Summer Project: (Re)Write Your Bio

After taking last week off to recharge a bit, here’s a post about one of my summer projects – revising my bio. Every working musician needs some kind of a professional biography and/or artistic statement, either for academic, promotional, or other reasons. The format, content, and length of a bio can vary widely depending on its purpose, and if you’ve never written one before it can take a while to put everything together. If you’re a student or fresh out of school and looking for work, start working on one today. It will probably go through several edits or flat out rewrites before you arrive at something you want to put on the web or send to potential employers (this is a good thing!) Mine – even the revised version – isn’t quite the way I want it yet, but it does get the job done, and speaking from experience it can be difficult to write about yourself professionally. Here are a few things to think about when crafting your professional biography.

1. Consider Your Audience Think carefully about who will be reading your bio, and use the language and tone most appropriate for that audience. If your bio will most often be read by colleagues and current/prospective students, it might be good to adopt a more formal tone than if you were writing for the general public. If you aren’t sure about things, write in a style that you feel comfortable using, then have someone proofread it to see how it comes across. I’ve always wished I could adopt a more conversational, even playful, tone in my bio, which would certainly be more fun to read than a list of things I’ve done and groups I’ve performed with. However, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of the content in exchange for a more laid back style…as I said, a work in progress.

2. Read Lots of Bios Read bios from other horn players and classical musicians, of course, but also branch out and read those of rock and pop musicians, comedians, actors, dancers, businessmen, etc. Keep mental or physical notes about the bios you find most enjoyable and or effective, and consider using elements of them in your own writing. Don’t be afraid to copy someone else’s format – as long as you are writing about your own experiences, it’s perfectly fine to use the same format as someone else. You’ll end up doing plenty of revising anyway before you’ve finished.

3. Write at Least Two Bios It’s very useful to have both a brief and full-length bio, the brief one containing just the high points of your career thus far, and the long one having more details. Many applications (grants, assistantships, jobs) have strict limits on the number of words, so be prepared to cut out large portions of your full bio while still retaining the major elements. If you want to practice this sometime, take your bio and see if you can reduce the word count by 75% and still have things make sense. You may even find that you want to cut out several unnecessary words and phrases from the full-length version.

4.Revise, Update, Repeat Periodically I try to update my full-length bio at least once a year, with several small tweaks throughout the course of that year. As I said earlier I would really like to try a totally different style of writing, but for that I will need some extra time to experiment with the language and have others proofread it. Keeping your C.V. and other professional materials up to date will really help when it comes time to revise your bio. Simply make it a part of your routine, and the process won’t become unmanageable.

5. Say Something Personal Even if your bio ends up being a list like mine, try to include at least one or two things in it that set you apart from others in your field. If you’ve done anything particularly interesting that is professionally relevant, make sure to include it either at the beginning or end, and draw attention to it accordingly so that readers will take notice.

I hope this brief list of tips will prove helpful, and if you have any ideas about writing bios, or writing in general, feel free to comment below. There are several other projects coming up for me this summer, and I’ll be posting updates here at least once or twice a week.

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