A lot of talented musicians have trouble talking about their art. They compose and play beautiful music, but can’t figure out how to get their message across to those who haven’t heard the material before. This is where an artist bio comes in. Displayed on their website, the bio is a few paragraphs of text where the artist must showcase who they are, describe what they sound like, and ultimately influence the reader to care more about them; writing one can sometimes be as skillful an art as composing a song. There are ways this can be done really well, and ways it can be done really, really badly.
As an artist needing a bio, you need to find a way to make yourself jump off the page as impressive, likeable, credible and interesting; no easy feat. Some artists will just call up a talented writer friend who is a bit more objective. Others will pay their publicist for the extra task. One of my music industry side hustles is writing artist bios. Whenever I make a new connection with a musician and have a link to their website easily available, the bio page is the first place I go, so I’ve read a lot of them. And oh boy are there some bad elements that repeat from time to time.
Obviously, you can be an amazing artist and have a rotten bio. That doesn’t automatically mean you’re not a gifted hard worker, or that you’re no fun to be around. I firmly believe most artists are trying their hardest with the artist bios, and that it’s not a natural skill to many. So, let me point all of you reading in which directions not to go.
10 Cringeworthy Bios Mistakes
1. No distinction between fan bio and industry bio.
The best advice I can give a singer right off the bat is to write (or hire someone to write) two different bios. The first one, the fan bio, is looser and is geared to people who want to know about your life and personality behind the music they love. It can be as long as you’d like it to be (within reason), and can even be written in the first person if you wish.
The industry bio, on the other hand, is shorter, as it’s written for busy business people who don’t have as much time. They’re jumping from website to website, and are using the bios to help consider which of several artists to book for the last festival spot, interview for their blog, keep an eye on for the time being, and so forth. They want to see your industry accomplishments, and gauge how big of a deal you are. It must be written it in the third person.
Sometimes, the best way to please both parties is to give them two different versions of the same information. Just like the big music critic receiving your press kit doesn’t really care about the day of the week on which you were born (unless it’s the main focus of your latest concept album or something), average music fans skimming through a preview booklet for a multiple day festival probably won’t recognize the name of the studio you recorded your EP in (unless it’s Abbey Road). Write two bios. Connect with two types of people.
2. Listing off way too many artists as influences.
Naming influences has always been a hot debate topic for bio writers. People who argue for it say it helps readers making up their minds about attending your show – the prospective audience can then place the sound on the spectrum of what they would or wouldn’t listen to. “I’m a country singer” (okay, what kind of country are we talking?) versus “I sing country music, kind of like Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood” (oh, so like, pop-country with a big sing-along appeal and an even bigger vocal powerhouse).
Those who argue against putting influences in bios say it takes up room where the artists we’re supposed to be reading about could say something about themselves, or that naming big names (The Beatles) is too cliche, but naming smaller names (the other rock band in town) is too hipster (you can’t win). Also, it can be a little embarrassing to say you sound like an artist you don’t actually sound like (all the breathless cheerleader voices claiming they sound like Adele).
However, what both sides will agree on is that naming too many famous people becomes tacky. Either you don’t have an identity of your own, so you’re just naming every CD that would play in your parents’ car, or you’re hoping that by naming enough big names, they come up as keywords and bring your website up in the Google search rankings. If you choose to list influences, keep it to three well chosen and accurate names at the very max.
3. Making bold statements without quotation marks
One of the most important reasons artist bios are written in the third person is so that they sound more credible. This makes it easier to work in quotes from media outlets or influential industry professionals without them sounding forced or like bragging – which you want in your article, or else it will just sound like you admiring your belly button the entire time. If someone says something nice about you, ask them if you can quote it. If it’s in published writing (an album review or blog feature), it’s all yours.
4. Name checking people you paid to be around.
This one’s pretty common and can be done right, but I’m going to try and explain where the line between “cool” and “not cool” is drawn. If you’re a young artist, and an influential manager or accomplished older musician takes a liking to you and your work, and starts mentoring you from you hustling your way into their line of vision and them investing their time into you for your worth, that’s very impressive and you can without a doubt use that name recognition in your bio (with their permission and maybe a quote first).
It’s entirely different if you paid their salary to be around them. If you were a buy-on opening act for the local stop of a big hip-hop tour, that everyone in the industry knows the local opening act has to pay to be on the same bill, only starry-eyed fans might be impressed until the word gets out. The same is true about school. Paying money to be taught by an accomplished professor doesn’t make you accomplished by association. Studio producers will all have a price as well.
