What does a band sound like?
September 14, 2007 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I need help writing a bio for an indie band.

I know all the "bios for dummies" stuff -- that the bio should include what the music sounds like, where the band is from, etc. But what I don't know is how to write descriptively about music in that jaunty way that makes the reader get a real sense for what the music sounds like. Anyone have tips for doing this well?

Alternatively, where would I find good writers who can listen to music and come up with such descriptions? People who are talented and enthusiastic enough to do the job better than I could, yet who are willing to write something as unglamorous as a band bio?
posted by xo to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If there is one near you, college radio stations probably have people who would be willing to do this.

One thing that is common in such reviews is to say what more-famous bands the band sounds like. You could start from there, and look at reviews of the more-famous band you identify, to see how music critics describe their stuff.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2007

I hate most band bios, and I've had to write a bunch of bios and blurby things lately. I wrote the bio here. If you're looking for something like that, e-mail me and we can work something out.

One thing that is common in such reviews is to say what more-famous bands the band sounds like.

I think we're talking about a bio and not a review, but maybe that's what you meant. Anyway, some people do this, but I'd avoid it unless it actually makes you sound interesting (nobody wants to hear a mix of Jimmy Eat World, Radiohead, and The Beatles, even if that's actually what you sounded like). Don't list 10 different genres that you supposedly blend.

I think a bio should be colorful and interesting to read. To get ideas, go to any local music venue website with a calendar that links to band bios. Read a bunch of them, and then do exactly the opposite. Here's one such site with plenty of cringe-inducing examples.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2007

Also, I think a bio is more for communicating a band's style and personality than describing their sound. Most attempts at talking about sound specifically will either sound pompous or just plain wrong, and if someone wants to know what you sound like they should be able to find an mp3 easily enough.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:41 AM on September 14, 2007

I do a lot of this "well, what do they sound like?" at my school's radio station with esoteric metaphors and vague adjectives. "It's loud, dirty, rough around the edges, but it also has a lot of pop-music sensibility in the songwriting. It would be a great album to drive very fast in the desert to." Give people a mental image of what the album would look like, and feel like. Skip the comparisons to well known bands, because, as l_v says, no one wants to hear that album that "sounds like the stones from the sixties, if the stones from the sixties somehow liked the flaming lips and zwan a lot."
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:48 AM on September 14, 2007

Avoid the common bio'isms:

"From the mean streets of {insert mildly threatening urban location here}."

"Taking the music world by storm"

"a mix of Radiohead meets Jimmy Eats World meets ________"

"Fate drew them together..."


Avoid going into detail about how the lead singer saw the image of a Virgin Mary playing harmonica reflected in the milk from his cereal bowl and how this made music his calling.

Do not reference any press the band has gotten unless it's from Pitchfork, Rollingstone or a newspaper who name doesn't start with "University of."

Most band bios are god awful and the more details you put in, the more opportunity it gives potential fans to get turned off. Keep it short, obtuse (not too obtuse) and interesting. This keeps the focus on the music rather than the other boring insider stuff that nobody cares about until they become famous.

I've seen some excellent samples lately. I'll post a couple when I can find them.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:31 PM on September 14, 2007

XO - Apologies for not answering your question directly. I guess I know more about what NOT to write than what to write.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2007

Alternatively, where would I find good writers who can listen to music and come up with such descriptions?

One idea is to pick out a band bio from an indie band you do like -- and then find out who the band's publicist is ... they more than likely wrote the bio. Or know who did.

NOTE: This will cost money and the publicist may not want to write about yr band (sorry).
posted by pfafflin at 1:05 PM on September 14, 2007

The short form, what makes the band interesting both musically and personally.

My experiences jive with the others here, bios are almost always bad. Personally, using a bunch of adjectives to describe the band's sound always reads wrong to me. Describe their story and why people should care about them.
posted by drezdn at 1:06 PM on September 14, 2007

I described The Knife's sound as "like an alien and a robot having sex in a haunted house."
posted by matildaben at 1:25 PM on September 14, 2007

I used to write for a TV show that aired a lot of up-and-coming bands. So, I had to read their bios, then come up with something clever to say to introduce the bands. And most of the bios sucked. Except, strangely, for the bios about really good and interesting bands.

