How To Write An Artist Bio That Really Stands Out

I’m always surprised to see how few artists have quality bios. What I often find is a (seemingly) quickly patched together paragraph or two that ends up communicating little or nothing about the band’s history or the sound and style of their music, and even more sadly, most bios provide the reader absolutely no context for which to listen to the music and get a sense of the artist.

When I was a major label A&R man, I always looked at the artist’s bio to get some basic information about the artist I was checking out. And while I trained myself to have low expectations in regard to bios from independent acts, very few gave me even the most basic information about the artist that I wanted.

A well-done bio is essential. Think of it as a window into your world - your bio is a direct introduction of you to writers, booking agents, and industry people that you want to pay attention to your music so you can get the opportunities you’ve been dreaming of. Your bio may be the first thing they about you. If they read something concise, well written and descriptive of you and your music, they’re going to come away with the impression that you are serious about your work, and they will have a point of view from which to evaluate your material. If it’s sloppy, poorly written and doesn’t convey anything, you’ve already made a bad first impression.

Don’t be intimidated if writing isn’t your strong suit. A bio usually follows a format that’s easy to follow. Here it is:

A Bio Consists Of:

1. Introduction Paragraph and context

2. Background Information (can be anywhere from 2 to 5 paragraphs)

3. New album, release or tour information (1 to 2 paragraphs)

4. Conclusion (1 paragraph)

Introduction paragraph: This will tell the reader who you are, and what you currently have going on (new album, new tour, etc.) It must include a description of your music (we’ll wait to really give the good stuff away later in the bio) and it will set down a general theme for your music. It can also have a slight hook to give the reader an idea of what you’re about. It should also include your USP, or Unique Selling Point. The USB about Tim Brantley is that even though he is just starting out, he has an unusually strong command of his music and has a fully-formed musical identity. Example:

Many artists struggle to establish their musical identity, laboriously trying on different musical styles like a piece of clothing, looking to find what fits. But there are others that emerge fully formed, in full command of their craft, their identity and their music. Tim Brantley fits firmly in the latter category. His new album, Goldtop Heights, is a captivating and moving debut that heralds the arrival of a gifted and significant new talent, one whose music feels familiar in the best possible way, while striking out on its own territory.

Now that we have provided the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the artist, we can continue and give the reader more background information. This can take one, two or three paragraphs: here is how the artist came to arrive where they are today. It is critical here to tell a story and it must be INTERESTING! Example:

A Georgia boy who grew up in Loganville, near Decatur, Brantley played piano as a child, but didn’t take music seriously until he was in his early 20’s. He explains, “I started writing songs in my head, and it took my interest in music to another level. I had to pick the piano back up so I could cut music to the ideas I heard in my head. Then I started playing guitar to broaden my horizons even more.” Almost immediately, he formed a three-piece band and began playing local coffee shops and bars, going through what he calls, “the typical post-high school lifestyle.” “I wasn’t interested in anything I was doing other than music, and I loved the wide-openness of my life.”

Recording on his laptop and playing the songs he was writing for his friends, Tim saw their genuinely excited reaction. “Two friends heard the songs, and even though we were all broke, they approached me and we pooled our money to buy a microphone and a recording console.” Now recording in earnest, Tim was gathering skill as a songwriter, taking his influences, like David Gray, Elton John, Hall & Oates, Wilco and Fleetwood Mac, and using them to shape his own style. “I grew up with a lot of 70’s rock,” Tim explains, “My mom used to play Carole King all the time. I naturally gravitate to that kind of sound; there’s a warmth and timelessness to it that I’ve always loved.”

You will notice that there are quotes from the artist - this is a key piece! The bio should contain your own voice and your perspective. It also is a way to create a sense of intimacy between you and the reader.

