In this post, I will share my tips on how to write your festival applications, including show promotional text and artist bio. Learn the most common mistakes and use my checklist to make sure that your copy stands up but is simple, straightforward and informative.
Common mistakes artists make when writing their show promo copy
A description is too vague
Often artists’ applications are almost identical.
Here are examples of show descriptions I have received:
“A show designed to entertain the public by making them participate. More volunteers will get involved so that the show can continue and the spectators continue to have fun. Juggling, balancing, improvisation and the research for the game! Show suitable for all ages.”
“Humour, juggling and above all, balance!!! This show will amaze children and adults the same way.”
“Interactive comedy improvisation suitable for all ages.”
“Clowning and juggling with different characters. One Man Show.”
“The show is based on a universal language that combines physical humour techniques with juggling. There is direct interaction with the audience.”
Selecting acts based on these promos feels like drawing lots. If any busker can use your content to promote their show, it’s time to change it.
Street performances usually are:
- With audience interaction
- Filled with laughter
- Packed with action
If you use any of these phrases, make sure you elaborate! Add something unique about you or your show (but don’t call it unique). It can be a detail like your costume description, info about your signature number or your techniques.
Your tone should reflect your performance and personality (or stage persona).
Imagine a programme with 20 acts, and each of them described as a must-see.
The most amazing shows with breathtaking numbers by incredibly talented artists who worked in the best international festivals! You can’t miss these wonderful performances!!!
What can we learn from this example?
- It is overstating.
- Adjectives and adverbs weaken when they are close together.
- It sounds like marketing.
- It falls into “telling and not showing“.
Don’t tell people how they should feel about you and your show and don’t judge your work. No matter how many synonyms of “amazing” and “wonderful” you can think of, your text will sound better without them.
Same goes with the exclamation marks – avoid them or use them sparingly if you want them to be effective. Your words should carry the emphasis themselves.
Make people enthusiastic but let them decide if you are legendary.
Not identifying your audience
Whatever you write, you need to tailor content to give the information a reader needs. Always have your potential audience in mind:
- Your copy should be appropriate for all ages, even if your show isn’t.
- If you apply for festivals abroad, your audience’s first language will be probably different from yours. Use simple vocabulary and write short sentences.
- Have diverse cultural backgrounds in mind when you reference something that people in other countries may not know.
- Address separate audiences separately. For example, unless you apply for a fire spinning convention or circus workshop, describe what you use instead of listing all your fire and flow arts props. In most of the cases, you should skip technical terms and jargon.
This leads to the next point:
As a festival director, I know a lot about various genres of circus, theatre, music, etc. However, there are still many words I don’t understand when reading the applications.
Imagine someone who has never seen a street show reading about Aramid Fibre Wick, Fyrefli Fire Nunchakus, Meteor Hammer. If they see too many unfamiliar words, they will feel uncomfortable, and they will move on to other artists. Choose your words carefully.
Please have in mind that often names of props or techniques are new and cannot be found in a dictionary. You will make a life of a person responsible for marketing difficult, and you risk that they will mistranslate your copy.
Not making it clear
Get feedback from friends who haven’t seen your show. Ask them to read your promotional text and tell you in their words what they think it is about. If they didn’t get it, modify your description.
Make sure you take a break if you work on one particular piece of content for a long time. If you have just finished writing, you will skip over a lot of errors. Go for a walk, watch a movie or go to sleep before you reread it.
Ask someone to proofread your text. It’s always easier for a person who isn’t an author to catch any typos and inconsistencies.
If you write in a language that you don’t know well, ask someone for help. Don’t make your readers guess what you tried to say.
A quick checklist before you send over your promo text
- It gives a clear picture of your act
- It is without industry jargon and colloquialisms
- You removed clichéd adjectives, adverbs, and exclamation marks
- You and someone else proofread it.
How to write an artist bio
The purpose of an artist bio is introducing yourself, telling the readers where you have been as an artist, what you do and your artistic path. It needs to be engaging and convey only the most crucial information. Think of it as of your story.
Write in the third person
Write your artistic bio in the third person because it sounds more authoritative and professional. The point of sending press releases is to give people text that they don’t need to re-write. Think about their websites or social media – posts promoting your show are always in the third person unless someone wants to quote you.
Narrow it to the key points
An artist’s bio is not a resume. It is a summary of your qualifications, education, skills, work history, and accomplishments. Remember, it’s not a timeline, so describe instead of making lists.
In the first sentence, state your name and your field.
If you are a musician: Are you also a songwriter? What is your genre?
If you are a circus performer: What is your specialisation? What techniques do you use?
