David Greenberg shares tips from his experience as Director of Marketing for Ted Kurland Associates, a boutique booking and management agency where Berklee interns gain insight into a successful career in music and business.
Yes, as Roger Daltry fades out in the background, we’re going to get on down to writing up your Bio. Now all of you non-artists out there, don’t start texting or chewing your gum louder, or figuring out what you’re going to do this weekend. This is for you as well. When you get out and start interviewing, a concise bio will be a very good tool to have in your back-pocket. So take what you can from this, though we are focusing on an Artist Bio to be sent out to the media, promoters, slapped onto CD Baby to nudge your sales up, and onward. If you are not an artist, take notes and use this to craft your own through-line for interviews — the story you are going to tell to those on the other side of the employment equation.
Let’s get one small thing off to the side, which you know from reading past bloggettes: No one cares who you are, at least not yet. They don’t know who you are and they really don’t want know. Their lives are crammed with so many other important and, more importantly, chock full of meaningless, unimportant things that they can’t really take the time needed, say, over a few leisurely, metaphorical drinks, to find out. This is speed dating, pedal to the mettle.
Bios are used in two major ways in this business: marketing and publicity. Marketing, basically, is successfully getting someone to fork over good money on something they know nothing, or very little about. Publicity is getting your story out there to the minions so they know who you are and you will need less marketing to get booked, sell your CDs, etc. Those headed for the offices with flourescents instead of stages with Kleigls, the same holds true, though your story is not getting into Details anytime soon. But a good one on LinkedIn or elsewhere can’t hurt. Marketing is where you put the buzzwords in that are anathema to writers: accolades, accomplished, awe-inspiring… the stuff in commercials that you tune out—and so will anyone else.
While these pages of PDFs are meant to both market your wares and publicize your worth, keep out the marketing crap that will make any so-called writer drop the file into the trash icon on their screen.
That said, you need to give enough good stuff in your Bio that writers can pull and use in a story. Your homework: read up on these strange creatures and see how they are done. As the Marketing Director for one of the premiere Jazz booking agencies in the world, I would be remiss if I didn’t do a bit of marketing and get you on over to our Artist pages at TKAdotcom and check them out.
As you can see on TKAdotcom, some of these bios are hybrids of just relating the history of the artist and a project bio which details their latest project. What is important is to keystroke in a few quotations. From you, or better yet, from reviews or from your backing band on how they like the music, you, your cat. Something the writers can nab and use like they interviewed you over the phone. The more you make it easy for them to craft their story in as little time as possible (see “meaningless and unimportant” above) then you are bettering your chances of becoming an interesting possibility.
And then go to where the reviews and features hang out and get to know them a tad bit better; Rolling Stone, the Globe, Details. See what writers write about, how they write, what they need to know. And then you craft them something they can use; give them what they need to do their job.
In a few years perhaps your publicity will nab the attention of my fave New Yorker music writer, Sasha Frere Jones, and bring him around to your gigs where he can lay on the twenty questions. For now, it’s all you, unless you can get your better half, significant other, or parents to sit you down and, after you all stop giggling, start the grilling. Or you could just make strange voices for your cat…
And don’t think that the bazillions of lowly-paid, or unpaid, writers out there in real hardcopy and broadcast media, or on the gaggles of blogs, in fanzines, etc. won’t kip your stuff and say it’s their own. A few years back, I was looking in the Rykodisc press files for some quotes to use for an release overview. Us Product Managers needed to write these sheets in order to fill in the rest of the company about the scope, the size, the who, the what, the whole megillah of an forthcoming release. Bits of this would become the press release, bits used for marketing, like some good quotes from reviewers. From a lowly newspaper out in the sticks was a review that looked familiar…awfully familiar. Because I wrote it. It was in the press release for a past release by this artist and the reviewer copied my words verbatim and got paid for it. So I did what any self-serving marketing person would. I used “his” quotes for the new marketing of the album. I didn’t make them up, well I did. But I could really attribute them to someone else, they were there, set in cold-type, in a real publication.
For all of us under those crackly flourescents, think of the quotes as references that you scare up for your LinkedIn page (the real quotes, not the ones from your cat), or use the fake ones to backfill parts of your narrative when being interviewed.
These quotes should add layers to who you are, and what you are. And get real. What made you want to become a musician? What personal stuff can you add in there. In my spare time (hah, late at night after the dishes are done, dog is walked, etc.) a few weeks ago, I worked on Jessica Lee’s album design and such. You can find Jessica on MySpace and Digstation. Though I have told her to read this bloggette as she needs to fill out her bio as well as the empty space under “About This Album.”
Jessie, I would suggest you use this bit you wrote for your liners. For all of the rest of you out there, this is a great piece; a glimpse into the struggles Jessie has faced during her years at Berklee, and the subtext to the making of the album. It personalizes her in a way that the reader gets her as a person and can read into the performances and the compositions. This is what you need in the story of your life, the why of your music, why we should care.
“This project. PERSISTENCE was a product of a lot of soul searching. In February of 2009, my only sister suffered a traumatic brain injury that caused her to lose cognition and mobility. My parents decided to care for her full time, forgoing their own lives. Although being full time in school, living between Boston and Chicago, my parents and I felt strongly that, despite the hardship, I should pursue my dream of being a musician. While composing and choosing the music for this album, I could only be reminded of their story. Their determination to always provide the best care, even with a severe lack of sleep and constant stress, has changed the way I view my parents: they are unsung heroes. This album is a tribute to them and to my sister, who battles everyday with her suffering. This project was a journey, testing my own strength and determination. My music is a result of that experience. I know that, especially when times are tough and it seems impossible to move forward, persist. Always move forward.”
