Monday, February 10, 2014

How To Write A Compelling Artist Bio

As creative and expressive musical artists, we’d like to believe our music speaks for itself. It does, of course, but a well-crafted artist bio is still a necessary part of your press kit and promotional efforts. In addition to giving the reader a glimpse into your musical career/journey/accomplishments to date, an engagingly written band bio can increase the chances of your music getting heard, whether you’re approaching music journalists for press coverage, creating an electronic press kit, or just trying to draw in casual visitors to your website.

It’s no easy task to create a song that speaks to a wide audience and carries your unique fingerprint – and crafting a compelling and accessible artist bio can prove just as daunting. To help shed light on how to create a stellar band bio, I sought advice from Cary Baker, founder of the Los Angeles music publicity firm Conqueroo. Prior to starting Conqueroo, Baker served as VP of Publicity for Capitol Records, I.R.S. Records, and other labels – and before that, he worked as a music journalist for publications like Billboard, Mix, and Creem.

Understand the format
While artist bios can be written in any number of styles and configurations, Baker recommends a specific approach that has worked for him for decades. “We don’t really have bios or press releases anymore,” he says. “We have a uni-document. It’s a bio, but it’s a press release as well. It tells all about the artist’s background, but it also has a headline and a subhead that share the latest news.”
Bio length generally doesn’t matter much to Baker, as long as it tells the core, compelling story of the artist. “Sometimes we shorten bios when we send out paper versions with CDs,” he says. “Online, we don’t care how long a bio runs. We just want the uni-document to be a complete, thorough source of information.”
Baker tells his bio writers to start by describing the artist’s new album, or whatever the most current and exciting project may be. “It doesn’t matter that the band started in Chicago in 1984,” he says. “It matters that they have a new album coming out on such and such date, with this distribution and that label support, and this is why the project is important. So talk about the new album for a couple paragraphs to get people excited about it.”
A third of the way through, Baker advises, delve into the artist’s history. “This is where you say the band started in Chicago in 1984, recorded a second album two years later, won a Grammy in 1996, and work your way back to the present chronologically. Then discuss the current project again briefly at the end.”
“It’s a bit of a formula, granted,” he continues. “We’re open to variations, as long as the writer understands the basics of how we like to see a bio flow.”

Use quotes
Whether they come directly from the artist or from a blog post or newspaper article, quotes bring a bio to life and give it a unique feel and flavor. “If you have any pertinent quotes from media publications saying how great the album is, include those,” says Baker.
Though it’s not a hard and fast rule, Baker also likes to use quotes to bookend Conqueroo’s artist bios. “A good quote from the artist up front can establish a point of view and get people excited about the album,” says Baker. “I also like to end a bio with a quippy quote about the current project.”

Write for journalists and the public
When you’re putting a bio together, remember that you are creating a piece of writing for a varied audience, says Baker. “Bios aren’t just tools for journalists. They’re usually published on artist websites as well, so write and edit with both sectors in mind.” Furthermore, you never know who is going to see what – a blogger can easily post a bio meant for press for all the public to see online, and a journalist could peruse a band’s public page while trying to decide if they’re worthy of coverage.
In practical terms, writing for both audiences means making sure that your prose is catchy and engaging enough to grab the attention of a potential fan surfing to your site – as well as deep and thorough enough to give a journalist what he or she needs to become an instant expert on you and your music. Easier said than done? No doubt – but an important balance to keep in mind.

Know what to avoid
“When I was working as the head of publicity at Capitol Records, the president of the company commanded that we use no hyperbole in written materials,” says Baker. “So if I see anything like ‘unique,’ ‘best yet,’ or other needless superlatives, it’s gone. Let reviewers be the ones to include superlatives.”
One exception Baker notes is if such language is included in a quote from the artist him or herself, or if it truly supports an important theme or story for the subject of the bio.
Baker further advises to avoid clich├ęs, wherever they pop up in your bio writing. “It’s easy to fall back on them when you’re tired, under a deadline, or just not paying attention to the craft of writing,” he says. “But stay away from them for sure.”

