The art of the bio (Part I)

Writing your own biography, in third person, can be a bit of a challenge. You need to find that fine balance between pointing out your brilliance and turning yourself into the next coming of Jesus. How often do you find yourself rolling your eyes or simply blanking out when you read some composer’s bio in a concert program? I recently came across an example, which was actually nauseating:

Blank’s list of works includes orchestral and chamber music—vocal and instrumental—as well as scores for theater, dance and film. His music has been called “brilliant” (Boston Globe), “stunning” (Milwaukee Journal), “wonderfully idiomatic” (Salt Lake Tribune), “haunting” (Strings Magazine) and “remarkable” (Fanfare). Chicago Tribune music critic […] called Blank’s Piece1, “a cosmic beauty … of acutely crafted music.” And music critic […], of Classical Review, called Blank’s work Piece2, ‘a very impressive and significant world premiere … the composer makes the music sing magnificently.”

Aside from reading like verbal masturbation, this masterpiece of writing also tells me absolutely nothing about this composer. Who is he? What are his values, his interests? Has he done anything cool lately? Frankly, I don’t particularly care what these people whom I don’t know from newspapers I have never read have to say about this guy, even if he is a “cosmic beauty.”

A good way to put your reader in a coma is listing every single performer who’s ever played your music in every possible country, and every damn famous person you “studied” with*.

Blank2 has worked with such distinguished soloists as John Smith, Jane Doe, Pinky Piklvich, Rusty Nail…….[this is where you blank out because you’ve never heard about any of these twenty people]. Her music has been performed by orchestras such as the Springfield Community Philharmonic, The Sackville Orchestral Players, The Wolfville Symphony, The Prince George Community Philharmonic…..and has been premiered in Uzbekistan, Luxemburg, Montenegro…and the following 49 of the 50 US states: Utah, Vermont, Ohio, Missouri….

Again, not only is this kind of bio impossible to read because the letters automatically go out of focus, but it also tells me nothing about you except that some famous people and a bunch of others cared to play your music. Tell me who you are, not what others think about you, and do it as quickly as possible. My attention span is very short, especially if I’m trying to read your bio between pieces.

Next time I will put together some tips for effective (and efficient) bio writing.

* had a 10-minute master class with, shook hanks with at a conference, etc…

Bundle Update

I’ve been lost in opera/thesis land for a while, hiding out in my parents’ jungle-like garden home. I haven’t been keeping up with the outside world all that well (the vegetation is thick!), but I bring you a few updates on older stuff and a peek at a new initiative to promote experimental music.

A couple of weeks ago, in The Power of Bundles, I talked about a nifty site selling indie music as a pay-what-you-want bundle. With only 10 hours left to go, I went to check out its progress. It seems the sales slowed down a little after the initial spurt and the total now sits around $400,000. It’s a healthy $66,000 per album minus charity and the website’s share. More importantly, this music reached an audience of almost 50,000 people. Definitely an idea worth exploring for contemporary art music.

I’d like to point out a new experimental music company braving the web frontier. Soundcarrier Music Network* is a new site founded by Halifax musicians Norman Adams and Alex Kall active in the Atlantic improv scene. The site distributes “improvised, experimental, new and free music” selling both studio albums and high quality live recordings. The approach recognizes the value of distributing rougher concert recordings, which is especially appropriate for the more improv-based scene they cater to. The site also charges more for individual tracks longer than 10 minutes. Soundcarrier’s catalogue is still quite small and I’m not sure how they are promoting themselves, but it’s worth keeping an eye on them if you are into that sort of thing.

In Explores of New Frontiers I talked about a somewhat misguided use of crowdfunding platforms. I hoped to be wrong because they seem like a lovely organization, but a month in, that particular campaign is sitting at only $380. But they still have 27 days to go. Maybe their fans will come through in the end.

In other news, I finally bought my plane tickets to Kyiv (Kiev) and will have the pleasure of spending the night on a bench at the Frederic Chopin airport in Warsaw. I am expecting a piano at every gate featuring skillful renditions of mazurkas and nocturnes by the flight attendants. It should set me up nicely for my work in Ukraine (see Village Crawl in Ukraine).

* University-trained musicians love long names and ‘networks.’ Perhaps they felt the need to expand it out because there are already quite a few things named ‘soundcarrier’ floating around on the web, including a maker of amplifiers and a band.