The next one or two paragraphs should be devoted to the accomplishments of the artist or band up until the new event (album or tour). You can and should include prior albums released, a touring history (if there is one) and any other significant events, achievements or anecdotes. Example:

As his name grew in and around the Atlanta area, the pieces began to fall into place for Tim. Entering a citywide battle of the bands in Atlanta, Tim and his band won, which earned them some much needed cash and the notoriety to begin playing bigger shows for an ever-increasing local audience. Recording continuously, Tim hooked up with local producer Russ T. Cobb (Avril Lavigne, Hot Hot Heat, MxPx) and the two recorded an album at Butch Walker’s studio in Atlanta. The songs sparked major interest from several labels and in the end, he chose to sign with Ben Goldman’s (Ben Folds Five, Fuel, Chevelle) newly formed, independent Blackledge Records label. “Working with Ben and Blackledge has given me the freedom to be myself and to make the music exactly the way I want to make it,” he declares.

What we have with Tim is an artist is just starting out, so there is no recording or touring history to write of. But you still provide information and then use the remainder of the paragraph to begin to transition to the present, and to the new album. The next paragraph is all about the making of new album:

That freedom allowed Tim to self-produce Goldtop Heights, as well the space to experiment while making it. He reflects, “There was a lot of trial and error that went into the album. The songwriting is far more detailed, and that was reflected in how I recorded. We recorded twenty-five songs, and I picked ten. I spent months on certain songs, refining them until I thought they were just right.” With Tim on piano, guitar and various percussion, Brent Kinney on guitar, Robbey Handly on bass and Guy Strauss on drums, the sound they got is a commanding and infectious one, modern in feel, while also hearkening back to the 70’s pop/rock that is embedded in his musical DNA. But as Tim says, “It’s a little grittier than I thought it was going to be in the beginning.”

Now that we’ve written about the creative process, we’ve set up writing about the music itself:

From the opening notes of “Damage,” the album’s first single, one hears that combination of melodic irresistibility and lyrical incisiveness that are becoming Brantley’s hallmarks. “The song is about a friend of mine - more like a letter to a friend in need,” Tim notes, “But the vibe of it - ‘Joe Jackson meets The Greatest American Hero’ wraps up for me the way it felt standing around a radio when I was growing up.”

Indeed, that feeling of being a kid again is one that’s prevalent on Goldtop Heights. Tim explains, “‘Goldtop Heights’ and ‘Northside’ are the album’s bookends and I based everything on the tone of those two songs. Part of it is nostalgic. It’s me seeing things through a kid’s eyes - in that way that everything is big and heightened when you’re a child.” It’s that sense of wonder that sweeps through the album, and with the resounding piano chords, shimmering guitars and the steady, yet propulsive rhythm section, it’s 40 minutes of modern pop rock nirvana, made wondrously alive and new again. Tim doesn’t just sing the songs - he inhabits them and lives them out, making his tales of growing up three dimensional in the most powerful of ways.

What’s established here is the tone of the album, the general sound of it and getting into musical and lyrical specifics about some of the songs. You should focus on about three key tracks. The reader will not have the patience to read about every single track. Make a claim for the album, the music or the live show. Don’t be modest, but don’t be over the top either - be confident as opposed to arrogant.

Finally, you need your concluding paragraph. The concluding paragraph should sum up what has come previously, give the reader an idea of what will be occurring the future and tie things up neatly. Example:

Tim is currently on the road, honing his live show playing both acoustic and with a band. “It’s gaining momentum,” Tim says. “With the band, we’re getting exciting - there’s a lot of off the cuff stuff that’s happening on stage. Being on the road all the time is something I’ve always wanted.” And on Goldtop Heights, Tim Brantley is playing his songs precisely the way he’s always wanted, creating a fully realized album that is the culmination of where he’s been and where he’s going, and one that is sure to win him the notoriety that is demanded by the depth and quality of his songs.

There you have it. Once you get the format down, you can fill it in to create whatever you want. You can use your own voice and make it informative, poignant, and humorous. It’s about communicating the essence of what your music while avoiding being boring on one end, or hype-ridden on the other. Your bio will be the written window into your world. People who have never heard your music will read it, and people who have heard your music and want to know more about you will read it. Either way, you get your story across and you put your best foot forward.

Words by Colby O'Donis

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Comment by MC DRASTYCK MEAXUREZ on April 5, 2009 at 9:41am

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