I’ve lately been in a meta writing mood, where I write about writing. I’ve been doing this for six years now and while I’m a late starter compared to some who started in secondary school or shortly after. I think in a way it was a blessing. I was an idiot when I was 17-18 years old, ask any of my friends (actually don’t). Or maybe not exactly an idiot, but I was naive, not very mature, not sure what I wanted, and most of all very insecure and unsure of myself. I can say I’ve grown out of the first three things, but insecurity and imposter syndrome is something I still deal with every day. I think it’s brave to admit your shortcomings and weaknesses. Takes a lot of courage. I wonder too if any of my idols ever experienced a sort of imposter syndrome, like they think their success and accolades are a fluke and people will eventually see that they’re a “fraud”. Perhaps they think their performance wasn’t their best, they hated their vocals, they notice little mistakes in the recording.
Over the past few years, I’ve conducted a lot of interviews, something that I never saw myself doing, ever. In real life I’m quite shy and awkward, at least when people first meet me, but when I get to know you and feel comfortable around you, I can actually be chatty to the point where you want me to shut up.
The first time I ever interviewed a musician actually was when I was 17 living in Canada and at the university radio station. I had no idea what to ask and I felt totally awkward because the call dropped in the middle of the interview. I don’t even know if it ended up being broadcast and I can’t remember the band’s name. But I’m happy to say nearly a decade later things are going a lot smoother and I now know what to ask. I’ve learnt a lot about interviewing and I’m happy to share what I’ve learnt since then. These tips can apply to any interview you’re conducting for journalism, even if it’s not music related, but since most of my experience is interviewing musicians and musician adjacent people, that’s going to be the focus.
How to interview: Tips for success
So, you’ve gotten an interview. Exciting! They’re a great opportunity for networking, collaboration, and getting the word out there for your publication. It’s a benefit for you and the musician. You might feel nervous and that’s normal. I’m always a little nervous before I interview anyone, but I’m sure the person on the other end might be nervous too, depending on how seasoned they are: some musicians are pros at interviews, while others especially ones starting out are going to naturally be more timid and worried.
The advice is going to differ a little bit depending on if this is an email interview or a phone/video call interview. Both of these have their pros and cons. Email interviews are really convenient because you don’t have to worry about time zones, technology glitches, awkward pauses, and having to transcribe it afterwards. The positives though with phone/video interviews are that you can ask follow up questions and I find that when people talk the answers are a lot more genuine and organic. Some people are much better talkers and others find that they communicate better through writing. Ask your interviewee what works best for them.
Tip 1: Watch/Read other interviews
I know that the first time I interviewed someone I was like “what the hell do I ask them?” and I got really overwhelmed. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to use other journalists as examples and to familiarise yourself with what interview questions often get asked, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. That’s the first step of research, learning what the experts do, copy it, and eventually find your own style and way of doing things.
Read and watch a lot of interviews and you might find some questions you might ask. Another exercise you can do is read or watch an interview with a musician you like and ask yourself, “What questions (especially follow up questions) would I ask this person if I were interviewing them?”. This leads me to tip #2.
Tip 2: Do your research
Usually if a musician approaches you for coverage, you’ll get some sort of press release with information on it. Read through it and familiarise yourself with the musician. Find out what they’re promoting whether it’s a new single, new album, tour, book, collaboration and ask them questions about it – know what the interview’s about. If you find something interesting about their older work and want to know more about it, ask a question about that – musicians really like when you’ve done your research and listened to their back catalogue.
Listen to their music too, you might even have some questions based on what you’ve heard. Read other interviews they did. Google everything you can and see if you can find anything interesting about their backstory. Don’t be afraid to ask basic questions about who they are because this article isn’t for you, it’s for your readers and you want them to get to know the musician. Don’t take for granted that people know X or Y.
Every interview should be tailored to each musician. Everyone’s different and if you keep asking the same questions every time, you might miss out on something cool about the musician. When you know more about them, you can ask better questions.
Tip 3: Follow up
Good communication is key. Make sure to follow up if you’re doing an interview via email. Musicians are busy people and have a lot on their plate so interviews may have to take a backseat when something else comes up. I personally make sure to follow up a week after I first send the questions just to make sure I haven’t slipped through the cracks. Emails can get lost, sometimes your email ends up in junk mail, people forget – we’re not robots!
I use the three strikes rule in case I haven’t heard anything after the first follow up, but most of the time following up once works, or twice if the first time doesn’t work. But at some point you gotta cut your losses and move on. Sometimes surprises happen and the musician ends up sending you the interview questions. Remember there are many musicians out there who would love to talk about their music.
Tip 4: Be a good listener and take notes
This tip is for phone/video call interviews. It’s not enough to ask good questions, a big part of it is asking good follow up questions. It’s a conversation and conversations are a two way street.
Listen carefully and ask those follow up questions. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your list of questions if the interview takes an interesting turn. Questions don’t have to be set in stone. If the musician talks a lot, don’t be afraid to take some notes about follow up questions so you don’t forget or note a timestamp when they say something interesting so you don’t have to spend lots of time scrubbing through the audio to find that soundbite.
Tip 5: Communicate with the musician and tag them
I can’t stress enough that good communication is key and people appreciate good communication so much. I strive to answer emails quickly and be on the ball and let people know that I’ve gotten their emails so that way they know that I’ve seen them. It’s also nice to maintain a good rapport with the people you talk to, as a big part of being a writer is networking. Don’t be afraid to ask the musician if they have any musician friends who would be interested in being featured on your blog/publication. It’s better to have too many content ideas than not enough! Make sure to ask if there’s anything they want to promote or plug, as an interview is their time to shine!
As well, let the musician know when the interview will be published and when it’s up, send it to them via email and tag them on social media, also so their fans can find it. Always be polite and thank them!
I hope this advice helps!
Until next time!
Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!
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