Tag Archives: performing


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 Maybe it’s so out-of-date that it reads, “Upcoming performances for 2003-04 include…” Or it’s poorly edited, full of grammar so wrong it makes you cry – not to mention bursting with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.

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Set Lists

I’ve never really appreciated the beauty of a good set list.

A good set at a concert should move the listener from one mood to another, building energy and sitting back, creating a journey.

This part I knew.  It seems straightforward, like putting an album together.

What I hadn’t counted on was being part of a band where everyone keeps switching instruments. The guitarist plays acoustic and electric instruments.  One guy plays hand drums, acoustic guitar, mandolin, or keyboard, depending on the song.  I usually play bass and sing backup vocals, but sometimes I play keyboards, and on a few songs I put my bass down just to sing.  And sometimes we guitar and bass players have to re-tune, since we don’t have roadies offstage who can hand us fresh instruments in alternate tunings.

These changes wreak havoc on a set list.  The musical journey is completely unimportant next to the need to have some semblance of continuity between songs.  The most nerve-wracking part of gigs isn’t playing; it’s filling the space while people are switching guitars, re-tuning strings, or struggling into a djembe harness.  Coming up with banter isn’t impossible.  Coming up with something even remotely engaging to say, however, is pretty damn difficult.  Songwriting, I can handle.  Scripting stage patter, even loosely planning it?  I’m at a loss.  I never had to chat with my audience when I was performing classical piano.

So we’re working on coming up with the perfect set list, one that minimizes these pesky changes between songs but still creates a set worth listening to.

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