert program?
That’s the conclusion of Anastasia Tsioulcas in her piece for NPR called Why Can’t Artist Bios be Better? Though the article is primarily concerned with the world of classical music, many of the lessons apply no matter what genre you perform.
Here’s what Tsioulcas has to say about bad musician bios:
To me, it’s not just an issue of trite phrasing or poor grammar, though those problems exist. It’s a larger matter of conception and approach. Even soloists and groups who go to great lengths to project a bleeding edge artistic image fall, all too often, into the tropes Lister mentions. Here’s a typical (and real) example from one such ensemble, a group that’s far more innovative and unusual than their bio would suggest:
- Paragraph 1: Six quotes praising their brilliance from major American critics, crammed together then lightly glazed with enough subjects and verbs to form sentences.
- Paragraph 2: A list of their awards and international venues where they’ve played.
- Paragraph 3: A long list of composers who have written for them (most of whom very few people would be familiar with, unless the reader were also a composer or performer).
- Paragraph 4: A list of academic institutions they’ve worked with.
- Paragraph 5: A list of other performers they’ve played with.
As Lister observes, should we be particularly surprised, or impressed, that accomplished artists have performed in prestigious venues? Or that they have collaborated with other top-flight people? Instead of making these endless lists of locations and names, why not spend a few sentences in a bio on topics more engaging, more human, more connected?
Identifying the problem is simple. Your bio is boring because…
- You’re bragging too much about your achievements or other artists you’ve performed with
- It’s too long, with too much pointless backstory; you’re spending too much time talking about your youth, hometown, or family when it has little to do with your music
- You’re name-dropping at every turn
- It focuses too much on theoretical or process-oriented aspects of your music, and not enough on the person or people behind the music
- There’s no emotional hook, no drama, no struggle, no triumph
- It doesn’t create a sense of urgency in the reader (to either hear the music, or read further details)
But how do you create a memorable story around your music? Something that will capture the imagination of anyone that reads it regardless of whether they enjoy your music or genre?
Four articles to help you craft and tell a better artist story
What’s your artist story? Have you come up with an undeniable hook? We’d love to read your bios in the comments below.