How to write a good band bio

This article was originally written around 2003-2004

If you’re an independent band trying to
get attention from promoters, record companies, radio personalities,
or other elements of the music industry, you’ve got two main weapons
in the vanguard of your assault: your demo and your bio. When it
comes to making a good demo, there’s no lack of discussion about how
to get a good recording. But writing a good bio is a subject that
often gets overlooked, and the evidence of that can be found in
almost every indie promo pack that you see. Now I’m no expert, but
I’ve written a few bios in my life, and have had them picked apart
enough by music industry folks to learn what constitutes a good and
meaningful bio. So grab a pen and paper, and let’s get started on
making the most of your band’s bio.


The bigger picture


The first thing to
understand about bio writing is that your bio is just a small part of
a much bigger picture: your marketing strategy.
If you’re like I used to be, that phrase makes you queasy, because
it summons up images of yuppies in suits talking about how to sell
toothpaste. But what a marketing strategy comes down to is
effectively communicating that which you have to offer to the people
that you are offering it to. In other words, you want to get across
to people, in their terms,
who and what you are.


The most basic part of this is your band’s image. Do you have an
image? What is it? How do you dress when you get on stage? What
kind of music do you play, and what kind of people like your music?
What kind of people don’t like your music?



Finding an image is really a topic unto itself, but suffice it to say
that without a cohesive image for your band, writing a bio is going
to be tough work; because to write a bio, you’ve got to know first of
all how you want to present yourself to the public. This is going to
shape the language you use, the type of information you present, the
type of information you leave out, and the way you present the
information that you do.


Understanding
Key roles


This is where we all have to put our egos aside (yeah, I know, good luck).
In 95% of the acts out there, there are no more than three roles
that the public is concerned with: 1. The frontperson (almost always
the lead singer) 2. the main songwriter 3. the virtuoso musician (not
necessarily the best player in the group, but rather the musician who
sets the musical tone of the group. Typically the lead guitarist,
keyboard player, DJ, or programmer, depending on the style of music).
Sometimes these three are the same person. Sometimes they are
filled by two people. Rarely are they filled by three people, though
it’s possible. For example, in Aerosmith, Steven Tyler is the front
man and songwriter, and Joe Perry is the musician; most people
probably couldn’t name the other band members.


In all honesty, until you are as big as
U2 or the Beatles, nobody but your most slavish fan is going to care
much about anyone else in the band beyond these main personalities.
So when you write the bio, focus primarily on those members, and
focus on them with respect to their key roles. What do I mean
by this? Bono of U2 occasionally plays rhythm guitar in concert; but is this of consequence to the
band’s image? No. When U2 is presented to the public, Bono is the
front man, Edge is the guitar player. That’s what’s important.

Now, I’m not saying
that you can’t mention the rest of the band, or that it’s not apropos
to list the members of the band at some point. In fact, if you’ve
got a band of permanent members, it’s silly not to mention them all
at least once. But you really don’t need to mention much more than
their names and their instruments, unless something in their
individual histories is important to the band’s image or
marketability (for example, if you’re a jazz quartet and your bassist
played with Miles Davis, or your drummer used to be in a well-known
regional cover band), or if something about them uniquely influences
the band’s sound (like a drummer who’s really into African percussion
and took the band in a world-beat direction as a result). If this is
the case, though, stick to talking about them with respect to these
things. Remember, in the end, it’s about the band, not the
members…


More than the
sum of its parts



A band is not just a group of individual musicians playing together.
A band has a got its own personality, its own goals, and its own
sound. Think about this: if you go to a website of a company that
makes a product, say Pepsi for example, the first thing you’re going
to read about on that site is the product, followed by the company’s
values, and then maybe some news about the company. You’re not going
to see a list of the company’s employees with a brief individual bio
next to each of them. Why? Because nobody cares who the assistant to
the vice president for marketing is, how long he’s worked for the
company, or what he did before working for Pepsi. At best it’s
useless information for most people; at worst it might be detrimental
information for the company.



One of the biggest marks of an amateur bio is that you’ll see a
section where each member has a little mini bio, telling their age,
there influences, how long they’ve played, what bands they’ve played
in, etc. Once again, at best it’s useless information. At worst it
could be detrimental to your image.



