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How to Write a Bio that Doesn't Suck!

A bio can be a tough nut to crack for independent artists. So how do you write a good bio?

First of all, proper spelling and punctuation are imperative. Don’t have errors in your bio!  Have other people proofread your bio, especially if this isn’t one of your strengths. (I’ve been guilty of spelling and grammatical errors plenty of times myself – just make sure you don’t let yourself off the hook too easily. Proofread. Care. It matters)

Structure your paragraphs in a way that’s easy to read. Be digestible. Giant paragraphs and run-on sentences are amateur and make your bio difficult to read – not what you want!

As for the content, there are many ways to approach it. Here’s one of them:

First paragraph = Who are you? – in the present moment.

This is the first question on people’s minds. Hit ‘em hard with a good concise answer to this question. If you’re a kick ass yodeler from Mongolia with the worlds largest mustache, who is well known for his world renowned backwards yodeling technique, then don’t start off your bio with a story about how you took yodeling lessons at age 7 (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz). Start off you bio with some thing like this:

Joe Blow is more than just your typical man from Mongolia with a 5 foot handlebar mustache. He’s also quite possibly the best backwards yodeler in all of Asia.

Who is Joe Blow? Bam! There’s your answer. Compelling, no? Elaborate further with a few more lines about who you are and you’ve got your first paragraph.

The opening paragraph should do two things. It should set the context for the reader to be able to process the rest of the information – a starting point that answers their question, “who is this person?” – and, it should be compelling enough to make the reader want to know more.

If you can’t condense your story into a couple of tasty lines to open your bio, then you may have a bigger issue to deal with. You need to establish a coherent identity as an artist, otherwise you’ll have difficulty marketing yourself.

Take Miller Lite for example.  Remember the old “Tastes great, less filling” ads?

What if their message was: “Tastes great, will help you get chicks, goes good with hamburgers, the perfect beverage for football games, will make you more popular, less filling.” ? Would that work? Of course not! You wouldn’t remember that. Don’t try to market yourself the same way. Tastes great, less filling. Bam!

After you’ve answered the initial question in the first paragraph, you can add some depth with some of the back story. How did you get to be who you are? - and keep it interesting. If you don’t have anything interesting to say then either try harder to come up with something, start doing things that are interesting that you can write about in the future, or make something up – because if your story isn’t interesting, you’ve got nothing! ex.:

It is rumored that, although it had been outlawed in Mongolia since 1932, at the age of 8 Joe secretly began taking backwards yodeling lessons; Not from just anyone, but from the one and only Yohan Van Hosenstein – the worlds greatest backwards yodeler, who has been in hiding from the government since 1968.

Continue along those lines to bridge the reader into the present moment…..

Next, we answer the question, “what are you doing now?” ex.:

Today Joe Blow performs in yodeling clubs all across Europe and Asia. He has just released his critically acclaimed 12th CD, “¡Gniledoy Sdrawkcab!,” and he continues to enter and win various mustache contests while on tour.

Finally, we answer the question, “what is your future?” ex.:

Joe dreams of one day bringing backwards yodeling back to Mongolia. As the founder of the ‘Backwards Yodeling Action Committee,’ he will not rest until his children are able to backwards yodel in the streets of Ulan Bator. In the meantime, he will continue to bring smiles to the faces of backwards yodeling enthusiasts across the Eastern Hemisphere and to spread his message:

“¡Emosewa si Gniledoy Sdrawkcab!”

That’s it. Four paragraphs should do – one to answer each question:

1) Who are you?

2) How did you get to be who you are?

3) What are you doing now?

4) What is your future?

The important thing is to answer these questions in a compelling way. The worst thing you can do is babble on about things that aren’t interesting to the reader. You don’t have to tell your whole story – you just have to tell a story you can sell. Don’t include elements that aren’t interesting to the reader.

Josie was born in Exeter, Rhode Island. The Summers were nice, but the winters were cold. She started school at age 6 in Exeter-West Greenwich school district. Her favorite subject was math.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Hell no! Don’t do that! Keep the end result in mind. You want the person who is viewing your page to actually read your bio.  THIS IS RARE! You are not going to get many people who like to read bios – especially long bios! It doesn’t matter what’s in it if people don’t read it! Make it short and sweet. Be the exception. Be the 1 out of 100 artists whose bio actually gets read.

How do you get people to read a bio? It starts with how it looks. Litterally. Look at it, without reading the words. Cross your eyes a little bit if that makes it easier.

People have gotten very good at sizing things up quickly. Information is EVERYWHERE today. We’ve learned to make very quick decisions in which we weigh the perceived time investment on our parts against the perceived value that we’ll receive.

What percentage of bios do you read that you find compelling and entertaining? Most people do not expect someone’s bio to give them very much pleasure. Weigh that against the amount of information and stimuli in our worlds that are competing for our attention, and then again, against how long we perceive it will take to read a bio. It’s usually a losing battle.

If you’re like me, then when you look at a book of quotes, for example, you go right for the short ones. Bios are no different.

That’s why I advocate short but sweet paragraphs. You want people’s brains to say “yeah, I can handle reading that,” when they glance at your bio. Then you have a chance to be compelling enough for them to read it ’till the end and actually get to know a thing or two about who you are. If your bio is good, and people actually read it, then you are way ahead of the game. This is rare.

You can always make a longer bio available if necessary, but I wouldn’t recommend leading with it in most cases.  If you follow my formula and you’ve got people complaining that your bio is too short and they want more information then, a) write to me, because I’d like to see that , and b) consider that a very good thing!

- Scott James

Reader Comments (9)

If it takes up more than half a page typed, it is too long. What do you do with the other half of the page? Insert some nice looking graphics to make it visually appealing. People can always go to your site to get more info. You're hooking bait, not cooking dinner.

Hey Scott,

I have a feeling that 4 paragraphs may be too long. In this day and age artists need bios that fit within social network profiles. I'd go with 4 different versions maybe. 250, 100, 50 & 25 words or something to that effect. I rarely read any bio longer than that anymore

What are your thoughts?

June 25 | Unregistered CommenterKevin English

Brian - good points.

Kevin, sure, it's going to depend where you're posting it. For example, you couldn't a 4 paragraph bio on your twitter page, but you could on your site. In my opinion 4 short interesting paragraphs should do just fine, and in fact would be much better than say 1 big paragraph. I'd say just taylor the bio appropriately for the format with a few things in mind. 1) it has to look like it's easy to digest. 2) It has to be interesting and make people want to know more.

June 25 | Unregistered CommenterScott James

Doog ffuts - sknaht!!!

By the way, I have a friend who raps backwards - fluently (well sounds confident at least, haven't the faintest idea what he is saying, of course!), and it sounds totally unique tho, frankly, bizarre. Fortunately, he only does so rarely...

June 26 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

I think that if you write four short paragraphs, people will say, "ok, I can read the first paragraph, that's not too long. Then you have the chance to hook them."

June 29 | Unregistered CommenterCole B

Thanks for this - extremely well written article!

June 29 | Unregistered CommenterIan Edwards

In the following paragraph, the word literally is spelled incorrectly. Literally is the correct way to spell the word.

How do you get people to read a bio? It starts with how it looks. Litterally. Look at it, without reading the words. Cross your eyes a little bit if that makes it easier.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

I found this extremely handy. I have an audition next week for Def Jam Records and I needed this. Thank you so much. :-).

We r writing a biography not an auto biography
Pleeez note....

February 13 | Unregistered Commenterakshat

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