Today we finish off our 3-part series on writing an effective bio by Phil Johnson of Big Whiz Bang. You can read PART 1 here and PART 2 here.


STEP 8: Time for the dreaded first draft.

Now we get into actually writing something. Don’t worry about getting it perfect on the first try. Just like working out the details of a song or bit, your bio doesn’t come in one single wave of genius.

You need to write in article format. Important general info in the first part, deeper info in the second part, and a summation in the third part. We’re looking at 3-4 paragraphs here. It’s a format that the press has perfected for hundreds of years to get a maximum of information into your eyeballs quickly. Plus, of course, that makes it easier for them to just print exactly what you gave them.  Don’t forget to write in 3rd person.

Paragraph 1: A broad overview of the general theme of your work plus a quick mention of your achievements/credits if any.

Paragraph 2 (optional):– Write about your influences and what they contribute to your work. You investigated 8 of them in your preliminary writing. For this just pick out the 2 or 3 that most strongly resonate with your current work. This paragraph is optional. While picking through your influences will help you find your themes, you still may not want to put them into your bio. Totally up to you.

Paragraph 3: Write about the bits or songs on your current album or in your current show. This is where you dig into those insights and give them 3 or 4 bite-sized insights that reinforce the themes you presented at the beginning. This can be split into two paragraphs if it gets too long. Or you may be talking about two sides of an issue that can be split into separate paragraphs.

Side note: Does all your material have to work with the theme? No, it doesn’t. If you look at someone like Louis CK, he has some main themes that glue the show together, but he’ll do a few off-theme things as well. The flip side is someone like Christopher Titus who writes a themed show from top to bottom. Again, you’re not trapped in your themes here. Make the story cohesive and then let it evolve over time.

Paragraph 4: This is the roundup portion and your last chance at pulling that reader in. A quick summary of the themes and how they apply to your overall vision of your work.

Section 5: If you’re going to include a list of stats like this, put it in a section after your last paragraph. It’s just data that industry types like to see.

Now, put it away and go do something else. Come back to it the next day for some editing and review.

STEP 9: Editing and Review.

Now that you’ve had some time away from it, you’ll be able to look at your first draft with fresh eyes. Time for your first rewrite. Here are some things to ask yourself while you’re editing.

– Is it coherent? As a music artist or comedian, you’re certainly adept at writing within your discipline. But prose may be a new world for you.

– Could you swap out your name with someone else’s and have it read the same? I hope not. If your statements are too general or full of hype, they won’t connect with anyone because they could apply to anybody. “They rock hard!” should apply to any good rock band. “He bowls an audience over with killer jokes” is literally your job description as a comedian. Use the stuff that sets you apart from others.

– Are you trying to make too many points? Remember, you want to center in on one or two themes and explain how your art works within them. Feel free to work outside them as well. Just leave that stuff out of the bio until new themes arise.

– Are you including things that people who don’t know you yet don’t care about? The brand of guitar you play or the sitcom producer you once did some writing with will be plenty interesting to someone already in your tribe. Someone who’s new to your world doesn’t care yet.

STEP 10: Get some other eyeballs on it.

As an artist, we’re always too close to our work to have a truly objective view of it. So it’s time to have some other people look at your bio. Find a few people who are familiar with your current work and ask them to give it a read and comment on it. Both fans and your peers in the artistic community are good for this. Do they see those same aspects of your influences in your work? Do they see that theme at work in your stuff? Really, does it sound like you? If they read it and it either sounds like someone else, or sounds like everyone else, go back to the drawing board.

If they’re seeing something different in your work, maybe you missed a cool theme they’re picking up on. Or maybe it’s a different wording of the same thing. Maybe they’re not seeing that punk rock influence in your wispy singer-songwriter material. Compared yourself to Robin Williams and your fans are saying Stephen Wright instead?

There’s one of two things happening here… You could really want to be about those things you wrote in your bio draft, but aren’t yet. Maybe you wrote a mission statement instead and can work towards those ideas. Or you’re perfectly happy doing what you’re doing and just didn’t explain it in a way that jives with the way your audience is viewing you. In that case go back and write the bio again, this time using the feedback of your audience.

Find a couple people who aren’t familiar with your work at all and let them read it. You’ll get different information here. Does it entice them to want to see your show or listen to your music? Does it sound generic? (Root out and destroy the hype!) You may even pick up a few new fans in the step.

STEP 11: More editing.

Take all that feedback from the people that read it and do another rewrite. You may have gotten some feedback that you totally don’t agree with. That’s fine. You don’t have to use all of it. But if you see a trend of the same comments from different people, that’s something you may want to implement.

You might repeat steps 9 and 10 a couple of times until you’ve got a version you really like. I usually do at least 4 or 5 rewrites on my bios.

STEP 12: Creating alternate bios.

Outside of the press, most people using your bio will need a shorter one. So it’s time to compress that puppy down to 50- and 100-word versions.

When I write the long bio, I try to create the first paragraph to stand on its own as a bio 50 word bio. If you’ve done that, part of your work here is done. Just be sure that it makes sense on its own.

Here’s a boo-boo in one of my own bios. Check this out…

Being human is a constant struggle between defining ourselves as individuals and trying to fit in with “the group”…
Phil Johnson, who has appeared at the Sundance Film Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, uses comedy and music to dissect that dilemma in his own life and others.

That’s the first two little bits of the bio. The problem is a lot of bookers will just take the part that starts with my name and use that. So the reference to “dissect that dilemma” makes absolutely no sense because they didn’t grab the first line.

And nobody proofreads apparently.

Instead, I changed it to this:

Being human is a constant struggle between defining ourselves as individuals and trying to fit in with “the group”…
Phil Johnson, who has appeared at the Sundance Film Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, uses comedy and music to dissect the dilemma of individuality vs. acceptance in his own life and others.

I had to restate it, but that at least makes sense on a poster. Now if I could just get people to stop using the old version…

Now you need that little halfway point of the 100 word bio. I usually take the first paragraph that I used in the 50-word bio and last paragraph of the long version as a starting point. A little quick editing and you should have a 100-word bio that makes sense.

As mentioned before, you may also want to do other versions for targeted niche groups you’re marketing to. Maybe a different bio for corporate or college gigs versus club gigs. If you’re marketing yourself to particular type of charities or hobby organizations, write a bio specifically for them.

It seems like a ton of work. But you should be able to use your basic 4-paragraph bio as a starting point. Then slip in some different credits or reference different bits or songs in the middle. It’s still your work, so it won’t be a huge difference except for the some wording.

And there you have it! A bio that will actually communicate for you rather than just acting as some fluff for the flyer.

Your art is going to evolve which means your bio will too. Revisit it every 4-6 months and see if it still makes sense with what you’re doing now. If not, give it a tweak.

You can read some more insights on the artist bio writing process in this article and this one. But avoid information overload and just get started.

Got questions? Leave me a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer them as best I can.
Want some personal help from me to write your bio? Contact me and we’ll get you figured out.”