Writing about yourself and your music can be more difficult than you’d think. These pointers will get you on track to craft the words that match your music.
Whether you’re describing your sound to a festival booker via email, posting a want ad for a new bass player, or sending an email about your next release, sooner or later, your work as an indie artist will require you to write about your own music.
Even if you’re an experienced writer, describing your art in a straightforward, accessible, accurate, and exciting way can be a real challenge. Here are some tips to get you started.
Take a few minutes and write down everything you can think of that influences or informs your music. Items could include other artists or composers, certain musical genres or styles, foods, fashion, works of literature, social movements, cities, friends or family members, colors, weather patterns, or nearly anything else. Don’t edit yourself — just write it all down.
Once you have this list, take some time away before reviewing it, grouping the items into broad categories, and noting what stands out to you as the most important. See what crystalizes as a result, focusing on what makes your music different — can you accurately say that your music was inspired by the defiant energy of the Civil Rights Movement, the culture of 1920s Paris, and the guitar and vocal styles of Bob Marley? Keep any such language in mind the next time you have to write about your music.
What defines your music for you may be utterly different from what your fans hear — so why not ask them? Getting a few trusted appreciators of your art to describe your sound in their own words and express why they love what you do can go a long way towards helping you write about your own music.
Turn down the hype
In “Your Elevator Pitch Should Start a Conversation,” I talk about how too much self-hype can get in the way — and the same lesson applies here. It’s great to be excited about your music and to want to share that energy, just make sure your enthusiasm doesn’t translate into overblown language that will turn off potential supporters.
Start by looking for hyperbolic language — using words or phrases like “revolutionary,” “virtuosic,” “redefining,” and “genre shattering” to describe your work is rarely helpful. Readers of any sort can tell when a writer is blowing smoke — or trying to compensate for something — so focus on telling your story and avoid writing like you have something to prove instead of everything to share.
Focus on facts
When I was an editor at Keyboard magazine, I saw countless press releases that had some variation of the sentence: “(Band X) is redefining the (insert genre here) game with a unique sound all its own.” This sentence is rarely true and basically communicates nothing, so avoid language like this when writing about your music.
Instead of broad and fuzzy generalities, focus on true statements that help you tell your story and give your reader a sense of your music. Has your band been together for five years, despite your members living on three different continents? Did you write a concept album based on small children’s reactions to 9/11? Do you always record one song on every album with all band members naked? Anything that is interesting and truthful can anchor your description of your music and grab the attention of your reader.
Don’t be bashful
While you don’t want to over-hype yourself, don’t sell yourself short either. It can be perfectly normal to feel insecure when describing the music you make, but don’t let that push you into being overly modest — or worse, apologizing for or being critical of your own music. I’ve seen so many talented artists and bands cut down their work when it’s time for them to write about it, and it is always unnecessary and counter-productive.
Instead, own your successes and share them with pride. If you’ve won awards or sold out shows, don’t hesitate to say so; if you’ve gotten critical praise or toured with big acts, make sure to let people know.
Whether you’ve been featured in Rolling Stone, a local arts blog, or anywhere in between, use nice things that other people have said about your music when you’re writing about what you do. Just make sure to attribute all quotes accurately, and if a quote was not given or posted publicly, check in with whoever said it or wrote it for permission before using it in any public or commercial way.
Get outside opinions
If you’re unsure how to write about your music, it never hurts to pull together a few drafts of writing and run them by a variety of outside readers — especially people who are at least somewhat similar to whoever you’re writing for. Are you sending pitch emails to festival bookers to try to nail down an international tour? If so, see if there’s anyone in your network who has experience booking shows, especially overseas, and who would be willing to review, comment, and advise from that professional perspective.
Outsource if necessary
If you’re intimidated by the task of writing about your music, look for outside help. It’s not hard to find talented, music-fluent writers who can get your descriptive language where it needs to be. If you don’t know any talented music writers off-hand, turn to music blogs, websites, or magazines that feature music-related writing that you like. Contact the writers, describe what you need and what you can afford as compensation, and see if they can help you out.
How do you approach writing about your music? Tell us in the comments below!
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
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