Again, understanding key roles is what matters here. We don’t
need to know that the keyboard player played tuba in middle school,
or that the singer can play guitar even though he doesn’t do that in
the band. You’re not trying to sell your individual talents, you’re
trying to sell the band as a whole.


Describing your
sound



A person reading your bio may or may not have the ability, the time,
or the desire to listen to your demo. So it’s your job when writing
the bio to introduce the band’s sound in a clear, memorable, and
descriptive way. This can be more challenging than it sounds.
You’ve got to tread a thin line between making yourself sound cliché
and derivative, while at the same time providing references that are
familiar enough and detailed enough to communicate the sound and make
the reader feel that your music isn’t going to be too obscure for
them to enjoy. Before you start writing, pin down some ideas for
describing your band’s sound, including artists you sound like,
styles that are similar, etc. The descriptions you come up with may
not necessarily enter the bio verbatim, but it will give you an idea
of how to talk about the band’s sound as you develop the bio.


Getting down to
business



Now that we’ve got our facts together, it’s time to start writing the
bio. Let’s go over a good basic outline for a bio (this is just one
suggestion, by the way), using a fictitious Omaha rock band "Willie
and the Widgets". The basic structure is:



  1. Introduction
  2. Your history
  3. Your sound
  4. Points of note / Quotes about the band
  5. Your goals / Statement of purpose
  6. Personal moment

1. Introduction



Your introduction is probably the most important part of the bio.
You’ve got about two sentences to hit people with a quick summary of
everything else in the bio and hook the reader in enough to get them
interested in the rest of the bio. Craft these sentences carefully.
Take a look at this example:



“Willie and the Widgets were a little surprised when the Omaha
Music review named them the region’s best rock band of 2004; but this
prodigious group of youngsters and their neo-80’s rock sound have
been building a buzz in the Nebraska scene since they started touring
last year.”


Consider
how much information I’ve communicated with this one opening
sentence. You know the band is young, you know they’ve got a sound
that is 80’s rock but with some kind of modern twist (since it’s
“neo”), you know that a major regional publication has
taken favorable notice of them, you know where they’re from, you know
that they’re nice guys without egos (which you might conclude from
the fact that they were “surprised” to hear of their
accolades). Let me emphasize that you need to trim the fluff from
these first sentences, and get creative with how you open the bio.
So many bios start out
"_____ is a band from _____ that has been together since______."
or something like that. Have you no better information to hit people
with in the first sentence than that? What’s the most intriguing
aspect of your band? What’s the biggest feather in your cap? What’s
the one thing you want people to think of when they think of your
band and your music? If the answer to any of those questions is
where you’re from, how long you’ve been together, and
the mind-numbingly obvious fact that your band "is a band",
you might want to think about a different career…

2. Your history



The band’s history is not a place simply to give a detailed account
of the band getting together. Your purpose here is to give a point
of reference for how the band came to be, why the band came to be,
what the band has been doing, and why people should care. If you’re
a fairly new band, you’re probably going to focus on how the band
came together. If you’re an established act, this is a good place to
give a general overview of the band’s career (e.g. How many albums
have you recorded, how many shows played, any special press or
awards). Whatever you write, it should all be with respect to
your image,
and it should focus on the members in the key
roles.
For 95% of the bands out there, the band history is going
to be the story of how the frontperson met the songwriter or virtuoso
musician and they made the band what it is today, or how the
singer/songwriter/virtuoso decided to join or put together a band to
play his or her work. I don’t care if the drummer, bass player, and
rhythm guitarist had been jamming together for 3 years prior to this
(though you certainly can mention it); the formation of the band is
going to be when the key role members got together. Let’s go back to
“Willie and the Widgets”.



“The band started in 2003 when singer/songwriter Willie Jones
met lead guitarist Paul Pickle of the Leather Socks at a Poison
reunion concert. Fueled by a mutual interest in 80’s rock, the two
began recording original material in Willie’s home studio. ‘It
became clear right away that we had something worthwhile after the
first few demos’ says Paul, ‘Will and me just clicked, and we knew
the time was just right to bring back this classic sound.’”


