Yup — it’s now super simple to tell your story in your own words and add it to your page. But with great power comes great responsibility, so we asked someone who writes band bios professionally to share some tips.
Evie Nagy has worked as an editor at Rolling Stone and Billboard. Her current gig is outside the music biz, so her side hustle is writing artist bios. Nagy’s written bios for artists like Sleater-Kinney, Neko Case, and comedian Eugene Mirman. Here’s what she had to say.
__Spotify For Artists: What information do you request from a band to get started? __
Evie Nagy: I approach it the way I would if I were just writing a profile of an artist, because that’s what I know how to do. Obviously the music is important, so I ask bands for whatever advance music they can send. Then I’ll ask, What are kind of the big takeaways you’re hoping for? What is the story, what is the narrative you’re hoping to tell? There’s always something about the artist that they want to emphasize over everything else. So I ask for that information. And then as often as possible I book an interview with the artist to talk about the music, because that’s what people want to hear about. These are bios that are going to be informing press articles, so I think about it the same way as if I were writing a story: What are fans and readers going to be interested in?
What advice do you have for an artist who’s just starting out, who maybe doesn’t have the narrative arc of a Sleater-Kinney or Neko Case just yet?
Obviously if there is a in interesting backstory to their life, that’s always something to grab onto. I always try to figure out what makes the artist stand out. If they’ve released anything at all, what have other critics said about their music that would pique interest? If it’s a brand new artist, then the advice I’d give is one: What’s interesting about you as a person? And then two: What’s interesting about your music?
What are some of the common mistakes, pitfalls, or even clichés to avoid?
Obviously you’re trying to sell yourself as an artist and you’re trying to sell the project for people to listen to, but one of the things that always makes me lose interest the fastest is selling it too hard. If you read something that’s like, “This album is completely revolutionary, or it’s the most visionary album of the decade…,” no one’s going to read that and think it’s actually going to be true, no matter how good the music is. If you use too many positive superlatives, it all starts to sound the same and it doesn’t mean anything. Another thing is like, humor is good but only if it’s really done well. When people are just too out there and goofy, that can go wrong really fast.
What’s the goal of a really great bio?
One thing you’re trying to do is just get information out into the world. It sounds obvious, but actual factual detail is extremely useful in these bios. There’s nothing I hate more as a journalist than getting a press bio that doesn’t even have a release date on it, that doesn’t even have the names of the members of the band, doesn’t have how long they’ve been together — all this stuff that you want to be able to inform people of. A good bio shouldn’t just be all facts, but it shouldn’t be so poetic that it doesn’t include that stuff. I’ve certainly seen so many where the writer was is just trying to be so super artsy that they just don’t even give the brass tracks that you need.
How do you balance having a cool, original voice with just getting the facts across?
That’s a balance that any writer or any artist trying to put their image out there has to negotiate. I tend to be fairly straightforward with my bios — I don’t try to get too too creative, because it’s very subjective, and while some people might think something’s cute a lot of people just roll their eyes. So my approach is to write well and compellingly but not to be too artistic with a bio. They’re called “bios” for a reason. They need to be clear about who this person or band is: This is what the music is like, this is the story the band is trying to tell, this is what you’re going to get out of it.