How to write a bio – for artists, writers and musicians

As a grassroots venue that showcases new artists for the most part, we often see people struggling with writing a bio for the first time.

Making art is the easy part – Caroline Misselbrook doing what they do best!

In a culture where we’re taught not to blow our own trumpet or talk about ourselves too much, writing a bio can be really daunting!

A bio is about helping the people publicising your work and connecting with your audience. Usually, the person reading it already likes your work or has an interest in it, so is receptive and supportive from the get go – this is good to remember!

A bio is basically a story, it’s a narrative piece told to capture people’s imagination, so approach it as a creative project rather than a chore.

Here are some simple pointers, we’ve written these from the perspective of a venue using bios to promote artists, but they’re also applicable to bios for other uses:

1) Keep it short – around 50 – 200 words or less if you can manage it, as people rarely have time to read a long bio. You can always link to a longer one to say all you want to say, but keep the initial one short. Another way to approach this is to write a snappy, one or two sentence bio, followed by a slightly longer one, with more information lower down if people want to use it.

2) Write in the third person, so refer to yourself as ‘she/he/they/your pronoun’ rather than ‘I’.

3) To save time updating your bio, avoid info that dates it. For instance, your year of birth rather than your age, the date of your first exhibition or album rather than ‘last year’.

4) Include personal information and your influences and inspiration. Use your own tone and language, your bio needs to read as your voice, use the creative skills you have to write your bio. Also, if you are comfortable and it is safe for you to do so, talk about your identity and how it relates to your art – this can help draw in people who share some of your experiences.

5) Don’t forget to talk about your work, too! A personal bio is nice, but you’re talking about the art you make, which can be hard but is important to do. Genre and context help people decide if they want to learn more about you and it’s important to make your work sound worth checking out! A useful trick for this is to pretend you are bigging up somebody else’s work, like a ringmaster in a circus: ‘Roll up and see the magnificent, wondrous glory that is …..’, play with starting with this and really exaggerating how brilliant your work is – and then tone it down until it feels right. This helps to overcome reticence about ‘boasting’.

6) Include things that excite you about your artform – love of symbolic language, your enthusiasm for the instruments you play, how using ink thrills you … don’t be shy, that passion is what will interest people reading your bio. Also if you have a good story about how you found your artform, allude to it!

7) Include a photo of yourself, ideally engaging in making or performing your work, or if you’re a first timer with no performance photos yet, snap some with your instrument or in a place that inspires you. Some publicists will want a headshot, some like a full body shot, so if you can, include both. Also, if you use a special font or logo for yourself, include it!

8) Mention your achievements – this isn’t conceited at all, it is giving people an idea of your path so far and telling your story. Including positive reviews or quotes after your bio can also be really useful for somebody publicising your work. You need to make yourself stand out as worth your audience’s time and money.

9) Don’t forget a ‘call to action’ – invite people to follow you on social media, listen to your new album, view more of your work online, check out your book, come to your show etc. Put this right at the end so the publicist using your bio has the option to edit it out if their policy doesn’t allow this, but use your bio as a way of inviting people to engage with you in future.

10) Ask for help! Writing about yourself can be really tricky, so get some feedback from people who know your work and can help you describe it. Remember, you have to write your own bio in your words, but other perspectives can help you get there.

11) Stop putting it off! Having a good bio and basic publicity info is key to getting your artwork seen, so don’t keep your work to yourself – get your bio done and get it out there. Although the arts is a very competitive field and many artists experience barriers due to continuing inequality of access, and we never want to belittle the impact of these challenges, the most common issue we see across the board is artists standing in their own way by listening to their inner critics! Give that blockmonster the heave-ho, the world needs your art now more than ever.

One last thing – if you can’t do all of what we’ve suggested, do what you can. Imperfect and done is better than not done at all.

How about you? What things do you like to include in your bio or see in others?

About janifranck

Artist, activist, founding director of The Art House in Southampton.
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