First of all, realize that one of the biggest jobs your bio should do is give the media something to say about your band. This may not be important now, but assuming you want to attract an increasing audience, it will be at some point. Imagine if your job was writing about dozens of bands every month. You would be absolutely desperate to find a band with something new and compelling in their bio. If you can find that detail, you’ll be more likely to write about that band…when people read about your band, they’ll be more likely to remember that detail and thus become interested in your music., etc., etc. Remember: if somebody can’t write something interesting about your band, they won’t. And you can imagine how hard it is to go on to attract a bigger audience without any media exposure.

So, to get back to writing about your bio…you absolutely, positively must come up with at least one thing about your band that is fucking interesting…other than the music, of course. Try to make yourself compelling to someone who has never heard your music. What about you makes your music more interesting? Are you all brothers and sisters? Do you all really love astrophysics? Were you homeless at some point? Do you all wear make-up and elaborate costumes on stage, and split blood all over the place? Good. Make those details a big deal in your bio.

And good luck.
posted by Ziggurat at 1:37 PM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ziggurat has a good start. I'd avoid ludwig_van's bio style—the affectations and flourishes are really fucking twee, and would annoy the hell out of me as a writer.

Basically, what you want in there is enough to make three good paragraphs of text for a writer on a deadline. You want a clear tone, avoiding needless quirk.

Things that are good, generally:

Who the band members are; how they met. What they want to achieve with the music. A good environment for listening to the music. A lead quote or two. A track listing or tour dates are also important. A picture of the cover. If there's a narrative to the album, mention that, along with some lyrics.

Things that are bad: Anything that draws attention to the writing of the bio over the band that the bio describes. X-Meets-Y. Mentions of famous bands (whenever anyone namechecks the Beatles, I know they're going to suck. Also, 90% of references to other bands just make me wish I was listening to that band instead of the promo I've got).
posted by klangklangston at 4:48 PM on September 14, 2007

Just for clarity: I know it's hacky to say what more-famous bands you supposedly sound like. But it's a way of finding out what the "music-speak" description of your sound might be, if you're looking to include that kind of description in the bio. (We kind of sound something like the Arcade Fire. What words are often used to describe their style of music? Let me go look... Yes, we have dense orchestration, but our songs are more funny than poignant, etc.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:01 PM on September 14, 2007

A lot of band bios try to be clever and end up meaningless. For example, "elite squad of orchestral mercenaries," to describe string players. Or, "built his pop fortress lovingly, brick by brick," to denote, it seems, nothing at all.

In other words, don't be so pukingly cute. Just describe the band.

Sorry, ludwig_van.
posted by univac at 5:14 PM on September 14, 2007

Do not reference any press the band has gotten unless it's from Pitchfork, Rollingstone or a newspaper who name doesn't start with "University of."

That's silly.

Or, "built his pop fortress lovingly, brick by brick," to denote, it seems, nothing at all.

Band bios are by nature meaningless, affected, and just for show. Better to be entertaining than bland. But thanks for the feedback guys! I'll be sure to keep your notes on file! xoxo
posted by ludwig_van at 6:05 PM on September 14, 2007

Also, this seems an appropriate time to add that no matter what you do, there will be some people who think it's shitty, so don't worry about that and do what you think is good.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:14 PM on September 14, 2007

You know how difficult you are finding this? That's how hard it will almost certainly be for the journalists who get it in the mail to read it.

Hire a pro, a publicist or whatever writer at your local free weekly is the most gifted interviewer. Band bios are one of the toughest short things to write well, and a good bio means people might actually listen to the music.
posted by Scram at 8:34 AM on September 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would recommend drafting your own, then handing it to at least one college radio dj, a&r person, music journalist, or label-affiliate for critique of your basic bio. Many of the details you'd like the world to know may not sound as compelling as you'd like them to be, or alternatively, seem overt and exaggerated.

In my own case [currently in use semi-successfully, 3 contracts and growing] all use the same basic text but were re-written by each of the labels i'm working with. One goes for the 'personal background' angle, one goes for the 'artistic statement' angle, one goes for the 'sounds like' angle -- the core which i wrote myself includes a bit of each of these, but the labels i'm collaborating with all seem to think different aspects are important.
posted by phylum sinter at 4:33 AM on April 29, 2008

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