I want to go on a tangent here for a moment and talk about style.
Take note of how that paragraph is written. It’s in third person,
first of all; this is a must. Don’t write your bio in first person,
because if it sounds like you’re actually saying the things that are
probably going to need to be said in a bio, you’ll come off as being
full of yourself. Even if you write your own bio (and most people
know that indie bands do), it sounds a little more legit in third
person. Secondly, notice the use of quotes. Quotes are great,
because they allow you to use third person, but also give a personal
feel to the text. This also lets the band’s “voice” or
personality come through while keeping the main voice of the bio in
neutral, standard English (in other words, you can talk street lingo
in the quotes and stick to standard grammar in the narration). When
you use quotes, use them to fill in the details of a statement.
Notice above that the third person voice tells the general story of
the band’s formation, then the quote comes in with a more personal
aspect on the statement. This is a good basic form to follow.

3.Your sound



Next comes the arduous task of describing the band’s sound. Don’t
get obsessive about this; I know you’re an artist and you can’t be
pigeon-holed, categorized, or labeled. But nobody wants to read half
a page of small print describing your exact sound, the influences of
every member, where you got your inspiration for your snare drum
sound, etc. Now if you’ve followed my advice above and done some
thinking about your sound and how you might describe it, you’ve
already got a good idea of how you want to describe your sound to
people. But don’t have a paragraph that just starts, “Our band
sounds like ______.” If you look at the sample bio, I’ve
already given you a good idea of what this band might sound like in
the intro and history; now it’s time to clarify it a bit and maybe
work in some quotes from band members about how they might describe
the sound, or how audiences react the sound, or generally what they
think of the way the band sounds. Such as this:



“The band was soon joined by drummer/DJ Ed Farrel, who spiced
up the mix with both his powerful Bonham-style playing and
electronica loops. ‘At first we just had this sort of 80’s revival
thing in mind,’ recalls Willie, ‘But when Ed came along he started
breaking out all these loops and effects and we were like, cool!’
The combination worked, and it gave Willie and the Widgets the
unique edge that defines the band’s sound.”


Notice a few things here; first, we’ve made a smooth transition from
the history to talking about the sound. Also, we’ve given you the
reader a context for what you’re going to hear, and some insight into
band’s inner dynamic. Sure, we haven’t described the sound to the
last detail, but by now you have a pretty good idea of what you’re
going to hear from these guys. Enough to get you interested, anyway;
and it’s a lot more readable than something like this:



"Willie and the Widgets sound like 80’s rock with live and
sampled hiphop beats. The drummer is inspired by Jon Bonham, Tommy
Lee, and Chuck D. The guitarist Paul is really into Poison and
Tesla, but he gets his guitar tone from a Wolfgang running through a
5150 stack, so he sounds more like Eddy Van Halen."

Etc.,
Etc., blah blah blah…. Save this stuff for the album reviewers.


4. Points of
note / Quotes about the band


“Points of note” would be little tidbits of information
that might help you to stand out among the crowd and give the reader
another reason to take interest in you. It might be a quote from a
publication, an endorsement from some respected musical figure, facts
and figures about album sales, etc. (Of course, if you’re a brand
new band without individual histories in the music scene, that’s
going to be challenging; you may want to gloss over this section…)


It’s important to understand that if you’re going to put quotes and
whatnot in here (and if you’ve got them, you should), it all needs to
stay focused on the band and the key members in their
key roles. Quotes from your high school band director saying
what a great flugel horn student the guitarist was don’t help. You
want quotes from people about your band’s sound, your live show, the
devotion of your fan base, your professionalism at gigs, and so
forth. When you tour or network with other musicians, it should be
your mission to harvest quotes from anyone you can (and be sure to
ask them if you can quote them on what they say). You never know
who’s going to make it big next, and if you have a quote from them
that’s going to catch your reader’s eye and attention. Let’s go back
to our example.



“Excited as they were with the new sounds they were laying
down, the band never anticipated the enthusiasm which critics and
fans alike found for their music. Within two weeks of releasing
their debut EP, SnakeSpeare, they were all sold out, moving
almost 1000 copies! ‘I can’t get over this band’, comments Bob
Brown, host of Good Morning Omaha, ‘Their songs are fresh and
familiar a t the same time, with absolutely addictive melodies.’
Local promoter and club owner Jed Bailey agrees, ‘Willie and the
Widgets’ stage show should be registered with the FDA as a stimulant,
and probably only available by prescription.’"

