Your artist bio is your most essential piece of promo material. But let‘s be honest: The typical „about“ texts and SoundCloud bios you get to read are either boring as hell or make the artist come across as self-celebrating posers.
So how do you write an artist bio that stands out, tells your story, and makes music fans and journalists want to find out more about you?
Let‘s find out!
For this episode of Pick Yourself, I‘ve invited about-text-specialist Dee Cunning from Aboutitude to share her expertise with you. She‘s a well-established writer, electronic music enthusiast (and DJ), and has helped countless musicians with their artist bios.
Why a Good Artist Bio Matters and How to Write One
Hello, and welcome to my first guest experience that won't involve hijacking the stereo or creating a beer bottle fort in the corner. I recently launched my website ABOUTITUDE – the only dedicated about text and artist bio writing service on the net. And yes – you guessed it – just as 'podcast' is a portmanteau of the words 'iPod' and 'broadcast', ABOUTITUDE is all about bringing much-needed attitude to about pages.
You know the Question Mark Guy meme? My clients usually reach out to me like this. Either they've tried to write their bio themselves and ended up with a metaphorical bin of screwed-up paper, or they feel that other copywriters didn't quite catch their essence. My clients are creative people – music producers, designers, performers... Yet, frustratingly, the text that speaks for their work ends up boxing them in.
The oft-neglected bio text may be a fine art. But I believe with the right approach, anyone can master it. Is yours in need of a medi kit? Let's get started!
Why a good bio text matters for music producers
I'm sifting for gold (stay with me here). Instead of a river, I'm wading through Beatport. My scrolling finger is my pan, and the never-ending techno category is the muck. Up to the umpteenth page and still no luck. I'm considering giving up. But in the next two-minute audio preview, I catch a flash of greatness. It's the musical gold I've so zealously sought – and I'm no fool, I need to find the source.
SoundCloud is the natural next step. I'm looking to get a complete picture of this unknown artist; not simply a treasure trove of music but an alluring personal story. I want to relate to this producer, follow them, support them, rave about them and to them. But upon reading their bio's first sentence, the magic is kind of dead.
Look, I get it. As a writer, perhaps I'm pickier than most punters. Perhaps scrutinising an artist's bio is akin to criticising their image. What difference does a few lines make when their music makes your soul quake? Well, that would all be true, of course, if we weren't operating in the digital space. Ask a music producer why they bother curating an Instagram feed and you'll get the same answer: it's all marketing.
The problem with artist bios
Apologies for dropping the m-bomb. As an about-text specialist, I know all too well that there is nothing an artist hates more than a personal sales pitch. You're probably – no definitely – of the mind that art should sell itself. And I'd bet my gold-plated headphone jack that it's exactly this attitude that made your bio a botched afterthought.
Faced with filling an empty space, you either left it more or less blank or you reeled off an exhaustive autobiography – from your first musical instrument to the last track you made. Yet, from waveforms to words, there is no reason for the melody to stop. Your artist bio should be a continuation of your unique style, and an opportunity to further connect with an eager audience. Have you missed the drop?
What is a good bio anyway?
Allow me to demonstrate by putting my own neck on the line. Below I've drafted two bio examples for my DJ alter ego Sesheta. The first one is typical of what you'll read all over SoundCloud. All the notes are there, but it's hardly an informational soundscape, and it definitely doesn't do much to sell my dark techno “brand.” The second example, however, replaces irrelevant facts with atmosphere to keep the reader interested.
“Sesheta hails from somewhere in the middle of nowhere, aka Cornwall, UK, and is currently living in Berlin. She started her DJing journey when she moved to the city in November 2016.
She now co-runs Exiled Tendencies, a radio show on DI FM Techno, as well as the dark, sexy and experimental club night Omen.
Sesheta has been known to play atmospheric deep house at such venues as Minimal Bar, however she gravitates most towards the darkness – be that through sinister minimal, ominous techno or full-throttle psytrance.“
„Like her leopard-clad namesake, the ancient Egyptian goddess of writing, Sesheta is an eternal storyteller. In the heady candlelight of her Berlin home and behind the altars of the city’s underground venues, the British DJ weaves disparate tracks into enchanting journeys. Be the genre techno, minimal or psytrance, or the setting mystical, sci-fi or psychedelic, it is darkness that drives her.
