Top 4 mistakes most classical musicians make when writing their biographies
I’ve been lucky to be on the receiving end of a lot of emails asking for performing opportunities. As a result of this, I’ve seen a TON of classical musicians’ biographies, and I’m genuinely amazed at how some stick out from the pack for all the right reasons… but mainly how there are so many dull and boring ones that I dismiss instantly and will probably make for a bad read in concert programmes.
These are the top 4 mistakes classical musicians make in their biographies that you should avoid...
1 – Not knowing what you are offering or who you are
With a good bio, you really do get the sense of who someone is, what they do and how they will perform. With bad ones, it’s the total opposite. No structure, no sense of what they are offering to the audience, agent, or booker.
It’s a great idea to sit down and audit what kind of musician you are and what it is you want to promote and offer. Are you a virtuosic soloist or a tender chamber musician, someone with an abundance of energy or someone who performs with reserved care… all of these are right answers and you can convey them in your bio to let the reader know just exactly who you are and who they're booking. If you struggle to know what either you or your playing is like, ask a friend (wine helps). A bit of personality is always a good thing to include too!
Also, work out what the purpose of your bio is. Don’t spend hours talking about quartet work if you’re using it to try and get solos or performing a solo, and vice versa.
2 – Starting with where you are from and how old you are
Genuinely, this is the biggest thing that switches me off reading them. I NEVER finish the sentence, let alone the bio. Seriously, if yours starts like this you should change it... immediately... and it will make the world of difference.
In the interest of honesty… mine used to start just like this…
“Originally from Scarborough, David started playing the cello aged 9…”
I’m pretty certain that you don’t care about either of those facts… no one does. Unless you started playing at the miraculous age of 3 months, or you were born on the moon, they’re not of interest to anyone.
The beginning of your bio is your chance to grab the readers attention and set the tone for who you are, what you do and the rest of bio… think of it as a newspaper headline.
Here’s a great example from Nicola Benedetti:
"Nicola Benedetti is one of the most sought after violinists of her generation. Her ability to captivate audiences with her innate musicianship and dynamic presence, coupled with her wide appeal as a high profile advocate for classical music, has made her one of the most influential classical artists of today."
Boom… straight between the eyes. Sense of importance, demand, what type of musician she is and her passion for advocating classical music… SO MUCH MORE ENGAGING!
3 – Writing chronologically
I think this has a lot to do with calling this spiel a “biography”. The word itself suggests it should be a year by year chronological account. Unless you had a very exciting concert touring period aged 7, it’s unlikely that you’ll be telling people about the really good exciting stuff till the end… and to be honest I probably won’t read that far…
A much better word for it would be “PROFILE”.
Just think of it… “artist profile”… “musician profile”… straight away the wording makes you rethink how you would write it.
You wouldn’t waste the first 2 paragraphs with where you’re from (as mentioned), where you studied, who you studied with… you can get right to the juicy stuff you need to tell people to sell yourself.
General advice for structure:
Snazzy opening line or two… something subjective is usually good as you can whack in a ton of superlatives to get the reader’s attention and make them excited. A quote is always a good thing too.
The BIGGEST achievements you’ve done. Go straight into it… no messing around. It doesn’t matter if you did it last week or 40 years ago… you’ve got to sell yourself, so get straight to it.
Most relevant stuff. Probably going to be performance related…
Something about passions and projects… teaching, a chamber festival you curate... that kind of thing.
AOB – any other business… stuff you’ve done that you feel it’s good to include but isn’t all that important. People you’ve worked with that are good name drops (clang), countries you’ve been to that are interesting maybe. Also, it’s a good chance for a cheeky plug… recordings you did a while back are always a good one as you might be able to get an extra sale.
Thank you messages if you want… if you do, put a bit of emotion into them to and tell of the importance of the support. This means that the reader will know a bit more about your world and will feel like they have a connection to you.
4 – Missing off social media
I’m amazed how few biogra…. ahh stuff it, I’m changing to “profiles” for good now.
I’m amazing how few profiles don’t end with social media links. This is an amazing opportunity to, 1) back up your profile with your portfolio of social media channels, and 2) to push traffic to you and get people/audiences to connect with you.
Maybe end with something like “David loves connecting with his audiences on social media. Why not follow him and share your experiences of his concert on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using the hashtag “#DavidConcert” and follow him on @.......”
Seriously… this is a golden opportunity for you to connect with your audience and build a following… and it’s the one that most people aren’t doing.