How to Engage Your Audience…Before Playing a Single Note

You know how some books can be really difficult to put down? Where you swear that you’re going to finish the chapter and go to bed, but when you get to the end of the chapter you can’t help but continue reading?

When was the last time you read a concert program that was such a page-turner?

I flipped through the program notes for a chamber music festival the other day, and unexpectedly got hooked. One of the musician bios caught my eye, and I couldn’t help but read it.

I read it several times, in fact, and I was curious enough to dig a bit deeper in the program to see what he was playing. I was even curious enough to ask around about this fellow and find out more about him.

What was it about this bio that compelled me to take action? And why is this so important?

Curiosity killed the cat?

There is a literature on the psychology of curiosity. It is not an area of psychology that I’m particularly well acquainted with, but that’s ok for the purposes of this article, as we’ve all had first-hand experience to know the effects of curiosity.

Whether it’s staying up late to read another chapter in the latest John Grisham thriller, waking up super early to see what Santa left under the tree, or driving 30 miles in the middle of the night to try Burger King’s “new” fries, curiosity can be an awfully potent motivational force.

So what?

Nowadays, everyone is talking about the need to engage audiences. To build a connection. To attract a following of 1000 raving fans (if you find that interesting, read the original, with the counterpoints at the bottom).

And how do we do that exactly? By impressing people with our lofty accomplishments, achievements, and credentials? That might help justify ticket prices, but doesn’t pique my curiosity about who you are, what you think, or how you would approach a different piece. It doesn’t compel me to google you, read every page of your web site, listen to every one of your recordings, and anxiously await your next live performance.

But then you read an engaging bio like that of Jonathan Biss, which comes across as a genuine and sincere reflection of who he is as a person. Doesn’t that make you curious? Curious enough to read more of his writing, listen to him voice his thoughts on a variety of subjects, seek out his recordings, and ultimately buy tickets to hear him play?

The likeability factor

It could very well just be me, but when I read a bio that lists an impressive range of achievements and accomplishments, I can’t help but size you up. To listen and judge whether I think your playing lives up to your resume.

But when I come across a bio that gives me a glimpse of who you are as a person – your personality, your values, your interests and so on – and I find myself liking you, my ears change. I find myself pulling for you, and listening to your performance through more favorable ears, hoping that I enjoy your playing as much as I enjoyed getting to know you through your bio.

The bio that inspired a blog post

So back to the bio that reached out and grabbed my attention (and motivated this blog post).

I won’t reprint it here, but I can tell you that it started off with a reference to a childhood nickname, utilized the word “frolicking”, and included references to chinese take-out, all whilst making it clear that this was a talented and accomplished individual. And like Mr. Biss’s bio, it all came across as an honest glimpse of who this person really was.

Because there’s nothing worse and more transparent than an insincere bio where it seems like you are trying hard to be someone you’re not.

Take action

Are you missing out on a golden opportunity to engage the curiosity and attention of potential fans? To be talked about and above all, remembered?

(1) Read this guide titled: “How to Write a Bio that Doesn’t Suck” for specific guidance and examples of what to do and what not to do.

(2) Violinist Holly Mulcahy also has some thoughts on boring bios and five things to avoid when writing your bio.

A caveat

It goes without saying that an awesome bio by itself will not make a career. We must ensure there is something compelling and engaging about our playing and performance too. But always remember that you are so much more than just your resume!

photo credit: sunside via photopin cc

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6 Responses

  1. Interesting article, Noa. In fact, Facebook had, a few years ago, an exercise in which you listed 25 things about yourself. I remember this as being not an extremely easy task to do. Consequently, for my last recital, I used this on the back cover of the program, rather than the traditional bio. I received many positive comments about it, so much so, that I think I will use it again for next recital. Many people commented that this personal touch helped them to know me better as a person rather than just a performer on stage. They also said that they could relate to my music in a different way.

  2. This goes without saying that it’s also important to be likeable if you want fans to pay for your music.

    Having good music isn’t good enough. People need to like you as a person to support you.

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