So you just got booked to play a new club night starting up in your town. You’re on top of your game in preparation for this gig: the playlists are sorted, you synced the back-up USB sticks, hell you even knocked together a couple re-edits to test out. Then the inevitable happens: the promoter hits you up with a dreaded request: “Can you send me your bio ASAP?”
Yes folks, the elusive DJ bio. If you’re like a lot of artists, that three-letter B-word will strike fear in your heart. The mere thought of talking about ourselves in the third person, trying to reduce every music-related thing we’ve ever done to a paragraph can be migraine-inducing. C’mon, how many of us are even writers by nature?
In my own case, I’ve been running a music blog for five years and have no problem knocking together a piece on a local DJ or producer in a half hour. Yet when recently tasked with having to submit my own bio for an upcoming show, it took a few hours just to cough up four measly sentences. Which immediately led me to thinking about putting this post together, as I know it’s a common problem.
A NECESSARY EVIL
As both a journalist and DJ I’m always trying to find new music to write about. Part of this involves digging to discover local, lesser-known DJs, reaching out to them to record podcast mixes for my blog. Soundcloud is obviously at the top of my hit-list here. When I go there, there are three things I subconsciously look at within the first second of visiting someone’s page:
- 1) Avatar photo
- 2) Follower count
- 3) Bio
Intentional or not, the fact that these three things are on the top left of the page (where our eyes are conditioned to start reading) speak volumes. I know this stuff sounds a little superficial on the surface, but the point is that a well-written bio is the easiest way for an un-informed listener to learn about someone new in a short period of time. The good news is writing one doesn’t have to be painful and once it’s kick-ass we can get back to focusing on what obviously matters most: THE MUSIC.
“Claude VonStroke does not scowl and look mean while he DJs. He does not pretend to know everything and he will be nice to you and your friends. He is grateful to be doing music for a living and he knows that the reason people go to parties is to shake their ass and have fun. If you want to act cool and not have any fun then please do not book him.”
-The opening to Claude Von Stroke’s bio and a clever use of natural selection
Tip 1: Focus On What Makes You Unique
So you’ve spun tech house for a couple of years and land the occasional club gig once every few months. There’s probably a few dozen others in your backyard doing just the same – so where do you begin?
The first step is to focus on what makes you different from the rest of the pack. Think of the details about your experience as a DJ that could tell an interesting story. Where are you from? How long have you been playing? Where do you discover and buy your music? What kind of crowd is your music tailored towards? Do you find yourself more comfortable playing opening sets as opposed to the peak hour? Do you prefer playing smaller, humbler venues over larger ones? Do you have a specific target audience you’re catering towards?
DJTT’s Ean Golden suggests:
“We call this your “core competency” in business lingo. It’s the one thing that you are really, really good at and hopefully some what uniquely so”
Once you’ve put some thought into these and similar questions, eliminate the trivial details, culling down your story to just the facts that people will find interesting. One way to find out:
“Ask an objective friend, ‘what do you think is interesting about my work as a DJ?’ The results may surprise you.”
Tip 2: Keep It Simple If You’re Unknown; Make Two Versions (Long/Short) If You’re Known
I’m sure you’ve seen them a million times: DJ bios from local unknowns that go on
It tells their whole life story, much of which does pertain to DJ’ing. What music their parents listened to. What instrument they played for two years in their high school band.
“Newcomer bios should be 5-6 sentences (at most) and focused on a few key details people can relate to, like ‘Friday night resident at Sankey’s’”
If you’re gigging regularly promoters and press may require a longer version for reference. Some artists maintain two versions of the bio: the standard, one-paragraph version, and a longer version to provide only if people ask.
Longer versions are usually tailored towards accomplishments. Details on releases you’ve put out which include label and compilation info. Events you’ve thrown. Record labels you run. Number of copies sold. Radio shows or podcasts you’re a part of. Noteworthy parties or festivals you’ve played at.
“Dubfire has always been a risk taker, and his decision to go solo in 2006 at the height of Deep Dish’s success was a precarious one.” – excerpt from Dubfire’s bio, good example of revealing the human side and tells an interesting story
Tip 3: Avoid Clichés + Unnecessary Details
Ahh yes, the classic stereotypical bio cliches. “I discovered music at the tender age of 5”, “I’ve been murdering dancefloors and transcending minds since 2011”, “I’ve shared the spotlight with Hardwell, Tiesto, and Armin Van Buuren”, and don’t forget the obligatory “My biggest influence is Kraftwerk”.
Anyone who’s been a promoter or part of the music press for more than a few months can bullshit-detect bio cliches like these from a mile away.
Some advise over use of genre labels to describe what you play. For example, when someone says something like “DJ X spins everything the deepest of progressive electro-house to the hardest of broken-beat trance”, it’s kind of hard to be taken serious. Instead, consider using common attributes that describe the music you play, such as the fact many of your songs have synths and guitars, or a level of energy, cater to a specific demographic, or many of them just so happen to be produced in one specific city, say Detroit, Berlin, or London.
As journalists, we learn to avoid using clichés or depending on genre labels to write about music at all costs. Along with other cringeworthy words such as “epic”, “killed”, or “banging”.
Tip 4: If You Can’t Write To Save Your Life, Find Someone Who Can
As I said earlier, not all of us who DJ are also accomplished writers. Similar to how many of us aren’t graphic designers or photographers either. But it’s common practice to hire the latter to make new logos or take photos for us to use in our press kits, so there shouldn’t be any shame in reaching out to a writer if needed as well.
Think about this for a sec; you wouldn’t want your press photo to be poorly lit, or your logo to use crappy fonts, filters, or effects, right? The same holds true for the bio, so at least have them look it over and provide some objective feedback.
Local music bloggers and journalists in your community are great people to hit up for unsolicited advice. They’ve literally read thousands of bios in promo emails and press releases and can accurately judge a good from a poor one.
Yes – do offer them some form of compensation for their effort upfront. Remember, writers and journalists are busy and often awash in a sea of deadlines. The more well-known they are, the tougher they will be to get in contact with, so limit your search to independent ones in your backyard.
Tip 5: Update It At Least Once A Year
Want to know my biggest pet peeve with DJ bios? Ones that are NEVER updated! I can’t tell you how often I read one where the last paragraph opens with something along the lines of “2011 is shaping up to be a big year for DJ X”…in 2014.
Promoters and booking agents are usually looking for any reason to say no, not a detail that inspires yes! Big errors and dated information are a fast-track to the trash bin.
If you’re a local DJ who isn’t touring the world year round, it’s inexcusable to not find an hour each year to bring your bio up to date. You wouldn’t bring a resume from 2011 into a job interview in 2014, would you?
When updating, keep the length roughly the same as what you had it before. This means the recent and stronger accomplishments replace older and weaker ones. The last thing you want people to think is you haven’t done squat in the last few years!
Hopefully this article gives you a bit of insight into the importance of a well-written bio. Obviously it’s one piece to the promotion puzzle, which should also involve a strong online presence, involvement in the local scene, Soundcloud and Mixcloud accounts, a business card, website, and press kit (if you’re gigging frequently). But it’s a piece that shouldn’t be ignored, because as people have likely pounded in your head for all your life, first impressions are everything.