A friend of mine from a metal magazine wrote the following on facebook today:
If you write “next big thing”, “best kept secret”, “Australia’s best/biggest/brightest/loudest/heaviest/hottest”, “upcoming” or “leading” on your band’s bio, you’re probably not. Just ‘coz.
This was pitched at Australian metal bands, so naturally everyone began falling all over themselves in an effort to miss the point. Although it was a discussion I was involved in at the start, some of the issues covered required many words, and I HATE being one of those facebook people taking themselves super-seriously and writing massive long heartfelt semi-intellectual passages. So I thought I’d save it for the blog instead, and make some constructive suggestions instead of just calling everyone a thicko.
The point my friend made was that by using one of those clichéd phrases, you create a bad impression for your band before people responsible for publicizing it even get to listen to it. For people who work with words, getting slugged with these phrases is like getting bukkaked in the eyeballs with sticky liquid stupid and they will HATE you for it. They will HATE you for it because they see these phrases used regularly by dumb semi-literate bands and labels, and 99 times out of 100 they are bullshit. By using those special combinations of words, you prime the recipient of your press to expect their ears to be rammed full of withering averageness when listening to your crud.
I must also note that there are a billion sensible articles out there about how to write bios or do interviews, and how to submit press. This is not one of them. This is addressing a few of the big fundamentals that I think a lot of today’s metal bands are lacking, and if this stops one more band from treating their press like a school writing project then hooray. And just in case you think this article whiffs of self-aggrandizement ….you’re goddamn right. I’m going to illustrate all my points with my own bands.
The purpose of your bio, press, and interviews is to get people interested in you – not bore them to death.
Is your music imaginative? Colorful? Psychedelic? Psychopathic? Or all of the above? THEN WHY ISN’T YOUR BIO?!
Seriously, people write their fricken bios these days like they’re worried that their teacher is looking over their shoulder. For god’s sake, let rip. Yes, you do have to let people know who you are and what you’ve done. But you’re not writing a goddamn Wikipedia entry with footnotes. The purpose of the bio is not just to inform people but to make them WANT to listen to you and WANT to like you. You don’t do that merely by listing dry statistics.
Use colorful phrases, use anecdotes. Don’t say you toured the east coast of Australia with Band A and Band B….you smashed the balls off the east coast, with Band A and B riding your coattails (“…we’re all really good friends though!”). You didn’t play Wankfest, you made a Special Appearance at Wankfest! Your guitarist hung from the scaffolding by his knees. Your vocalist punched someone. The bassist disappeared after the show and reappeared three days later. Press queued at your feet and kissed your ring.
You don’t have to make it a laughfest, but just make it interesting.
Ditto with interviews. My dear sweet Jesus, bands can take the whole interview thing so bloody seriously. Yes, you are being asked questions. Yes, it’s fun to get all self-indulgent and talk about yourself and your opinions. But your answers have a dual purpose: to inform but also to ENTERTAIN. You are an entertainer goddamit. You don’t stop entertaining people just because you’re not on stage at the time. Think I’m being harsh? Pick up a metal magazine these days and try and read all the interviews in it from cover to cover. I promise you that you’ll fall asleep halfway through.
Got a tour on the way and want to promote it? Don’t just say the dates. Say something like, it’ll be a bloodbath and anyone who isn’t bleeding by the second song will be dragged onstage and pummeled (we actually said that for a Berzerker interview). If you’re a bunch of boring-ass prog musican wanker-types, then tell people you have been studying ways of combining your unique scales with Fibonacci fractal progressions, special frequencies, and a custom PA that is guaranteed to get people high. If you do that flared jean stoner rock shit, tell everyone that your set drips with so much sex that people shag in the moshpit and you average three pregnancies for every show. Tell people something interesting. But be aware that saying you’re “the next big thing”/”Australia’s best kept secret” etc is not interesting. It is boring, because media (and a bollockload of the public) have seen those phrases a million times already. Oh, and anyone – in the band or in the media – who use the phrase “saviors of metal”? I will track you down and murder you with my bare hands.