Sesheta’s monthly DI FM Techno radio show Exiled Tendencies is a spiralling audio chronicle, airing her and her co-host’s mixes alongside the likes of Breger, Dani Sbert, Elmar Strathe, Damien Fisher and more. She also co-runs the club night Omen Berlin; the dark, sexy and experimental vessel for her deepest dreams of dance floor ritualism.“
How to write an amazing artist bio
I'll make a disclaimer: nobody is expecting you to have a flawless command of English. What's important is knowing what information to include and exclude, and being bold enough to get a little creative. When all is said and done, creativity is the hook that keeps readers' minds dancing.
As a general rule, artist bios should be written in the third person. Not only is it a great way to modestly boast about yourself, but on a practical level, it allows your bio to be easily copied and pasted by the media, venues and so on. If you'd rather directly communicate with your audience using the first person, that's your prerogative, but bear in mind the drawbacks.
Who, where, what and why?
The universal formula of who, where, what and why applies. Now is the time to grab your notepad and write down your thoughts about each question.
Who means the identity you want to project. Your artist bio is a choose-your-own-identity adventure. It's up to you whether you'd like to convey authenticity or channel an alter ego – or channel an authentic alter ego! The advantage of having an alter ego – other than being able to compartmentalise your professional and private lives – is that it makes it easy to self-brand without feeling awkward.
Where means where you've come from. There's a reason a bio is called a bio; it's literally a mini biography. So, save your life story for your Wikipedia page. Think about this question in terms of its relevance to what you're creating right now. Pick one or two key points in your history that catalysed your journey as an artist. This also includes significant past achievements, media coverage, or well-known mentors or collaborators that you'd like to boast about. However, if you don't feel your creative history is relevant to your current work or brand, then skip the wherealtogether.
What means what exactly you're creating – the easy part. What niche do you fit into? What is your vision? What sets your music apart from other producers in your genre? Do you use unusual tools or techniques?
Why. The most important question in life; the most important question for creatives. Don't underestimate your why. Think about what drives you to create, what values you represent, where you're headed, and how your work fits into the bigger picture.
Write drunk, edit sober
Writing like a drunkard, editing like a sober person. This is my writing technique in a nutshell, and it can be yours too – no booze required. If you did the previous exercise correctly, looking at your notepad should feel like staring into utter chaos. Fragments of yourself and who you want to be collide with romanticism and cliché, self-deprecation and despair. There's no way these notes would stand up on their own. They're drunk!
The sober part is critically looking at those notes, pulling out the parts most aligned to your brand, and editing them into something sophisticated. There is no need to include all the answers you initially wrote down. Rather, think of your bio in terms of a story and lead with the best bit. If your music is inspired by a particular place – real or imaginary – set the scene there. If you're pioneering a new genre of music, describe that first and what led you to create it second. If, like me, you love to tell stories with sound, expand on that.
Don't worry about a specific structure, but as a general rule, work from the most important or impactful details to the least important. Once you've got your first draft, analyse each sentence and see if you can write it in a shorter or snappier way. Go cold turkey on the cliché and don't be afraid to be teetotal with the final edit.
The goldfish test
As the BBC reports, our attention spans decreased from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds in 2017 – less than the nine-second attention span of the average goldfish. So, hook your reader with a great first line and make an impression by sticking to 100 to 150 words in total. Did you know that goldfish memory spans aren't actually three seconds but up to five months? When you make a real effort with your artist bio, it will stick in your audience's mind!
If you have any questions or you're straight up screaming HELP at your screen right now, feel free to comment below or get in touch.
About the Author
ABOUTITUDE founder, Dee Cunning, is a freelance writer living in Berlin. She has a second sight for stories – whether that’s divining them from her clients, weaving them from experiences, or trawling through the historical archives to deliver scroll-worthy articles.
Over her several year writing career, Dee has become most well-known for her Vice features on badass women in history. As a copywriter, she’s also turned her pen to topics including electronic music, filmmaking, fashion, dance and lifestyle.