Secrets of Writing Publicity Bios

By: Nancy Moran

The publicity bio is one of the most important compositions that can be written about an artist. It’s the promotional centerpiece of every press kit. It’s a multifunctional, indispensable tool for steering fans, press and music industry VIPs to performances and/or recordings.

So why, with so much on the line, are so many bios lackluster, boring and ineffective?

Luckily, it doesn’t take much for artists, publicists, labels and bio writers to avoid catastrophe. A little common sense is all it takes to create a bio that will stand out — in a good way.

What’s the Purpose of a Bio?

Traditionally, a bio is a sales piece intended to introduce artists and their music to fans, press, radio, promoters, booking agents and the public at large. Almost always associated with a new album release, it tells the artist’s story — and describes what sets their music apart from others in their genre.

Today’s bios are also used in other ways. “Artists should think about the way their bio is going to be used in the long run,” said freelance writer Tom Roland. “It might be printed in a program at a venue. It’s going to be on the artist’s website. People will use it to reprint in media. It’s also the source for tour press. A large chunk of interviews will be based around that bio. You’re setting the tone for the questions that the artist is going to be asked over and over again. So make sure your bio suggests questions you’ll want to be asked for the next 18 to 24 months.”

What Makes a Great Bio?

First and foremost, a bio tells an engaging and entertaining story of an artist and his or her music. What is the artist trying to say, musically and personally? What do they want this release or this collection of songs to represent? How does the music make you feel? How does it fit into the cultural milieu?

Without an interesting angle, bios will sound generic and flat. This is the artist’s chance go deep into their creative process and to talk about the songs and what the project means to them. If you’re the artist, ask yourself why did you make this album? What’s the story behind what people will hear as they listen to it? What’s your favorite song on it and why?

“The best bios give the reader a sense of what the album is going to be about,” said freelance journalist Deborah Evans Price. “It’s crucial to make the artist sound interesting as a person, but most of all it’s important to make the music sound compelling. When I write a bio, I want to write it in such a way that when someone reads it — whether it’s a radio person, another journalist or whoever — they’re going to want to hear that record immediately.”

Joe Hudak, Managing Editor at Country Weekly, also suggests making it “sound as if it’s an article. That way, you can go through all the twists and turns that a story might take, but yet you’re doing it in a promotional voice.”

Roland adds that quotes from the artist are essential. “Lots of places — especially smaller newspapers that can’t afford a staff — are OK with running a bio as a story,” he pointed out. “So to put out a bio and not have quotes in it is crazy.”

If you’re the bio writer, your interview with the artist is crucial, especially if it’s a new artist. You need them to feel comfortable talking to you, so let them know that you are on their team. They’re going to be facing other journalists that have their own jobs and agendas. To get the client ready for them, think of yourself as part of their team — an extension of the artist, the management, the publicist and the label. Your job is to distinguish the artist from everyone else out there.

“Everyone these days says they’re influenced by Willie, Waylon and Merle,” said Hudak. “And they may be. But sometimes the music doesn’t reflect that. You have to prompt them to give you another influence that may be off the beaten path. It may be Ray Charles. It may be Lionel Richie. It may be Skynyrd, even. And that’s better because otherwise every bio just starts sounding the same.”

Make sure to show rather than tell. Stay away from adjectives like “unique” and superlatives like “best” or “greatest.” Telling an audience how to feel can backfire and may be a turn-off. Let the readers conclude for themselves that the artist is unique and that they must hear, buy, review and support their music.

A bio needs to be informative and factual. You’ll want to include information on the artist’s background as well as their major awards, sales, accomplishments and other accolades. Journalists often use the bio as a reference for their own interview questions and as a place to get quick factual information about the artist or the album when compiling a feature story. It’s a big mistake to leave out this kind of information.

