More from the life of an arts administrator: Today I’m talking about artist biographies. Performers, composers, whoever. Those lists of schools, degrees, competitions won, venues played, and musicians performed with, punctuated with quotes from critics adequately impressed.
I spend a decent amount of time soliciting bios, editing bios, and grumbling about bios. Sometimes you can’t find an artist’s bio anywhere. And then you write to the performer, only to get… nothing. Sometimes you find the bio, but it’s only in Flash, so you can’t actually copy and paste it into the program you’re trying to produce.
So you finally download the bio and drop into the program, and then the editing begins. That’s when you find out that they only have a 6,000-word version of their bio, and you have space for 400 words. Maybe it’s so out-of-date that it reads, “Upcoming performances for 2003-04 include…” Or it’s poorly edited, full of grammar so wrong it makes you cry – not to mention bursting with hyperbole, claiming that the young and untested performer is the greatest, most expressive artist to burst onto the scene in generations. Or some combination of all of those things.
If you have a professional bio, or if it’s time for you to write one, I’m going to give you my unsolicited opinion.
– Offer both short and long versions, so I don’t have to decide what parts of your career aren’t important.
– Edit. Edit not just for grammar but for style, varied sentence structure, and coherence.
– Don’t overuse the word “also.” Definitely don’t use it more than one sentence in a row. It’s ok to list different items without using piles of conjunctions.
– Speaking of lists, don’t make them so long that your reader falls into a stupor. Pick the highlights.
– Brag about each accomplishment only once. A new context in a new paragraph isn’t an excuse to milk the same prize or commission again.
– Don’t randomly capitalize something just because you think is Important. You’re a violinist, not a Violinist. You gave a world premiere, not a World Premiere.
– Be clear about your education. Did you get a Master of Music degree in tuba performance? Awesome. Don’t write that you got a bachelor. This isn’t about your wedding.
– Think about the importance of information to your audience. Does the exact date of a performance nine years ago really matter? Do you actually think your reader doesn’t know that Carnegie Hall is in New York City? How many obscure chamber music partners do you really need to list?
– Watch for bio clichés. I love chamber music too, but I’ve read countless sentences that all begin, “A dedicated chamber musician, she…” or “A passionate educator, he…”
– Make it readily available. If you want to promote yourself, put your bio out there, and send it promptly if requested. Admins really like working with helpful artists. Be one of those artists we can’t wait to bring back.