Thursday, July 31, 2008

More on band biographies

The other day I blogged about the fact that the biogs of pop groups (particularly "indie"-fied ones) don't actually say anything useful. The one that triggered this was by Department of Eagles, who've made a record I've played quite a bit. This caused Fred from the group to get in touch and say that they'd toyed with introducing the fact that one of them had a grandfather who wrote and directed "The Hustler" but hadn't felt it was that relevant. I can see why they missed it out but I can also see why they should have put it in. He agreed that in their efforts to avoid clichés, many bands were in severe danger of making themselves just boring. We've been kicking this back and forth and I've sent him my colleague Fraser Lewry's biog because it's an object lesson in what a biog should be.

You only need a biog in the first year of your career. After that you've either earned a proper Wikipedia page, which is in the end the best solution to the biog problem, or you've disappeared or you've become Coldplay - in which case why do you need 2,000 words of unctuous drivel enumerating your platinum discs in Latin America?

In the first year of your career it's there for two reasons, neither of which have got anything to do with you or how you think it makes you look:
1. To provide a few gobbets of information that an average hack might feel moved to put in a caption. In this respect "Princess Diana once asked me the way to Marylebone Lane" qualifies but "hard-gigging four-piece who write all their own material" certainly doesn't. Too many bands describe what they're doing in completely music business terms rather than in terms that provides us with common ground. "So then we did some demos and found a new studio..." Oh really? Goodness, is that the time?
2. To give some poor local radio DJ or hack who's been put on the phone to try and write something for a gig listing something he can ask you about. To this end "so tell me about appearing on stage at Brixton Academy dressed as a white rabbit" works and "so are you really excited about your first national tour?" doesn't.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I had to do something with a well-known band who, like most well-known bands, aren't quite as big as they used to be. It wasn't the most satisfactory experience because they had a blasé attitude that seemed somehow fatally dated. I came away thinking 'they still think being in a band is somehow *enough*. I don't think it is anymore.' Who knows? Maybe a change gonna come.


  1. This is partly a function of the DIY Internet age. If a band does everything for themselves, including writing their own biography, they are bound to leave out the sensational stuff. Out of modesty, for one thing, to protect relationships, for another. And maybe even because they are just learning, and they aren't too good at it yet.
    Sometimes you need someone to tell your story for you: one of the up-sides of the old way of doing things - the Press Officer in the paid employ of the Record Company - was they knew what they were doing, and would wring the last drop of blood from a band's backstory. And the band were happy with it because they weren't personally accountable - they could always blame the record label if any of their friends or relatives complained.

  2. Fraser's biog is very entertaining, I can match two entries.

  3. Anonymous2:20 am

    Fascinating tidbits have never made me enjoy anyone's music any more than I would have without them.

    If the music's solid, the factoids don't matter. If the music's boring, I'm sure I wouldn't care if the bass player's grandfather invented windsurfing, or if the drummer practices ventriloquism in his spare time, etc.

    I know it doesn't help you with your picture captions or looming deadlines, but from a strictly musical perspective, the music is all that matters...

  4. They're not designed to make anyone enjoy anyone's music. Neither is a conventional biog. It's designed to give the media something to go on.

  5. My introduction to new artists comes almost exclusively through magazines or websites.

    So from that perspective, publicity material (which a journalist or hack will parlay into an introductory article or review) is tremendously important. It has to kindle a spark of interest that is going to motivate a reader into investigating further.

    There are certain things a band should never say. By way of example:

    “We play the music we want and if anyone else likes it then that’s a bonus.”

    I have very little time for any band who give the impression that they buy their clothes from a secret UK branch of C&A.