Be specific
As a longtime music journalist myself, I’ve received countless press packages containing bios that didn’t grab my attention one bit. Why? They were too vague. A statement like “Artist X has recorded a career-defining album, meshing genres into a sound all his own,” tells me literally nothing. Much more intriguing, vivid, and informative, is something like “Artist X has recorded the first all-kazoo album of his career, combining speed metal and Zydeco influences into a pummeling sound that has rocked the San Fernando Valley.”
A simple test is to ask yourself, with each phrase, could this describe any number of artists, or only the music that I’m writing about? The closer to the latter you can come on a consistent basis, the more compelling your artist bio will be.

Consider outsourcing
Just like mixing, mastering, arranging horn parts, or any number of musical tasks, writing a strong bio is a specialized skill. If you find yourself more comfortable penning thoughtful lyrics rather than crafting engaging PR copy, it may be time to enlist the help of a professional writer.
Baker puts it bluntly: “Most artists should not write their own bio. Bio writing is a skill that recording artists – even articulate ones – don’t automatically have. I’ve gotten some of the worst crap I’ve ever read from artists who write their own, and then I have to communicate to them that I can’t use what he or she wrote. It’s just not the tool I needed. My company has four employees, and one is a dedicated editorial director. She doesn’t write much copy herself, but she goes over every stitch of print that we put out to make sure it’s clear and that it abides by the principles I’ve already discussed.”
To find a good bio writer, research is key. Check out artist bios on websites and when you find one that resonates with you, try contacting someone on their team to find out who the writer was. “Call upon a journalist in a local paper,” advises Baker. “Just make sure it’s not somebody who is going to run into a conflict of interest later if the opportunity to write about you comes up.” Other options include contacting musicology professors at local colleges or hitting up trade publications for recommendations.
When it comes to payment, Baker says that the going rate for a professional bio writer is $300-$500. “If you’re an indie band funding your project on KickStarter, you’ll pay less of course,” he says. “If you’re Sony/BMG or Interscope, perhaps writers will charge a bit more.”
While such a figure may seem steep, and you can likely find a reliable source to craft yours for less, it’s a good indicator of how important a quality bio can be. In many cases, your artist bio will be the first exposure a journalist or potential fan will have to you or your band – and a strong bio can prime the reader to engage with your music. Just like quality audio mastering or graphic design, a well-crafted bio can present you in an engaging, professional way and be well worth the investment.

Tell a story, but keep it practical
You want a bio to be vivid and engaging, says Baker, but there’s no single way to achieve that goal. “Some bio writers really bring across either the sound of a band or the content of a lyric,” he says. “Lyrics are important, and stories behind lyrics are important, too. One writer I work with is a former English professor. He really knows how to explain a lyric, get inside it, and find something in it to talk about. That’s a very different skill from a jazz bio writer, who will be able to better describe the confluence of influences, improvisational flow, and sonic appeal of an album.”
Regardless of how you make a bio come to life, remember that the core of a bio is the information it presents. In other words, you want to do your reader’s homework for him or her, says Baker – regardless of whether that reader is a journalist or fan-in-the-making. “It should be the one place where a journalist in particular can look for reference on an artist,” he says. “Everything you need to know should be right there, and be easy to find.”

Read more: Press Kit Fundamentals – How To Write A Compelling Artist Bio - Disc Makers Echoes

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sell out your next show in 10 easy steps

There’s no point in playing a show if no one shows up. Just listing a show on your Facebook Page will not bring people. Bands sometimes think that all they need to do is go on tour and get their shows listed on the venue’s website and people will magically show up because they are a ‘touring band’ far away from home. You must understand that venues do not promote their shows. They can’t. They have just too many. It is the reason Venues work with Promoters or expect bands to bring 100% of the crowd.

1. Spread Out Your Shows

Even if your favorite band played in your city every week you wouldn’t go see them. What makes you think your friends/passive fans will want to come see you every other weekend at various bars around town? They’ll just think “eh I’ll hit the next one. They play all the damn time!” So don’t play all the damn time. I recommend setting up a big show every 6-12 weeks locally and 4-6 months nationally.

2. Get A Street Team

The more people who work on the show the more people will be invested in its overall success. I used to get a street team of 10-20 people for all my big local shows to hit the town at night, in teams, with staple guns, tape, black winter caps and secret code words. I called my team “The Street Stand” (play off of Herstand) and I sometimes provided pizza or took them out to hot chocolate after a cold Minnesota postering evening, but they always got into the show for free and of course invited to the after party. In addition to the postering evenings, I gave them flyers to hand out at their work, on campus, at the bars, and some nights we had Facebooking parties where we all promoted the show video and Event on all our friends’ walls.

