Most musicians want their promo materials to be more authentic but aren’t sure what that actually means in a Bio. So let’s explore how to bring more of yourself to your Bio — while effectively promoting your career.
In a recent presentation on branding and online presence for the Cleveland Institute of Music, several musicians asked me what’s appropriate to include and what’s too personal. They asked about including their political and social stances and about revealing their sexual orientation or gender identities.
In trying to answer this, I realized it’s not just students who struggle with this question — it’s all of us.
So how DO you reveal your own truth in a Bio?
And how do you do it in a way that’s relevant to getting more work? The goal is to get readers to click “play” and check out your music, so anything that takes us away from your music is, in a sense, a distraction.
If your Bio is intended for promotional purposes — let’s say for booking concerts — then you want it to address the needs of presenters who might hire you.
Ask yourself, what do THOSE people want to find out in your Bio?
They want to know if you’d be appropriate for their venue or series — and if you might be able to draw in an audience. To help these readers find out whether or not you’re a good match for their series, it helps to include a carefully curated set of your most relevant credentials. So your Bio needs to . . .
Cover the basics
- Where you’ve performed (3-4 venues).
- With whom you’ve performed (a few well-known individuals or ensembles).
- Inspiring projects you’ve taken on.
- Relevant awards you’ve won.
- The range of repertoire you perform.
These basics are of course, what most musicians’ Bios cover. But if that’s all you include, your Bio will be deadly boring. The poor reader won’t be able to distinguish you from a zillion other musicians. The truth is . . .
Concert presenters want more
If they believe you might be a fit for their series (from your basic credentials), then they will also want to know what’s distinctive about you and your performances. The purpose of your Bio is to pique their curiosity enough so that they’ll click “play” and check out your music.
In the Bio course I teach, I help musicians like you learn how to . . .
Tell Your Story: bring more of yourself to your Bio
I help musicians uncover the “the human elements” needed to make their Bios memorable and compelling. Note that this isn’t about telling your life story. Your Bio is NOT, after all, your biography.
So please don’t write in chronological order. Don’t start with your first teacher or first performances and move move forward in time. That’s a recipe for boring the pants off your readers!
Instead, telling your story means including a select slice of your life that helps readers connect with who you are as an artist. You’ve got three types of story to choose from. First up is the . . .
1. Origin story
This type of story focuses on what turned you on to music originally. Here’s an example . . .
“Growing up, Corrie Donovan spent summers in her father’s homeland, Scotland, where she and her sister regularly sang traditional Celtic music for friends, family, and private events. It was the music’s chant-like storytelling and emotional directness that got to her and have influenced her approach to music and life.”
Origin stories can work but you’ve got other options, such as the . . .
2. Commitment story
A Commitment story tells us why you keep going. It might, for instance, be about the most moving experience you’ve had with an audience. The kind of experience that reminds you of why you fell in love with music in the first place. Or it might be something that you wondered about that set you off on your life’s mission, as violist Carol Gimbel uses here . . .
“Carol’s mission was sparked at age 13, with her wondering why there were so many string players in her area of suburban Pennsylvania, and yet no youth orchestra. This led Carol and her father to found the Youth Orchestra of Bucks County — and set Carol off on her life’s quest: creating more opportunities for audiences and musicians to find connection.”
And here’s the third Bio story variety, the . . .
3. Challenge story
This story type is about overcoming adversity in your pursuit of music. This example combines a Challenge story with a Commitment Story — see if you can tell where each story type is happening. This is yet another example of how to bring more of yourself to your Bio.
“Guitarist Alvaro Henrique’s path to becoming a performer was an unlikely one. Painfully shy as a teenager, he had trouble interacting with others. Even saying good morning to the doorman at his school was a daily challenge he often lost.
His father thought that maybe playing an instrument would help. Alvaro wasn’t interested — until he heard an acoustic guitar. He was captivated.
Through performing, Alvaro found a way to communicate through the language of music. Performing became a gateway to expressive freedom and an ease of communicating and connecting with others.
And this led to Alvaro’s purpose as an artist — to connect audiences with a world of emotions and stories — in order to spark ideas, conversation, and meaning.”
There are other ways to humanize your Bio
Ones that I cover in my course, but including an encapsulated version of your story is always a favorite.
As for the students at CIM with the excellent questions, I absolutely applaud you for wanting to bring your whole selves to your music and to your promo materials. I’m all for being open and honest.
The thing I’d warn against, though, is what we often see musicians adding at the ends of their Bios. They tack on a few disconnected factoids about hobbies, community service, or things like “enjoys fine dining and nature walks.” The problem is that anything that’s not connected back to your music can come off as inappropriate or gratuitous.
Here’s what I’d recommend instead.
Keep your intended reader in mind: the concert presenter
The goal is to have a Bio that’s both relevant to the reader and real to you. For example, if you’ve gotten involved in social activism projects and have brought your music to those efforts, then it might be great to feature one of these projects in your Bio.
Likewise, if your sexual orientation or gender identity is core to your purpose as a musician — if it informs the concert experiences you design or your programming, and what you want audiences to experience — then yes, tell us about it.
Just make sure that in whatever you choose to reveal about yourself, that the connection and relevance to your music is clear — because in the end, the purpose of your Bio is to welcome us in to your world via your music.
OK, so we’ve looked at how to bring more of yourself to your Bio.
And if you’d like to find out how getting expert coaching can help you bring more of your best work — and YOU — out into the world, let’s talk.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well