It should go without saying that quotes from your family, significant
others, or close friends (unless they’re colleagues in the music
business) are definite no-nos. Nobody cares if your grandma and your
girlfriend are impressed with you. Don’t be afraid to ask the people
you gig with or who listen to your music to give you quotes; it’s
common practice, and the worst they can do is say no (or ignore you).

5. Your goals


Now let’s talk about the band’s goals. Goals don’t have to be your
five-point plan for success. We want to get across to the reader why
this band bothers to do what it does. Are you looking to dominate
some local or regional scene? Trying to make it onto a major label?
Just having fun? You want the reader to understand the spirit of the
band, and what you’re doing or working toward as a result. For
Willie and the Widgets, we might write something like…


“Although
they couldn’t be happier than they are with their devoted fans in
Nebraska, Willie and the guys have set their sites on
the Midwestern region. Following the February release of their
second album, Willie and the Widgets II,
the band is planning a tour that will stretch from Southern Wisconsin
to the east coast of Florida. ‘We just want to get out there and
play at this point,’ Paul says, ‘With two albums and some EP’s under
our belt, we’re ready to get back to what it’s all about: rockin’ the
house!’"

You could probably
say a bit more than that, but you get the idea; you’re telling people
what’s going on with the band. After all, you’re probably sending
this out to people who you hope to do business with, it’s good to
give them an idea of what kind of business you’re after, both in the
immediate and distant future.

6. Personal moment

With the business
pretty much out of the way now, it’s time to draw the audience in for
a personal moment, to close the bio with a little insight into what
the band is really about and what people think. If you’re a
songwriter, maybe end this with a bit about what makes you write
what you do; if you’re a band with a social or religious agenda, talk
about that. This is kind of a "statement of purpose", but
with a more personal aspect to it. You want to leave the reader with
a sense that you’ve communicated to them on a real,
not-so-businesslike level. It doesn’t have to be soppy or deep, just
a little more first-person (and yeah, this is a good place for
quotes; almost imperative, if you follow this model).



"’What it comes down to for us,’ remarks Paul, ‘Is that we
really dig what we’re doing, and we’ve brought a lot of people
something they really dig too.’ ‘Exactly,’ agrees Willie, ‘Even
without all the success, we’ve met so many people who say "this
is the kind of music I love, why is nobody else playing it?"
that we wouldn’t want to do anything else.’

You take it from
here



Let me reiterate once again that what you’ve just read is one model
for a bio. You may find that a different model suits you better.
But regardless, I hope you’ve learned from this the kind of things
that a good band bio should communicate, and a better idea of how to
communicate them in an interesting yet readable way. I also hope
you’ve come to understand that successfully marketing your band is
about seeing your band in the terms that the public sees it (rather
than the way that you and the egos you work with see it), and
communicating with both the public and your potential business
contacts in those terms. Best of success to you!

8 Thoughts on “How to write a good band bio

  1. Levi Terrell says:

    Thanks, helped a lot!

  2. Adam says:

    Dude,
    your awesome-ness flows through my vains now.
    Really helpful. I enjoyed it.
    Thanks!

  3. Great information and you nailed it!

  4. Jon says:

    Really struggling to write my band bio, so I’ve looked at a few sites offering advice on how to write a bio. This article is the one I’ve found most helpful by far, thanks. Your bio of fictitious band Willie and the Widgets is so good I wanna go see the band lol.

  5. Sharon says:

    Thanks so much for such an informative article. This information will be so helpful in writing the band bio for my husband’s new band. My goal is to write a band bio that won’t soon be forgotten. Your information is right on point! Thanks again!!

  6. Excellent advice! Putting together a bio for a friend’s band and the information was insightful and well written. Thanks!

  7. Sullivan says:

    Very informative. It helped me out a lot! Love the way you broke down everything with detailed explanations.

  8. Greg says:

    Great advice,
    We are going to change the name of our band to Willie and the Widgets.

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