Saturday, January 25, 2014

CP's Suggestions for Writing Bios (For DJS & Performers)

Ahhh late January. Summer dreams are slipping into collective realms over here. For MANY of my artist friends the season of summer fest gig-conjuring and bio-updating is upon us. As someone who's written one or two bios and read about ten thousand, I figured I'd share some thoughts and techniques. Who knows, perhaps someone may notice and find it helpful. Some may also notice my not-so-sneaky alteriour motives from a hot bed of nerdiness, but heyyy. Whatcha goin' do. :)

Ok so before we get into my suggestions, I'll come out with my personal preferences up front. I'm VERY interested in seeing fresh semantics when it comes to referring to (and defining) the different nuances within "festival” or “bass” culture. Personally, I'm not actually a huge fan of either of those terms, nor EDM nor rave nor "underground"; although I have definitely used them in my writing for lack of better options. Ya gotta establish at least SOME frame of reference right? But in general I find that they are just wayyyy too broad and subjective now to be used effectively to paint a picture on their own. I think maybe that's why people are using words like "boutique" to describe some festivals now... a little more descriptive. Same with genres. No-one wants to be locked into a genre anyway, hence all the DJs who suddenly “defy genre” in bios nowadays.  Honestly I feel like saying that is sometimes worse than picking a genre, especially if unaccompanied by anything qualitative, because it don't really give us ANY information. As our world/movement continues to grow and diversify, I for one would love to see more energy and audacity in how people describe and write about it. Like, just try stuff. Who cares if it doesn't catch on? Gotta start somewhere. My fingers are crossed for quicker evolution there, and, as much as possible, perhaps eventually the dissolution of wide categories or broad genre-like terms entirely in favour of more specific, evocative ones. That'd be my dreamworld. Of sass. Let's try something new shall we?

Now that I've been fully up front about that, I'd like to present to you a couple quick suggestions and techniques for assembling your DJ / performer / artist bio.

I often suggest that the first thing anyone does when writing a bio is put away the computer. OMG I KNOW, CRAZY!!! :) But honestly, staring at the blank computer page just makes my own mind go – well.. blank, which kind of makes sense, when you think about it. So just trust me and close it for a sec.

Now take a minute to think about a few of the things I'm about to list in the next paragraph, and then call a friend. Preferably someone who doesn't really know much about the scene, like your day-job co-worker or your mom or someone. Explain to them that this is an exercise. Get them on the phone or go for a walk and find a cool spot to sit and talk to them for a minute.

Try to forget for a moment that you're writing a bio. Now, in everyday language, start describing to them how you envision your performances in the same way you would as if you were inviting them to come check one out. Describe everything to them... the tone of the event, the type of vibe it is, what kind of environment, what kind of people are there. Imagine this as your ideal-type situation and NOT necessarily at the fest you're applying for or any event in particular. Describe exactly what you'd envision as far where you'd be playing, colours and lighting in the room, what people are wearing, are they dancing / nodding / chilling? The time of day, the general mindframe everyone is in; what their feelings are in your perfect world. If it's a couple different scenarios, that's ok too. (Burlesque dancers, don't forget to fantasize in the vintage elements here.. what about the historical influences? What aspects of your persona's lifestyle and preferred era are relevant here? Think like your alter-ego).

If you're the kind of person where your music or performance is the soundtrack or accompaniment to some sort of image or story in your mind – like a robot fight or a slow-motion strut or afternoon high-tea or the early morning pensive spliff or the hot moment in the backseat of a car... tell those stories too. (Well, maybe don't describe the backseat of a car story if you are using your mom). But describe all of that via phone or in person with your phone recording you.

AFTER you're totally done describing each element verbally - then -- you guessed it – go back over the recording and write down all the descriptive words you were using. Transcribe or translate all the adjectives and elements you touched on, even if they weren't totally perfect. Then start choosing your favourites, looking for the most most evocative words. Then - switch back to bio-mode. See what works within that list of words and descriptions that you can apply to your "style" of djing or performing. DON'T WORRY about describing things perfectly or whether people will know exactly what you mean. It's ok – and often preferable – to leave room for interpretation. The bios I love the most use words that refer to the pacing, vibe, colours and energies of the music or act itself. Like "crisp" "lush" "layered" "bright" “nostalgic” "tense" "bare" “dark” “glowing” “dreamy” “climatic” "dramatic" “hard” etc etc... allows the reader to translate the connotations of sound and texture and colour into an impression. "Low Indigo" is a great example of that (shouts Michael Red), also the words that make up the SHAHdjs anagram: Smooth Hard Aggressively Happy. So perfect for a drum'n'bass crew.

If you're less verbal or get stuck, think of one of your blabby/”talker”/ friends like me, heh heh, who could describe that stuff TO YOU while you record or transcribe THEM. But only do this after you've tried it yourself at least once. No one knows you better than you. And don't worry, no one has to hear it. We live in a digital age where you can record, use and delete that shit with three touches. Why not make use eh?

