Writing An Artist Bio

First, I guess I’m going to plug my upcoming shows at the North Star Bar on Tuesday, October 1st and at the World Cafe Live on Wednesday, October 9th. They’re my first shows in a while and I’m going to be playing mostly all-new material, so it should be fun. Hope you can make it.

So, on to the point of this blog. When/If you click on either of those links, there are a few things you might notice:

1) Tickets are incredibly cheap! (more shameless self-promotion, sorry)

2) There’s no information about me on either of them.

This second point is the worse issue (unless you dislike cheap concert tickets), as it doesn’t contain any writing that would engage a potential concert-goer to fork over a fiver and hang out for the night. It should be said that I am not the headliner at either of these shows, so ostensibly I’m not the reason why people would choose to go or not go. But that train of thought misses a larger point about concert lineups.

Whenever a venue books a headliner, the warmup acts (or openers) ideally do just that: get the stage and audience ready for the main show. Building a full show (again, ideally) isn’t just about finding some good bands to play; it’s about structuring an experience for the people who are there. Festivals get around this by booking so many acts that their audience can choose their own lineup adventure by walking around to different stages. But smaller club shows thrive on a kind of cohesion. Like it or not, when you see Patrick Park at the World Cafe Live, you’re also going to see Solo Artist X and Solo Artist Y. While most people trust the venue to pick the right artists, it helps if the VENUE knows something about your music AKA reading a bio.

So how do you go about writing said bio, you ask while leaning forward over your laptop? There’s a lot of sites on the Internet that give you advice, but here are some of the things I look for when reading one.

I’m surprised how often I start reading a bio and the most basic information about the band is located past the second sentence. It’s the same principle as a letter; you wouldn’t start writing to someone before they know who you are, would you? Get the basics down first (who/what/where–the when and why come later) so I have a frame of reference for the rest of your story. Speaking of which…

Tell Me A Story
No, not the one that every artist tells about how they first got a guitar at six, didn’t know any tricks, matter fact, first time they stepped on it, they slipped…sorry, bumping Lupe Fiasco.

That line actually carries a valid point though. Surprise me when I’m reading or I’m going to tune out. Everybody first picked up a guitar when they were young and started playing it. Tell me about something I don’t know so I keep reading. Chances are, as soon as I stop caring I’ll move on. It’s the Internet age, you should know that already.

Don’t Tell Me Who You Sound Like
This might be more controversial. I don’t want to go to a show with thoughts in my head about what bands sound like. And trust me, you don’t want your potential fans doing that, either. Having a point of reference can be really helpful for getting people to come out, but funny thing: once they get there they’re going to expect you to sound like what you implicitly promised you sound like. If you don’t play the “punk jams of Green Day backed by Maroon 5-esque vocals”, the people who came to see you are going to feel misled. (Unless you’re super awesome, but honestly, what could be more awesome than Adam Levine fronting Green Day?)

Tell Me What You Sound Like
I know, I know…but you DO want people to know what you sound like, just not as a (usually negative) comparison to another act. Carve your own lane and figure out what you do (or what combination of things you do) that no one else does. Personally, I settled on a few things:

– Though my songs would mostly be considered in the folk or alt-country genre, I love big choruses. I think a hooky chorus is the best thing in the world, and I try to make sure all my music has that.

– My songs have a ton of words. Seriously, the WPM in my songs must be ridiculous compared to most bands. Part of that is my own insecurities about the music behind it, but at the end of the day it’s a selling point: I’m a storyteller.

– I love being on stage. I live for it…it’s like I can be a completely different person up there, truly “performing” for people.

None of those three things are particularly unique on their own, but together they create a combination that gives people an idea of what to expect. And that’s all you want, an idea, something that intrigues them to hear more.

Tell Me What You’re Doing Next
This should go near the end. You’ve got me interested, now give me something to look forward to. This could be a big show or more likely your next musical release. Make it sound engaging, but don’t over-describe it unless the main point of the bio is to talk about your new album/EP/cassette tape. I want to know something about your band that I can champion if I feel like it.

So there’s a few things I think are worth highlighting when you are writing an artist bio, although by no means is it an all-encompassing list. Above all, try to make sure that a part of yourself comes off the page. People respond to personality, and no more so than in music.


P.S. Here’s the bio I wrote, if you’re interested:

Matt Chylak is a young singer-songwriter from West Philadelphia. His music exists somewhere on a spectrum between folk songs that aren’t afraid to be catchy and pop songs that aren’t afraid to be honest.

He’s honed his sound in bars, small clubs, and street corners—these are the places where it often resonates best. A poet at heart, words tumble out of his songs like light percussion, telling the same stories that music has always told in his own unique voice. He currently sells collections of his poetry at shows in lieu of recorded material.

For the last few years, he’s been working on a set of heartfelt and oddly boisterous songs for his next album, which is currently titled If You’d Call This Place Home (though to be candid, it changes about once a week). He sincerely hopes you enjoy listening to him play, because it’s his second favorite thing in the world to do.

What do you think? Did I follow my own rules?

P.P.S. Come out and see me if you’re in Center City the next few weeks!

(**UPDATE: Since writing this blog, both shows above have put my new bio up. Success!)

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