Pianist Anna Manalo wrote in with a juicy branding and marketing question for all of us to chew on. Here’s what she asked about, “how to determine / identify authenticity for an ensemble.” And of course, we can apply this to individual musicians as well. Let’s dive in on The missing ingredient in your bio — authenticity.

To get down to nuts and bolts, let’s zero in on authenticity in bios. Let’s start with bio basics.

What’s it for?

It’s easy to think that a bio is simply about selling and promoting your music and positioning yourself in the market place. But I agree with composer / bassoonist John Steinmetz, who writes:

“The purpose of a bio is not to show that you are ‘worthy’ or how well you measure up to others. Instead, it’s about helping readers understand who you really are. There’s only one YOU, complete and original. Help readers to ‘get’ who you really are so they can get your music, too.”

A well-written bio should, through words, bring you (or your ensemble) to life on the page. Readers and fans are interested in the energy and spirit behind the music you make—the WHY of what you do. That means you need to do more than list your credentials.

What does “authenticity” mean, anyway?

It’s an over-used word that’s unfortunately become a stand-in for a host of marketing and branding ploys. But for me, authenticity in bios is all about these 3 things:

1. Consistency

Meaning that what’s conveyed in words matches what audiences actually experience in your performances. That what we read is what we get. Your bio should NOT be a ‘false front,’ a slick fabricated image, or a list of empty superlatives masking your insecurities. Been there, done that.

2. A call to action

As a marketing tool, the purpose of your bio is to get readers to take action. An effective bio is an energized invitation to engage with you. It sparks readers’ curiosity: prompting them to click “PLAY” and to listen and view clips of your performances.

3. Being open, honest, and human . . .

Authenticity is about being real. It’s coming clean about who you really are and why you do what you do.

This means being open and generous enough to reveal your intentions, what’s behind your music, so you can connect with readers on a human level.

This doesn’t mean including a lofty-sounding mission statement full of clichés about the ‘power of music.’ And this doesn’t mean telling your life story, early influences, and everything of note that you’ve ever done. Please don’t do that.

Instead, why not describe what you are looking to create through your performances for your audiences. And write about what’s special about your performances, what audiences have found compelling, and what kind of community you’re creating through your work.

Check Your Emotional Baggage

Working on bios inevitably brings up self-esteem issues. No matter what we’ve accomplished, we may feel we’ve got nothing to write that’s worth reading—that we’re not “good enough.” That every person reading the bio is judging us and finding us wanting.

This is scarcity thinking. It’s common among musicians and it stems from thinking of music as competition. So instead of our bios generously inviting people to our music, we write from a standpoint of fear that we’re being judged. In working on your bios, it’s all too easy fall into the black hole of comparison, self-judgment, and discouragement.

Most bios are written with the “I need to prove myself” mindset so they’re rife with long lists of awards, venues, and repertoire.

News flash: no one wants to read that crap.

Now, you might say that YOU are interested in knowing those kinds of details in other musicians’ bios. But I’d bet that’s because you’re busy comparing your career to theirs—you’re trapped in comparison thinking.

I can you tell for sure that concert presenters, the media, and audiences do NOT want to read long lists of all the festivals or venues you’ve played, the awards you’ve won, the degrees you hold, etc.

On the most basic level, a bio should help readers remember you. So if your bio is full of clichés, boring lists, and details no one cares about—then you’re not helping yourself or your career.

Of course you DO need to include key credentials that clue readers in to where you are in your career. Yes, give us the highlights of what you’ve done. But these credentials need to be interspersed with engaging descriptions of your performances or of your music you write.

You don’t have to use media quotes for this. Think about what people have told you over the years about your sound, your performances, your music. Not the generic “beautiful” or “impressive” but something more pinpointed that engages our curiosity.

Also: include descriptions of current or recent projects. This will help readers understand what you’re fascinated with and why, and help get them curious enough to click “play.”

To help you “humanize” your bio, here are  . . .

4 role play questions to get more authenticity in your bio

To do this you need your phone and your imagination.

Imagine you are visiting with a favorite Aunt (or other relative) and catching up. You don’t get to see each other all that often so this is a treat for both of you.

Your Aunt is not a musician but wants to hear about what you love to do and why. She’s curious about your music-making and asks you a few questions.

She’s smart and you like her. So there’s no need to dumb things down. But she doesn’t know (or care) about music jargon, so you need to talk like a human—not like a textbook.

Answer the questions below as you would in real life in a conversation with your Aunt.

Record your answers on your phone, talking as you would in a real conversation, using short anecdotes, giving examples, and responding in first person “I” statements.

Don’t edit your answers—just talk it out the way you would with your favorite relative. Get the ideas out and recorded, answering the following, as though your Aunt asked you . . .

What projects are you working on these days? I’m curious about what you’re excited about—and why.

Wow, this makes me wonder what it is overall that keeps you in love with making music.

What do you want audiences to experience in your performances?

What’s the change you seek to make through your music?

These questions should get you started towards a more compelling and candid bio—one that doesn’t read like a zillion other musicians. Listen back to what you recorded. Listen for your real enthusiasm and candid descriptions of the work you love. Identify what parts of your answers you can work into your bio.

For more bio help, check out these other blog posts:

How to Build a Better Bio

Wait, why do I make music?

Your Bio’s 5 Elements

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