Admittedly, it can be hard to give interesting answers in some interviews. It’s almost like the interviewer is trying to ask the most boring Interview 101 questions that have been covered a million times before and appear in your bio. “How did your band start”, “What music do you like”, “Do you play live”….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz BOR-ING. I remember Blood Duster had a great technique they’d use, which we adopted: ignore the question completely and write whatever answer you want. Almost always, the interviewer is happy just to have an interesting answer to work into whatever narrative they’re constructing.
A band is responsible for their press even if they’re not the ones writing it.
One of the points that came up in the facebook discussion from today was someone saying hey, my label writes the bio and sends the press out, so there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s in their hands. Nothing to do with us. None of us can write for shit anyway.
A band may hand responsibility for the more boring activities over to a willing label or PR agent. But ultimately, YOU are responsible for the impression you create and it is in your interest to pay attention to how you are being represented.
What would you do if the press photographer wanted to put you all in clown suits and pose you at the local ice rink? Say hey, they’re the photographer, I guess they’re the expert on this? Nothing to do with us, none of us can take photos?
What would you do if the guy making your filmclip wants to dress you up in lingerie and put you in a kindergarten chasing greased pigs? Say hey, they’re the filmmaker, we don’t understand this stuff, we’ll go along with this?
What do you do when the bio that the label writes for you is so incredibly fucking boring that you, a metal fan who loves your own band, falls into a coma while reading it? Say oh well, none of us can write anyway? They know what they’re doing?
A band knows the impression they are trying to create better than anyone. That is what your music does, when you drill down to it….it creates an emotional and aesthetic impression. Everyone that you work with is a tool to assist you in creating that impression. A band is the CEO and everyone who works for them does so at their implicit instruction. When CEOs are unaware of what their employees are doing on their behalf, that’s when companies fail. Bands don’t fare much better.
If someone is trying to make you look like a dick in a photo shoot or video, try and advise them as to what a better alternative would be. If they persist, tell them to fuck off. If a label writes an elementary school standard bio, you have three choices: make them do it again until it’s acceptable, engage PR who will do it for you, or write it yourself. Seeing as though labels usually rely upon unpaid fresh-out-of-school interns to write bios you can usually do a better job yourself. It was also pointed out in the Facebook chat that labels are quite often delighted to have a proactive band relieve them of some of their workload, the work-shy bastards. Bands who refuse to confront people offering shoddy work on their behalf are lazy. If your label is misrepresenting you, speak to them. If they don’t get it, yell at them.
We have hours of footage from the Berzerker days of yelling at Earache on the phone. We told them with the first album not to use the masks in the artwork, and made huge efforts to supply them with the album cover artwork. The masks were to be a huge surprise when we played live and between the strobe lighting and smoke we were supposed to be barely seen when onstage. Earache went behind our backs and plastered the US release with pictures of the masks. We confronted them, and they actually said something like hey, Slipknot is popular at the moment in the States so we’re putting the masks front and center on everything. Cue a big forehead slap from us and Luke screaming at them so loudly they could have probably heard him in England without the phone. Even we knew that portraying us as a Masked Metal Band Just Like Slipknot would turn away the super-extreme people who stood the most chance of enjoying our music. It took years to undo that mistake and for a lot of our dedicated audience to find us.
If the people you employ – and when you are signed to a record label, ultimately they are employed by you – misrepresent you, or make you look boring, then it’s your responsibility to fix it. Not unless you’re happy to be called ‘the hot new best new top secret saviors of metal’ and have everyone with half a brain laughing at you, and looking through other demo and bio submissions for something not so stultifying and brainless.
Want to see how this shit is done right?
Better yet, check out the 5 Best Metal Interviews of All Time and see the masters at work!