Many artists find it hard to describe themselves, particularly when they’re just getting started. How can you sound confident but not braggy? What is going to be interesting to the person reading and what should be left out?
Let’s consider why you might need a bio. With a lot of artist content being short-form and light on deep details (think TikTok videos and Spotify song links), that doesn’t encourage artists to post a bio anywhere. However, the need exists and because of these shifting content forms, having a bio and making it available somewhere online is actually more relevant than ever.
- Fans who are intrigued about you and your background might be looking to learn more of your story. You can control the narrative on what you want them to know, while giving them enough information to personalize yourself and make an even stronger connection with them.
- Those booking talent may want to know more about your background and experience as an artist before they consider booking/working with you. This specifically includes larger festivals, showcase opportunities, and music supervisors. Then if you are booked, many need a description that they can put on their marketing materials/website in order to entice fans to attend the show.
- Opportunities such as granting agencies, songwriting contests, and others require written information about you, often to provide deeper context for a jury.
- Media appreciate a bio containing a few different types of information and specific details that give them ideas for interesting things to talk about with you.
An artist bio will typically be up to a written page in length and is written in third-person form. The first paragraph should be interesting and give enough information that it can act as a stand-alone or ‘mini’ bio when others are looking to grab a quick paragraph about you. For emerging artists who don’t have a lot of achievements yet, the whole bio might only be 2 short paragraphs in length. That’s okay, it’ll grow over time.
A bio is a living thing and should be updated regularly as new achievements have happened, to remove older items, and reflect that your artistry is always changing.
An artist bio is not the same thing as a CV or an artist statement. A CV is more like a work resume, whereas the artist bio is more of a little story about who you are, and an artist statement is more so about the specific work you are undertaking and why you are doing that work (and an AS is generally written in first person).
Should give a sense of ‘who’ the artist is. It should be intriguing enough that the reader wants to know more, search out your music, or check out a video.
Explain your genre. This can either be direct (“Band XYZ performs ‘70s blues/rock covers”) or descriptive (“Band XYZ performs guitar-led songs that capture the spirit of the 1970s, calling to mind bell-bottom summers and disco platform shoes”). Your bio should paint a picture for the reader so that without hearing a note of your music, they would know what to anticipate from your live show or recordings.
Give info about your main achievements and/or recent releases.
Don’t be obtuse or lie. Saying that you “were named Songwriter of the Year” without providing further context such as the name of the presenting award/organization, or the year you received the award, will be useless to media and industry, and rather may cause the reader to wonder what you’re purposely leaving out.
Don’t use vague grandiose terms - unless it’s a quote. “Smithy is the best rapper to come out of the 6ix since Drake” will not garner respect; rather will raise eyebrows. The same line if quoted directly from an industry or media source, however, is a glowing review.
Always list the speaker if using quotes. Using a quote like the above without listing the industry source who said it may leave room to wonder if you made it up. It’s acceptable to use partial quotes – for example using only a sentence from a much longer paragraph – but don’t replace or add words.
If you have a specific lyrical or artistic focus around social, antiracism, environmental, political or other strong themes, include that information.
Include these if they apply (these won’t be relevant to all artists):
Who are the members of the band? How many members in the band, and what is the instrumentation? (Especially pertinent if you have very experienced individual band members, or unique instruments.)
Place of origin and/or heritage (if relevant to your musical style, cultural use, or for context, for example if you perform traditional Caribbean music and you are originally from the Caribbean.)
List your influences, particularly if varied and these have shaped your sound. You could also include a list of artists that you ‘sound like’ or ‘recommended if you like’
Release highlights, such as your last single or album, and any significant achievements with them (‘latest single streamed 500K times in its first 3 months’, ‘album charted on Earshot! Metal top 10 for 2 weeks’)
Live performance highlights (‘performance at Winterruption 2023 Calgary; Telemiracle 2021’) You don’t have to list all your performances but what you want to do is give a sense of/range of what you are capable of: Have you performed to huge crowds, or a few dozen folks? Can you perform for 1 set, or can you pull off a 3-hour set? Have you performed in markets outside your own geographical region? Have you showcased?
Award, chart, streaming, etc achievements, if you have any notable ones.
Any significant media coverage or opportunities received. (‘Featured in the Globe & Mail during Canadian Music Week’)
Note any communities you wish to highlight (‘a proud member of White Bear First Nations’; ‘a member of and advocate for the LGBTQIA2S+ community’)
Sweeten it up
To go beyond a basic, functional bio, think about what it is that makes you unique. It might be your style of music, it might be you as the artist, your subject matter, the way you perform, or other details. Then talk about that. You don’t have to be the only band in your region performing original music that's a throwback to ‘70s disco, but maybe you perform in full '70s costume and on vintage instruments. (How much more interesting would that be to talk about in a media interview??)
Have you received any great quotes? Think venues, festivals, reviewers, and even fellow artists. If you know that someone who hired you was pleased with your music, don’t be afraid to ask for a quote that you can include in your bio. (Just be sure to do it soon after the event.) Asking them to provide it in writing is helpful in getting the quote correct. If they said it to you in person after a show, be sure to ask permission and double-check that you heard the quote correctly. Do not use quotes where someone was reading out your own bio to you – for example, a media personality introducing you at a show.
Next, you might want to prepare a few different versions of your bio for different audiences. If you’re sending the bio to a music festival, you’ll want to focus on the past festivals you’ve played (if any) or highlight your biggest shows to date. You’ll want to have a one-paragraph bio that you can quickly add to submission forms as needed, and a more extended version that lives on a website and in a PDF on your computer for grant submissions.
Lastly, edit out any redundant or unnecessary information. If it’s not relevant to your music career/artistry, maybe it doesn’t need to be included.
Finally - Spellcheck! Proof! Double check that names of artists, musicians, festivals/venues, awards, and any other names you include are spelled correctly!