3. Make a Show Video

Create a 1:00-2:00 video specifically for that show. Include clips of music videos of the other bands (you can add annotations in YouTube to the actual music videos) and impressive (high quality) live clips. If bands don’t have high quality video, then at the very least run a photo stream with each bands’ music. Make sure you showcase all the bands on the bill and work with each band to promote the video. Making a show specific video legitimizes this specific show and turns it into an event.

4. Title Your Show

Make each show unique. Why people will come out to this show versus a random 4 band bill Wednesday night show is because this is an EVENT. Giving the show a title automatically turns it into a talked about Event. “Are you going to the Unknown Order show?” Versus “Pink Shoes are playing Chop Suey on Thursday again. Want to go?”

5. Create A Show Poster

Get a graphic design artist to create a special poster for this one show (with the Show Title of course). Depending on your budget, you can screen print a limited number and get all the bands to sign them. Then either sell them or get ticket holders to win them. This show poster should be used everywhere: Facebook Event, Instagram, Posters, Flyers, T-Shirts, Facebook Ads, etc. The more people who see the poster image, the more they will talk about it and the more likely they will get out to the show.

6. Sell Tickets In Advance

Always try to sell tickets in advance whenever possible. Getting people to purchase tickets in advance insures they will actually come! It also gets them to encourage their friends to buy tickets so they can all go together. Having advance tickets also legitimizes the shown and makes people feel more comfortable coming out.

7. Run Contests

Run various contests for promo efforts and advance ticket purchases. For one show, I gave out to advance ticket holders goodie bags containing a poster, stickers and other random fun nick-nacks from each band. It might be good to give the bags out after the show, though, as people are leaving – biggest complaint was that they had to hold onto the bag the entire night. Also, run contests on Facebook or Twitter to encourage people to share the Show Video and Show Poster. On the Facebook Event you can explain the contest like “Share this Event (or Video) on your Timeline, invite all your friends to this Event and then write MISSION ACCOMPLISHED on this Event’s wall. Everyone who does this will be thrown into a drawing to win a Tshirt and Poster at the show.” Then on stage at the show announce the winner.

8. Include Other Buzzing Bands

Maybe you got 50 people out to your last show, Pink Shoes got 30 to their last show, White Grey got 70 and Tombcat got 25. If there’s no overlap, that’s 175 that will most likely get out to this show (because it’s an Event). Those in the local music scene will also love to see 4 buzzing bands on one bill together. Get together bands who are good and buzzing. If they aren’t buzzing yet, well, get bands who are hard working and who will work just as hard as you on promo. Don’t bring on a band unless they are willing to follow the promo necessities.

9. Contact Local Media

Because this show is now an Event, you have the ammunition to get local media’s attention. If none of the bands could get more than just a mention in your local newspaper, bringing them together for this talked about event will get the paper to write about it.

10. Get a Sponsor

Find a local company, brand, newspaper or radio station that will get behind the event. This is a partnership for the evening. What the Sponsor gets is being associated with a hot event and getting included in all promo and in return, what you get can be anything from airtime, ad space in the newspaper, a write up on their (high traffic) website, alcohol, cash, printing and on and on. The best show-specific partnership deals with trades, not cash. We got a wine company to sponsor the Unknown Order show and they printed all of the full-color posters (some 400 to be put up around the city), donated a case of wine per band (which was nearly finished during the show – glad I didn’t perform last!), an ad in the weekly variety newspaper, some air time and other promo. This show sold out 10 minutes after the doors opened with 200 people turned away.
Once you sell out an established, well-respected venue in your hometown, everyone will start to take notice. Then, take your enterprise on the road!

[This article was written by guest contributor Ari Herstand. It originally appeared on his blog, Ari's Take.]

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Short, Tall, Skinny, Overweight... What Matters Most?

Petite model author Isobella Jade shares how and why measurements are not everything in modeling and why print modeling is easier than ever to be a part of, and how being natural sells.

Check out more Short Model Tips on her YOUTUBE Channel (opens in new window)