Some bios omit what might seem like unimportant details, including who produced the album or the artist’s hometown. But remember, the more information you can include, the better. As Evans Price explained, “You never know what’s in the bio that’s going to connect with an editor and make the daily newspaper pick up on a story that they otherwise wouldn’t have room for.”

At the same time, bios should be short. For new artists, that means one page or about 500 words. For established artists with long histories, two to three pages is acceptable. Still, in today’s short-attention-span society, shorter is always better. If you can say it on one page, do it!

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, bios are now instantly accessible and can be made available not only to the press but also to the public at large. This makes it important to constantly update your online bio. At a minimum, a new bio should be written and posted for each new album release. But if there’s a lengthy break between albums, update the content more frequently. “If a bio hasn’t been updated or freshened up in a few years, it gives the impression that nothing is happening,” Roland advised.

Most bios are written in third-person perspective. Artists may occasionally try their hand at a first-person account. While this can feel like he or she is speaking directly to the reader, very few artists can pull this off. If you’re an artist and don’t have a strong reason to write your own bio, leave it up to the professionals.

What Not to Do

Poor grammar, misspellings and typos may seem like small infractions, but they can tarnish not only the credibility of the bio but the reputation of the artist as well. “If the bio is poorly written, it makes you wonder what the record will be like,” Hudak said.

Remember, this piece will be printed, copied and reused in myriad ways. Be sure to spell-check, proofread and edit the copy several times. When you think you’re done, ask someone else to proof it for you. A new pair of eyes will often find typos that you’ve missed.

Stay away from hyperbole and clichés (“critically acclaimed,” “highly anticipated,” “an artist whose time has come,” etc.). Overused expressions scream “amateur” and will likely hasten you bio’s journey to the circular file.

Finally, make sure that the bio is readable in all formats. Keep paragraphs short and easy to digest. Use a normal font size and generous line spacing. White space is your friend on paper. Don’t try to fill every last inch with type just to make sure it fits on one page. And make sure it’s readable online — meaning, don’t use red type on a blue background or something equally hard on the eyes.

In Other Words …

As the artist or label, you are in control of your own bio. Take the time to think about what your message is and use your bio to deliver that message to your audience and the industry.

As Evans Price puts it, “bios are happy journalism. Everyone puts their best foot forward: Here’s my new project. Here’s why I’m excited.”

SIDEBAR

No matter how great a bio might be from the second paragraph down, if it doesn’t have a lead that grabs reader attention, it may not achieve its mission. Here is a selection of leads from recent bios, along with reasons why they work.

 

Randy TravisARTIST
RANDY TRAVIS

WRITER
ROBERT K. OERMANN

LEAD
“Randy Travis has recorded the perfect Country album.”

WHY IT WORKS
In just one sentence, Oermann asserts the bio’s motif and almost challenges the reader not to read further.

 

 

Jerrod NiemannARTIST
JERROD NIEMANN

WRITER
JOE HUDAK

LEAD
“Jerrod Niemann didn’t just title his new album Free the Music (Sea Gayle/Arista Nashville), he adopted those words as a mantra.”

WHY IT WORKS
Tying two elements together — in this case, the album title and Niemann’s creative process — invites the reader to learn why the comparison works by reading further.

 

 

Time JumpersARTIST
THE TIME JUMPERS

WRITER
ED MORRIS

LEAD
“Tap any member of The Time Jumpers on the shoulder and the face that turns to greet you will be that of one who’s made major contributions to the richness and vigor of Country Music.”

WHY IT WORKS
Despite its length, the strong narrative flow of the writing creates a sense that there is a payoff coming at the end.

 

 

Taylor SwiftARTIST
TAYLOR SWIFT

WRITER
TAYLOR SWIFT

LEAD
“Hi, I’m Taylor. I love the number 13. I was born on a Christmas tree farm.”

WHY IT WORKS
Because ‘Hi, I’m Taylor’ is an established tagline. Because her sentences are short and to the point. Most of all, because she’s Taylor Swift.

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