Some other information you can include:
- Where are you from and where you are based?
- What was your artistic path? Are you self-taught or did you go to the circus/art schools?
- What are you passionate about?
- What are the highlights of your career?
- How long have you been performing? When did you create your show/record your last album?
Tip: on the websites that you don’t visit often, use the year you started, so you don’t have to remember to update it for example: “since 2015” vs “for five years”).
Don’t compare yourself to famous artists as you may sound arrogant. If you need to drop some names, describe them as your inspirations.
Don’t list every single festival in your bio
No one expects you to mention every single event, festival or little gig in your bio. List them on your website instead. You can replace a long list with “X has performed at over 50 festivals in 25 countries in Europe and Australia, including…”. When selecting examples, choose not only the most recognisable events but also the ones you like, that had an impact on your career or who you are as an artist. Double-check if you didn’t misspell any names.
Make sure you did an excellent job at the events you mention in case the bookers contact them for your references. If you weren’t in the official line up, just crashed them, skip them.
What if you are new?
Even if you don’t have much experience, there is always a story to tell. You can showcase your personality or write about your inspirations. Enthusiasm counts for more than you may believe.
Let’s have a look at some examples:
Over the last two years, Ana has been improving her hula hoops and dancing skills and developing her first show ZYZ. Having performed in the streets of over twenty cities and towns in her home country, she is looking forward to bringing her performance to new places.
Ana seems to be a hard-working person and is ready to perform for a new audience.
Maria is a clown with an international experience who has performed in Poland, Czech Republic and Germany.
This sentence tells us only that Maria is one of many clowns with first international experience. It won’t impress any bookers if the next person has performed all over the world.
Festivals are looking for different skills and experience. Not having references from the most famous festivals is not a disadvantage.
Make multiple versions of your bio
There is no answer to how long your bio should be as it depends on where you submit it. When you work on your promotional materials, prepare different versions, so you will give people what they need:
- A short bio with essential information – one paragraph with around 500 characters is enough. It must be concise, so every sentence matters.
- An extended one with more details, especially if you believe your readers may need a little explanation of what you do.
- A long one that you can include on your website. Use the space to add additional details like reviews, milestones, mentors, inspirations, etc. You can also have a paragraph with technical information for experts in your field.
Still not sure what to write? Try this exercise: read questions from my interviews with buskers and write down your answers. Then highlight things you would like to share with people and that describe you best as an artist. Put them together and modify them until you have a text that sounds like bio.
Filling out the festival application forms
Now when you have your bio or show description ready, it’s time to apply for festivals.
I would say that reading open calls is necessary for two main reasons:
- You can often find an answer to what organisers are looking for.
- You won’t waste your time applying for festivals that don’t meet your requirements regarding a fee, sound system and lighting, space, etc.
I’m aware though that many street performers skip this part so at least:
- Read the questions before pasting your ready text and don’t overwhelm people with providing more information than they need. If there is a 500 character limit, don’t paste your bio with 1500 characters. On the other hand, don’t send a link to your website instead of writing your bio.
- Add a personal touch. Is there something nice you have heard about a festival you are applying for? Maybe you have never performed in a city where it takes place but always wanted to do so?
- Don’t show that you know nothing about the festival and haven’t read an open call. If you send a list of your requests and organisers have already explained that they cannot provide them, they won’t invite you because they will feel that you won’t be happy at their festival.
Overpromising and under-delivering
Don’t make promises you cannot keep. Here are some examples:
Circus performers often promise to show me something that I “haven’t seen before”. Are you sure you can deliver if I see you juggling with three torches in every photo?
Don’t select that you perform any time of the day and no matter the weather condition if people know you for cancelling your shows when it’s below 25 degrees because it’s too cold for you.
Are you a mentor for young buskers in crowd building or do you give up if there is no audience waiting for you?
If you are an easy-going person and pleasure to work with, why is there so much negative feedback on your Facebook page?
Stick to what you are good at, not to what you think people want to hear.
Wait? What about promo videos and photos?
As you have noticed by now, I haven’t written anything about the promo videos and photos. Why? Because they are as important as text and this topic deserves a separate post:
Your show description and artist bio should give the readers enough to get a sense of you and make people want to get to know you and see your performance. Your promo materials should provide a glimpse of your personality, make you look professional and reliable.
Make sure your explanation is clear, get to the point and whenever you can get your message across without using adjectives, skip them.
Check other artist profiles to get a feeling on how they write their promos and get inspired but never copy someone else’s text. Your personality should shine through your content, so don’t write too general descriptions.
Please let me know in the comments below if you find this article useful or if you want to share your tips.