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Sell your story, sell your music

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In your artist bio, and in all of your promotions, telling your story is a way to relate to your audience and hopefully help you connect on a more personal level.

“Check out my new single at band name)/(generic song title)!”

If you’re a part of the music industry, you’re either guilty of sending out the message above to all your new followers, or you’re constantly receiving tweets and DMs of this message with minor variations – or both.

This message begs the ultimate question: “Why should I?” With hundreds of thousands of artists on the Internet doing the same exact thing, why should your message prompt me to follow your link over any of the other identical messages and links I receive?

Bottom line, telling people to listen to your music is not an effective way to get new fans. So how do you stand out?

Find out what’s interesting about you

If your music isn’t both highly original and highly acclaimed, then you can’t solely depend on your music to sell itself. There are already other artists who make similar music, and most are on the same social networks you’re on trying to promote themselves the best way they know how. How you stand out from them may depend on what makes you different from a non-musical standpoint. I’m talking about your unique story, which you need to define and demonstrate. There are different elements of you or your band from which you can draw original and relatable elements.

What have you struggled with throughout your life? Are there any causes you really believe in? Do you draw inspiration from certain novels or films? Have you experienced any life-changing events? There are many different sources from which you can introduce interesting aspects about yourself. If your latest single is about your struggles as a minority, or putting smiles on people’s faces, or honoring the memory of a loved one, then tell us about it. Many people will relate to the broad spectrum of experiences we share, and by linking it to your music, the listener might automatically have a connection to your song.

Make it personal

Mystery is overrated. In the digital era, so much of our lives is already traceable in some way. By providing personal or confessional information, you’re providing interesting content to journalists if ever they choose to cover you. Journalists are looking for compelling stories, and if you’re not already established, “Check out my new single” is not an interesting angle to write about. Quitting your day job to pursue your music career, as cliché and overused as it sounds, is still more relatable. People who have done the same will relate to it, and those who haven’t might feel inspired because it is still an unspoken dream for many artists – musical and otherwise.

This is how your personal life story ties in with your music. Your personal life successes or struggles need not limit nor dictate the genre of music in which you create. However, tying back to the previous point on the message you get across to listeners, if you’re in a folk band, talking about having hoes in different area codes won’t be cohesive with what the genre represents as a whole, and by extension, what the followers of those genres expect from you as a contributor to that genre. Different genres, in general, adhere to different values or areas of interests. Once you establish your style within the values of your genre, your story should be cohesive with it as well.

As an example, the story behind Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, became somewhat of a hyperbole: an unknown young artist locks himself up in a cabin in the woods to write music during the winter in order to cope with the ending of a relationship. At this point, the accuracy of what happened is less relevant than the romanticized story. Here, you have a relatable story (heartbreak), which works in parallel with a plot line that fits the folk genre (locking himself in a cabin in the woods to play acoustic guitar).

From big to small, vague to specific

A forum like your band website gives you an endless canvas upon which to present yourself. You’re not limited in terms of the length of copy or how many photos or files you can include. But that can work against you. When it comes to your artist bio, for instance, longer is not necessarily better – you need to make sure your story doesn’t become too long and boring. The first paragraph of your artist bio should summarize who you are, what kind of music you make, and what your latest release is. The rest should be your story, which should evoke some emotion. If the reader doesn’t feel anything when reading your intro, they’re not only less likely to read the whole bio, they’re also less likely to listen to and appreciate your music. It’s important to be specific in your biography, e.g., make sure to name places or other artists when referring to them. This enhances the emotional connection from a reader/listener standpoint.

Conversely, a tweet offers the opposite disadvantage such in that you have to arouse interest with a very limited number of characters. If you’re promoting a new track, limit the words describing your promotion in favor of words that describe the song itself. The former will come off as a sales pitch, whereas the latter will establish an emotional connection with the listener. Which brings me to the next point.

Don’t make it all about you

Artists can rely on a degree of leniency from their fans when it comes to “making it all about themselves.” The same doesn’t necessarily translate when it comes to fan acquisition.

Here’s an all-too-common tweet as an example: “Listen to my latest new single ‘Reaching for the Stars’ [song link] and make sure to check out my Facebook page for more great songs.”

Tying in with the previous point, there are several words that don’t need to be in that tweet. You’re telling me to “listen” your new single without giving me any real reason to do so, other than the fact that it’s new. If I’m already a fan, that could be enough, but it’s not a great way to evoke a response from a casual listener. Also, considering it’s your song, I can’t take your word for it when you tell me it’s “great.” Last, as a general rule, don’t confuse the message. Leave the Facebook plug out of this promotion and use that as a way to entice folks who enjoyed your song to take another step.

Let’s simplify and change the focus from the fact that it’s “your great song” to making it about your listener: “Struggling with following your dreams? “Reaching for the Stars” might help you through it.”

The tweet is directed to your listener rather than you. In a medium where you can use more words, such as on your website or on Facebook, you can explore the back story and the inspiration for the song. This is still a rather generic example because “following your dreams” is a pretty generic message. The more bold and specific you get, the more those who relate to your story are likely to listen to your music, so a fine balance needs to be reached.

We create music in order to express the dreams and realities of our lives. Music becomes an extension and an expression of our experiences. By finding out and outlining the nature of your story, people will appreciate your openness, relate to your struggles, and, ultimately, connect with your story and your music.

Frederic Sahyouni is COO of WeSpin, a growth training platform and community which offers a free Fan Engagement course available at:

The 90-Day Album Release Planner

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9 thoughts on “Sell your story, sell your music

  1. I must strongly disagree with this. As a listener and music lover, I find the over-sharing of personal information and irrelevant “stories” degrading and irrelevant. I am drawn to check out music by the artwork, the title, the band name, the description of the music, a review of the music (not of gossip and irrelevant details about the musicians), knowledge of previous music by the same artists, collaborators with the musician, etc.

    I far prefer musicians and artists to retain some mystery…not to mention some dignity.

  2. I loved your article on Bio’s – really practical advice…. I delete about 80-100 of the messages you speak of in yout article a day….. Some of them I do check out…. I am a Mastering engineer.

    Just wanted to thank you for your tips!
    Well done!

    and thnx

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