You’ll also wants to be careful about how you mention people you’ve worked with. For example, Rick Barker managed Taylor Swift in her early career, and currently manages a American Idol winner. He also has an online program where any artist in the world can pay a few hundred bucks to gain access to his lessons about social media. I’ve met Rick; super cool guy, but he might not be super cool with you calling him your manager. When I was in high school, I went to a Kira Isabella concert. Her telling me “follow your dreams and keep singing” at the meet and greet does not mean I can put that she fully endorses my country music career on the internet.
5. Exaggerating technical ability.
This one is fairly obvious. Singers: don’t say you have a five octave range if you aren’t willing (or able) to showcase it on air. Instrumentalists: don’t loudly claim in your bio you’re able to play a notoriously complicated song if you can’t do it on request.
6. Detailing former bandmates.
Many artists don’t quite realize that a bio is an ever-changing selling point, not their autobiography. If your band recently had a lineup change, there’s no reason for new people to read right away that the drummer is the only non-founding member, and the reason for that is because the first drummer had a fight with the lead singer over the girl they both had a crush on, left the band and now plays with a different act in town. Don’t make bio readers feel more connected to your old bandmate than to your current member. There’s no need to lie, but when talking about the drummer’s style and inspirations, put the spotlight on the new member.
7. Mentioning that you’re dating someone more famous than you.
Speaking of mentioning irrelevant people… Friendly reminder that your value as an artist has nothing to do with dating/marrying another. At best, you’ll break up and need to change your bio quickly. At worst, you come across as a gold-digger, or someone lacking the talent and personality to stand on their own. Also, if the fans don’t like your love’s music or the industry looks down on their business practices, you haven’t given yourself much of a good start.*
8. Praise from the parents.
Ooh, this one’s embarrassing to read. It doesn’t matter whether your parental figure taught you to play guitar, is funding your career, is the CEO of Capitol Records, or just a loving parent impressed by their kid’s musical ability; never put a quote from a mom-ager or dad-ager in your professional bio. It makes you come off as a privileged, borderline-spoiled child who got their music career handed to them because the stage parents do all the hard work. If you need a quote to back up your talent and success, try to get someone with a name in the industry that doesn’t match yours.
9. Refusing to mention your genre.
Genre is also a subject that splits artists down the middle. “How can I possibly put my masterpiece in a box with a label?” May you end up putting a few genres that influence you, your loose main sound with specific influences, a mini-micro-niche, or anywhere in between, nothing infuriates bio readers (and their writers!) quite like “I don’t have a genre, I just sound like me.” That doesn’t say anything about who you are, and whether we’ll like your music. Some artists will even go to the extreme to prove they’re “different” and “alternative” by insulting other artists in their area who sound similar. Not a great way to make friends.
10. Telling your entire life story.
That’s an exaggeration, but not by much. Even in the fan bio, there’s only so much even super fans can take in and be fascinated by. Naming the small town where you were born and then moved from when you were six months old won’t be all that exciting except maybe to people who know where that town is. In the industry bio, listing every show you’ve ever played and every award you’ve won since kindergarten stops the flow of the story, and can even make people’s eye glaze over. Your musician bio is the most delicate sales pitch you can put online. Make every sentence count, and sound the best it can.
And Now For Your Roasting Pleasure… The Worst Musician Bio Ever (don’t worry, it’s not a real guy)
Dylan Niceguy was born on a Tuesday afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky, which is also the birthplace of country singer Wheeler Walker Jr.
Dylan doesn’t really have a defined genre, but “thinks country music is trash.” His parents moved from Lexington to Canada when he was two years old, when he first started showing musical talent by singing during his nap time. “Dylan is the ultimate artist,” says his mother. “He’s funny, he can dance, sings well and plays acoustic guitar. I’m so proud to have him as a son. We frequently host garden concerts for our neighbours’ benefit. If their family doesn’t buy tickets and stay for the whole event, I measure their hedges and call our homeowner’s association on them.”
From there, Dylan Niceguy attended prestigious music schools under the instruction of many accomplished professors. But, it was only when he fell in love with a chart-topping pop singer that his career really took off. She’s the one who introduced Dylan to her boyfriend. The two creative souls immediately got along, and began writing what would be their first and only album as a duo. The record, titled Neckbeards Finish Last was a smash hit. It was without a doubt the best album of that decade, and had Dylan heralded as “totally gnarly” by his cool uncle. The duo parted ways after each taking a paternity test in the court of law. His former co-writer, Brock Brandon, now plays in the hipster acclaimed prog-rock band called “Shampoo Bottle” and recently won a national songwriting award. Please don’t check him out.
Dylan Niceguy’s influences are Oasis (well, just Wonderwall), Justin Bieber, The Chainsmokers, Jason Mraz, Rae Shremmurd, Jake Paul, Shawn Mendes, Post Malone, and Charlie Puth. He is currently working on a solo album. Stay tuned.