You will need to take what you’ve written or gotten from others, and make them quotes, as if they were dialogue in a script: “Persistence. This project was my focus, I had to keep on track, always moving forward was what I held to during the writing of the tracks. My sister, in 2009…”
Though, if you are like me, from the white-breaded and mayonnaised suburbs where nothing ever happens–or at least nothing they told us, the kids–then you can have fun with that if it fits who you are.
Here’s a bit from the introduction to The Mud Folio, my book of so-far unsung lyricals. My attempt to give a glimmer to the reason why the words are, as noted, un-hinged to a melody and unformed by a voice, as well as setting the mise-en-scene of my youngster self:
“The ideas would come to me and I needed to write them down whenever I could find paper, immediately, or they could possibly vanish into nothingness again. I remember sitting in a parking lot late for a party writing the lyrics to “Cathy Said” by the dimming light of my dashboard. Good thing the words came quickly or else my VW Bug would have needed a jump-start. Now that’s real creative pressure. The bands in grammar, junior and high school were basically guys who only played at dances covering the best of LedZep, Marshall Tucker, Cream, Santana, Tull—no originality allowed at this music scene. If the dancers couldn’t dance to it you were beat to a bloody pulp. Okay, okay, this was suburbia…perhaps pummeled by tennis rackets was more like it.”
Then wrap the piece up with a play-by-play of your songs at the end: again the who, the what, the why. Don’t go all musical on us, though you can lay it in thinly. Some writers do like to look cool, hip, and in the know and write that if you listen to the hook after chorus 3, your song has tinges of [insert cool, hip, composer here] from his rendition of [insert song only known by the hippest few]. Lay the music stuff on thickly and you’ve lost more than half of the music writers. I know most Jazzsters blap out a melody, create a piece, rewrite it, revise it and they don’t really have a grasp of the true source of inspiration. Then they tack on a title. So the true meaning of the song is the process. Okay, write about that. Or write why you called the song “Poodle Nr 6,” instead of say, “Mustang Sally.” Give us the back story, the why it is important to you, so the reviewer can grasp it and tell us why it should be important to the rest of us.
Before you finish and say, “Mission Accomplished,” by all means have someone you know read the sucker. And then someone you don’t know. What is missing? What still needs to get in there? What don’t they know about you from reading this thing? What is good and touches them? What is pretentious and uses buzz words–like those accolades…–that need to be chain-sawed out.
As for me, I hear what I’m talking about, of course, but I’m not doing it. I’m sure you didn’t even notice that my short little bio at the bottom of these bloggettes has never been the same twice. You probably figured that, like everyone else, my boilerplate was leaden and firmly molded and why read the same thing over and over. Ah, but then you don’t know me. I’m not like anyone else. My life has been such a game of pinball, wacked around the board so many different ways, I can’t keep it straight sometime as I keep bumping the side of the machine to keep myself in play.
If I wasn’t so busy, I’d take a few moments and really figure out the progression of my life during my NYC years. Some jobs, since freelance, coincided with other jobs and I really get slippage on actual dates. Other jobs, like the few years spent book-keeping at Soros Associates, I like to keep in my sleeve as it has nothing to do with anything. Until it does. My keen sense of organization and the ability to create systems for Berkshire Motion Pictures as Purchasing Agent grew out of that job. But ladling it out during the normal course of an interview would careen the interviewer to the side of the road. (But, you might want review how I wove that stuff into the end of this blogette and gave you information about myself and my work in a sly, sideways kind of way.)
Maybe I haven’t written up my definitive bio as I don’t want to revisit everything just yet. Perhaps a session on the couch would find out the real reason, but then, again, I don’t have to market myself out to the unsuspecting public. But you do, whoever it is you are now or who you want to be. Make us really want to know.
For more from David Greenberg, see:
Burn After Reading: Tips For Interviews, Take 2
Resume? Resume? I Don’t Need No Steeenkin Resume!
Marketing OneOH!One: Break On Through To The Tangential Side
David Greenberg is Director of Marketing and runs the internship program for Ted Kurland Associates, a boutique booking and management agency located caddy-cornered across from The Brighton Music Hall in Boston, MA. He started out with his head in the stars thinking that he could film said shining objects and make a career in Hollywood, but his career zigged and zagged away from that, though making for a good read on his Facebook or LinkedIn pages. A few tidbits: David’s first recorded lyric was for an unreleased single “Pick Up Sticks” written with and recorded by Joy Askew and Danny Gottleib. This track set the tone for the better part of his lyrical career with songs stacking up like cordwood in Tallahassee, unsung, or if sung, unreleased. So far no one involved with “Pick Up Sticks” has even been able to find the track. Though, if you do peek on over to The Mud Folio page on Facebook you see there’s two fresh tracks with Tapedave–my nom de nick–lyricals: “Gone” a collaboration with Berklee College’s own Grace Kelly and “Galdino Pataxo Warrior [Sawandi’s Defiance In The Shadow’s Mix], a collaboration with Jah9 and Sawandi Simon, from Kingston mon, and The Ghost, from I don’t know where this week, for IR records. Maybe blue skies ahead? Or is that Toto I feel nipping at my feet?
Website: tedkurland.com / Twitter: tedkurland / Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ted-Kurland-Associates/88827500905 / Personal Twitter: @tapedave
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This is incredibly useful and insightful information wrapped in a tasty package.