Also if you are less verbal and more of a visual creature... remember, graphics and photographs are your tools. Be DELIBERATE. What kind of images do your selections evoke? Or vice-versa? Jacob Frumlater's tumblr is a good example of that. Very deliberate aesthetic vibe. Or the Sanctums shirts, or really anything Sergio Levels does. On the lighter side, I love MC DevonThinkTank's choice of images and photoshops. So evocative of his vibe... like, what does that picture sound like? That guy looks hilarious, smart and FUN! I want to hear him do his thing. (Be careful of course about respecting people's work.. sharing is caring on blogs / FB pages but make sure to give credit. If you want to use an image to promote yourself as part of an application you should have the rights to it or explicit permission from the artist). If your image is awesome and complex you can usually get away with keeping your bio simpler... short and sweet. In fact, concise is usually better. I'm still working on that. :) 
MC Think Tank's Awesome Photoshopped Bio Pic

Basically anytime anyone puts some energy and care into choosing or curating descriptives while allowing room for evolution and curiosity – activating the imagination a little -- a bio comes to life. Now think about how much more interesting and less limiting it is to do THAT instead of pointing to some other frame of reference that is constantly diversifying or shifting anyway. “Funk” or “dubstep” or "neo-burlesque", for example. Think of how DRAMATIC the way those words' definitions have evolved over the past 5 years and how they continue to differ among “tribes”. ;) Words like that could mean so many things... and besides, EVERYONE ELSE is using them. Meh.

I'm not saying you have to ditch your genre terms altogether. I'm just pointing out that using more universally established adjectives keeps your promo accessible and attractive to peeps newer to the movement. Music “heads” aside, the terms “intelligent” or “future” are maybe helpful for people who have a frame of reference for the kind of music being described that way at like, this exact moment. However, those words don't always help those who might still be a little unclear what that means exactly. SHOCKER: There are WAY MORE people than you might think who are nodding and dropping those terms when they actually don't know what the fuck they are talking about. Including me although I will NEVER ADMIT THAT outside of this blog post. And let me tell you, my friends who don't really know/care what “future” means still make for a damn good dance floor crew ummmmkay... so don't forget to try to peak their interest. Use some genuinely enticing words, not just "cool" ones. 

On a very-much related note - I see a lot of up-and-comers wanting to appeal to said “heads” and their friends / role-models or potential party organizers in their bios. I would suggest not to worry about that as much. Honestly from what I understand of the application process for a festival, the bio is gravy. Your application is actually more about your tracks and mixes as well as time-slots and flow - what spots they are they looking to fill? What other styles have they booked already? Also don't underestimate professionalism. The completeness and error-free-ness of your application, along with any reputation you may have for being integral/responsible, how easy you are to work with, and YOUR DRAW, are all part of the consideration game. Now - if you are building a draw and don't necessarily have the luxury of people already associating your name with certain sounds or the quality of a signifier/label, I would suggest your sounds or video will do most of the talking as far as the booker is concerned. Your bio, again, therefore needs to focus on drawing people to your set and helping you stand out once you have the gig. So worry less about listing every headliner that played on the stage you played last year. Worry more about using words that are pragmatic and will appeal or make sense to a wide array of people so they come check it out. Then next year, or the year after, the experience people associate with your name or your new label/crew name will slowly qualify you.

Make DAMN SURE to have someone smarty-pants proof-read for grammar and spelling. Bad spelling, punctuation and grammar are THE WORST. If you put twenty hours into your mix or video and you can't put an hour into your grammar... FAIL. Just send it to your nerdy friend who loves doing that shit. Also, nothing wrong with hiring someone or trading with someone to write something for you. I hear a lot of writers like music and I hear DJs collect a lot of it, eh? EH??? :)

Another super important thing -- KEEP YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS FACTUAL. Stay away from “Vancouver's top party-rockin' DJ” or “Canada's top burlesque dancer” and other such self-given titles. They are an eye-roll bonanza. If you have released music, thrown events, hosted a radio show, moderated a relevant group, won awards, etc etc, by ALL MEANS - those are great things to mention. Or use quotes from reputable people in your scene. Lola Frost's CV website is a great example of that. But let the facts suggest how important or “top” you are. Don't decide for yourself. It kinda ruins your credibility when you don't have hard facts to back up your claims. 

OK AND ONE MORE NOTE just because it's driving me crazy... can we all try some other words in addition to “getting excited” when posting or promoting events? I see it over and over and over and over again and I know its hard to come up with alternatives but actually.. well, it's not really that hard. It may be true that you're "excited" and I know it's the easiest option, but I challenge you to take a sec and use something else once and awhile... I fear the repetition of a word in people's feeds makes it slowly lose its effectiveness. And then NO ONE will be excited. Ever. :) How about: 

eagerly anticipating
looking forward to
feeling vibes for this
fired up
revved up
peeing my pants
doing a happy dance
can't effin' wait
etc etc etc

To conclude, the gist of what I want to point out is this: language is a beautiful art-form --- much like music, painting, fashion, photography, etc. I'm not saying everyone needs to have works of art for their bios; what I am saying is that it's an opportunity that deserves a bit of thought. Don't to be afraid to apply your creativity and uniqueness. Does that make sense? In our community, bios, blogs, site copy, artist names and song titles and lyrics are the main opportunities the we have to exercise the written word, and its a huge element of the arts... so take advantage! We now have so many more tools at our fingertips to even out the playing field a little when it comes to spelling, and our current times offer MAD flexibility around new words and styles --- emoticons and text terms have revolutionized “acceptable” language. Basically a person can now create a their own vernacular and writing style... things don't have to be so “correct” anymore.

If you're still like, "meh.. writing", think of it as an opportunity to activate someone whose passion IS or maybe COULD BE writing. Keep your eyes peeled... these people are EVERYWHERE and they are not always up front about it. A good clue is if they read a lot. :) If anyone is looking for help, Stephanie Sara Leia (an editor at AdBusters) is genuinely passionate about helping artists rep their word. There's also Holly McGowan, an up-and-coming free-lance writer in our community who is PUMPED to write bios if anyone is interested. 

Happy bio-ing dahhhhhhhhhhlinks! hope some of this is helpful. :)