We all hate writing biographies of ourselves, right?
Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re a narcissist and proud of it. That’s fine. Writing a bio, or some sort of personal profile, is something we all have to do at some point though, and if you’re a performer, you will have to continue writing and rewriting the damn things.
It’s not straightforward either. Aside from having to strike that awkward balance between advocating for yourself and not sounding like your head is wedged firmly up your backside, there is the fact that oftentimes, this short paragraph will be a lot of people’s first experience of you as a performer. These few words may well determine whether they come to see you at a festival, or if they go and see the Young’uns for the third time this year instead. And I would gladly see the Young’uns perform at least that often, so I may take some convincing.
How do you do it then? Having read, amended and sometimes totally rewritten scores of musicians’ bios, here’s the advice I would give to everyone from up-and-coming artists to the most established musicians.
I don’t know why people do this, but this is a style of bio that crops up all the time. Two lifeless paragraphs are spent doing nothing more than listing every record an artist has released, what year it was and some of the critical acclaim it received. Okay, fine, you’ve released a few records which some people liked. That doesn’t help me decide if I want to come and see you though. Your releases aren’t your identity. They’re important milestones, but they are not the product on offer here; that’s you as a performer.
This is the difference between talking about what you’ve done and talking about what you do. What’s going to happen when you get up on stage? What influences are present in your music? What is it I am actually coming to hear?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to talk about awards, nominations, people you’ve supported and places you’ve played. But if any of that happened more than three years ago, even the most impressive achievements will start to make your bio sound like you have achieved nothing since. If you have to keep them in there, maybe throw them in at the end as a postscript, or as a throw-away adjective (eg “Mercury-nominated fiddle-singer Seth Lakeman”). Just make sure you’re telling us who you are, not who you were.
If you’ve ever been interviewed, you have almost certainly been asked how you got into music. Maybe you have the most charming story about being a toy piano at the age of six and writing a naïve yet heartfelt ballad about your first childish crush. Nice story for a more in-depth piece, but if you put it in a festival programme you’re just wasting space. Keep on track, tell us why we should come and see you.
Having to explain your unique selling point is a useful exercise not only for the sake of an audience, but also for you as an artist, as it forces you to stop and make sure you know what it is! This is particularly key for solo performers, where you don’t have an impressive lineup of musicians behind you, you may not play an unusual musical instrument, you may not have an eccentric visual identity. So make sure you know what it is you can offer that other people can’t, and make sure you can express it. What makes your music special? What are the key themes you draw on? What makes your guitar-playing style different to mine?
Obviously having a great bio is only one piece in a big puzzle, and we’ll go into more pieces in the coming weeks. But as a first impression, it can be a crucial piece to get right. So don’t rush it out at the last minute, spend some time making the words work for you in the best possible way.
Eliza Carthy (MBE) is undoubtedly one of the most impressive and engaging performers of her generation. Twice nominated for the Mercury Prize and winner of i...
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