Like many of the peripheral tasks associated with being in a band, writing a biography is not something you necessarily considered when you picked up your first guitar and dreamed of climbing on stage. But in this world of increasingly internet-driven music promotion, a good bio is an essential tool for an emerging artist, whether you're looking for exposure on one of the hundreds of music blogs out there, hoping for radio play or just searching for a gig. I deal with scores of new bands per week and I see the same, easily rectified, mistakes repeated across a lot of the biographies that come attached to the band's profiles.
1) NOT HAVING ONE
The grand-daddy of all band biography mistakes - simply not having one - is actually staggeringly common. If you're sending your music to a blogger who gets hundreds of requests a week and wants to feature your tune, he or she is going to need to have a few words to go with that. If a radio presenter plays your stuff, he or she will need some context, and maybe a little anecdote, to accompany your music. If a promoter is putting you on a show, they’re going to need to describe you on the flyer. If A&R at a label are considering signing you, they need some idea of what the band has accomplished. With your biography, you have the choice of controlling and owning that information. You get to present the facts that compliment your music. Not having a biography could easily be the deciding factor between your music being rejected and another band getting that coveted radio spot, precious re-post or even record label interest.
When you’ve got your biography completed, get it copied and pasted into every one of your social networks. Don’t expect busy people in the music industry to trawl through your official site for your bio if they’ve found you on Facebook or Soundcloud because they’ll just as soon skip to the next band on the list. Without a biography, you're seriously impeding your act’s progress for the sake of a couple of hour’s work.
2) CONCENTRATING ON INSIGNIFICANT, TRIVIAL DETAILS
Biography is an easy term to misinterpret. More often than not, the person reading it doesn't want the literal story of your band. They either want general details such as genre, location and history or they want some interesting information to supplement your music. Ideally both. When writing a bio, step back and consider what function of the bio is. Think of reviewers, bloggers, promoters, A&R and radio presenters reading it. The information that you convey needs to either provide a context for the band or give the reader some interesting information that adds colour to your music.
The fact that an indie band met at school is not particularly interesting. The fact that a Rock ‘n’ Roll band met in detention at school could be very interesting indeed. The trick is to frame the information you have to supplement your music, not dryly describe your existence. It’s not a good idea to lie, but if your first gig was at an art exhibition, and an association with the art scene is something you feel adds an extra dimension to your music, make sure that your bio relays you started out by playing art shows. Conversely, if you wouldn’t particularly want ‘John met Steve while studying English Lit at Cambridge University’ read out on radio in conjunction with your uncompromising, anti-authoritarian music, then don’t include it in there. Use the biography to highlight the music’s truth, not relay the literal truth.
3) LONG DESCRIPTIONS OF MUSIC
A well-written bio is a useful accompaniment to your music, not a challenge for you to describe how good it is. The text provides a context for your music to sell itself, not somewhere to sell it from. So while putting the fact that the members of a gangsta rap act met in jail in a bio could be effective to sell their music, it’s actually the story selling the music, not the prose. Often with emerging bands, there is little to convey at that point in the band’s existence so, rather than settle for a short bio, bands will attempt to intricately describe and sex-up their music. “Charlie’s soaring vocals fly like an eagle over Steve’s incendiary six-string supremacy underpinned by Rodney’s bone-shaking, beefy basslines built upon the bedrock of Phil’s legendary stickmanship” isn’t going to convince anyone one way or the other. Instead you should use your words to create a lens for us to see the music through.
Leave the reviews to the reviewers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with peppering in some pithy, descriptive quotes from actual reviews in there, especially if they look good on a flyer, but we don’t need gushing paragraphs from you describing what you’d like to think you sound like. A sentence to talk about your music is more than enough; generally the idea is to talk around it, not about it. And be conservative with the adjectives. Writing about Jerry’s rich, sonorous, fragile, delicate, heart-breaking vocals doesn’t make them sound any different when they come out of the speaker. A radio presenter that loves your record doesn’t need you putting words in his mouth about you; he wants the facts and points of reference so he can create his own.
4) OVERTHINKING IT
Your music is what we're ultimately interested in, not the bio. The biography should simply serve as a practical accompaniment to that main course. There's nothing wrong with adding a little sizzle to the steak but inventive pieces of writing are excess to demand. Attempts to subvert the medium of band bios and 'sell' the humour or aesthetic of a band with a piece of creative prose largely misfire. There’s nothing wrong with the tone of your bio having something in common with your music; the style of a hip-hop biography should contain different verbiage than a folk music biography, for instance. It’s fine to take that and run with it across the text, but bear in mind what the bio is ultimately for. You shouldn’t attempt to turn the biography into a fun read for your existing fans at the expense of being a functional conveyor of information for new ones, as well as all the parties we outlined at the start of this blog.
If you can only manage 500 words, let it go at that. Many promoters and magazines will simply want a one or two sentence description that covers your location and style. Start the bio with a sentence or by-line that hits those bases and that's more than likely what they'll go with. You can then use the rest of the bio to flesh the others details out such as interesting facts and influences, but remember that it's the first sentence that will get used the majority of the time. Concentrate getting that right and leave the articles to the writers. A promoter that wants to simply describe you to punters in a sentence isn’t going to bother to excavate information from paragraph five of your descriptive masterpiece and will end up just writing ‘rock band’.
5) SPECIALIST, SPECIFIC COMPARISONS
Two or three of the main influences on your band are a great part of your biography and, chosen correctly, can really add a sense of expectation. I’ve seen band bios and websites where well-picked, historically significant artists laid out together can get me excited to hear a band. The swagger of Oasis with the politics of The Clash and the instruments of The Prodigy may sound generic, but it paints a fairly visceral picture. What we don’t need is a breakdown of every single influence on the act at that specific time. I see this mostly with genre-artists, be they punk bands or hip-hop acts or any other style with thriving grassroots live circuits. Listing how each of their musical facets relates to a list of twelve specific acts within their particular scene is a sure-fire way to pigeonhole their sound and limit their scope.
Choose just a few of your most general influences and imagine how that combination of acts might get the reader interested to hear your music. You don’t have to sound exactly like the band, but choose bigger, iconic artists that together give an idea of what makes you tick as people. Don't simply specify the exact acts that have directly inspired the mechanics of your arrangements. Your influences don't even have to be in the form of other bands. Judicious mentions of films or books that inspire the band, incorporating the greater world of art and not just your own specific music genre, can help to set up the listener with a vivid mental backdrop to your sounds. The associations and images conjured up from hearing that a hardcore punk band watch Italian splatter movies to inspire their writing, for instance, would give a radio presenter so much more to work with than a list of obscure bands they sound like.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barney is the community manager and guidance blogger. He draws on his extensive gigging and DIY music business experience with rock/ska /electronic mash-up Sonic Boom Six who have released 4 studio albums, performed headline tours of Europe, America and Japan and have written and performed songs that have appeared on BBC Radio 1, Channel 4, BBC 2 (TV), Rock Band and Sims 3 video games. Barney takes his coffee strong, black and often and would one day like to visit Australia.