Monday, July 27, 2015

Artist/Teacher Bios: A Look At Who's Doing It Right And Why

I've had a lot of subsequent input from my article on rethinking artist bios. As a followup, I wanted to look at a few artists who are doing it right, why they are effective, and how artists can better frame their life in order to create a magnificent bio.

First, the bio that is moving, compelling, and the best that I've seen. Here are the first few paragraphs from James Rhodes:
James Rhodes had no formal academic musical education or dedicated mentoring until the age of 14 when he began to study with Colin Stone. In 1993, mental health issues stopped him taking up a scholarship to the Guildhall and he stopped playing the piano entirely.

A chance meeting, 10 years later, with Franco Panozzo, agent to Russian concert pianist virtuoso, Grigori Sokolov led to James having a brief tutorage by the renowned piano teacher Edoardo Strabbioli in Verona Italy.

Suffering further setbacks due to health issues it was not until 2008, when Rhodes met his present manager, Denis Blais, that he was encouraged to record his first CD. This enabled him to bare his soul and put many of the ghosts of the past to rest.
Wow. Genuinely moving. James takes what is generally considered to be a weakness (mental illness) and spins it in such a way that it creates an immediate engagement in his journey as an artist. Read James' bio and you will be compelled by his personal story, and desire to know what his work is all about.

From Zoë Keating's bio:
Zoë Keating is a one-woman orchestra. She uses a cello and a foot-controlled laptop to record layer upon layer of cello, creating intricate, haunting and compelling music. Zoë is known for both her use of technology - which she uses to sample her cello onstage - and for her DIY approach, releasing her music online without the help of a record label. 
I want to explore Zöe's work after those first two sentences. You can't ask for more in a bio page, and Zöe's site thankfully directs you to the next steps.

Ted Dykstra of 2 Pianos 4 Hands makes you chortle from the outset:
TED DYKSTRA (co-writer) started playing piano at age six, and peaked at age 12, when he had a particularly memorable string of firsts competing in the Edmonton Kiwanis Music Festival. His acting career began at a young age in St. Albert, Alberta, playing the 2nd Bird in Once Upon A Clothesline, but his breakout role was Bilbo Baggins in his school’s Grade 8 production of The Hobbit.
Sarah Butler of the Millwinders could easily say that she is one of the greatest rockabilly voices of her generation (she is), but prefers to take a humbler approach:
Sarah started with piano lessons at age five and music has been a constant influence in her life. She soon discovered that belting out ABBA songs into a candle stick microphone was an effective way to both entertain her parents and enrage her older sister at the same time. Growing up with Patsy, Roy and Elvis blaring from the stereo on weekend mornings, Sarah had the classic voices imprinted on her DNA from the get-go.

As a teenager, she got herself a 12-string and began writing songs. Longing to play the upright bass in her high school jazz band, Sarah was instead forced to settle for the baritone sax. It wasn't until many years later that she approached her old high school music teacher with an offer to trade her sax for the beat up jazz band upright. Listening to the greats, she taught herself to play, and continues to use her voice and the bass as a way to express her deep love for music. Sarah's dream ride would be a '32 Ford Highboy Roadster.
Liz Parker's teaching bio grabs you from the first sentence:
In the Parker household, talk of quitting piano wasn’t casual dinner-time conversation. It meant a SUMMIT MEETING in the LIVING ROOM. Liz graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music at 15 with a Gold Medal for the top mark in Canada and she holds her Licentiate from England’s Trinity College of London and her Bachelor of Music from the University of British Columbia. 

Teaching since 1985, Liz loves working with kids to achieve great marks in the RCM exams. She combines a sense of fun and instilling discipline for maximum results. No slouching or flat fingers! To compensate, treats are handed out after student recitals. She teaches in the Queen/Bathurst area, meaning coffee/shopping options nearby for parents to while away the lesson time. 
Liz's bio might seem a little unstructured, but it's written with a very specific order in mind:
  • groovy but strict
  • credentials
  • focus of instruction
  • specific location
All the critical boxes are checked, with an extra helping of fabulous. Liz (pictured above!) also operates the LIZPR agency in Toronto, and here's what she had to say earlier today on Facebook about what a publicist can do:
This is part of my image make-overs I do for clients. I will read the standard bio, chat with the client, get to know his or her personality, and inject that into the bio. I think the more entertaining the bio, the better. You're too close to your own materials; get someone with experience and perspective to do it.
Because at the end of the day, as an artist you have to answer the question about why we should actually care. There are thousands of first-rate "sought-after" classical musicians who are "compelling performers", "thrilling audiences", and "emerging as significant artists". We all occupy the same space in an art form that is perhaps dying. What makes you different?

I particularly like the way Julie L. Rogers puts it:
As an artist or band, you’re going to be repeatedly forced to explain yourself. And if you are incapable of communicating – in words – who you are, what you sound like and why someone should care, you’re not going to go very far. In short, you’re going to need to write a bio.

The most important thing to remember is that your artist bio is not a rambling autobiography or the introduction to your future memoirs: Your bio is a professional sales tool. But many new or emerging DIY artists cannot necessarily afford to pay a high-quality professional bio writer and are tasked with writing their own. When you sit down to write your bio, you need to know that it is just a small part of a much bigger picture: your marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy must communicate what you have to offer to your fans. And you need to show your value in terms your fans can understand.

If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to have promotional material. And your bio is one of the most critical components – if not the most critical component of your press kit. (Sorry, but no one cares about your music if you can’t introduce yourself properly.) Your bio represents your first opportunity to spark interest in someone who will be a champion for your music. Besides communicating essential information about you, a well-written bio portrays you as a professional that has some understanding of the business you’re in – music. And when you take some time to thoughtfully craft it, you convey to your fans, to press, media and labels that you are serious about making music your career. 
What are some other particularly effective artist bios that you've noticed? Leave a message in the comments.


1 comment:

  1. Love that quote... "And if you are incapable of communicating – in words – who you are, what you sound like and why someone should care, you’re not going to go very far". I completely agree, a bio and the ability to communicate are so so important in this field. Great article