Giving a compelling interview as a musician
When it comes to promotion and publicity, interviews can be one of the most fun and gratifying ways to spread the word about your music — since they’re all about your biggest passion: your music!
Luckily for independent artists, there are more media sources looking to interview musicians than ever before. Magazines, zines, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, TV shows, YouTube channels, etc.
As the person being interviewed, you’ll either be providing a writer with context and quotes for a story, or the audio/video of your conversation will be the content itself (depending on the outlet). So obviously you don’t want to just go on the air or get on the phone with a journalist without having thought through some of the things you’ll talk about in advance.
If you’re quick-witted and confident, sure, you can probably wing it and still give a compelling interview. But for everyone else, here’s a few musician interview tips in preparation…
Ask yourself if the interview is worth your time
We have a tendency to want to say yes to everything. That tendency goes into overdrive when someone says, “I’m interested in you. I want to ask you about your music. And I want to share your answers with the world.”
BUT… not every interview is worth taking. I’m not only talking about assessing potential reach (or lack thereof), though if a blogger from www.blogspot.com.org.net/1234/interview/music-is-good-for-everyone.php/ writes you inquiring about an interview, you might want to check it out first and see if anyone actually reads their posts.
Absolutely, there are plenty of media outlets and blogs that have small, loyal, and engaged followings. And if you can effectively tell your story and share your music through those outlets, go for it! Those can be great opportunities to build your media profile, especially for younger acts.
But consider the scope of each interview first. Will you be answering fifty in-depth questions via email over the course of two weeks while on tour? Unless you’ve set the world’s WPM record, you might not want to take that interview on — or at least ask them if you can limit the scope to ten questions instead.
Is a journalist insisting on you meeting in person, just to get a few quotes they’ll work into a larger story about another artist or music scene? If you’ve got the time, great. If not, ask if you can answer the questions over the phone or via email.
Is the interview about some music marketing strategy you employed for your last release when you’d really rather be talking about your creative process? Well, speaking as someone who likes to ask bands about marketing stuff, I’ll say that ANY angle towards your music is a good angle — but really, if you’re pressed for time or feel uncomfortable addressing certain topics, go ahead and decline.
And how about this one: the interviewer wants to talk to the whole band at once. Suddenly you’re taking up four or five times the man-hours for a single interview. Hours that could be spent booking, recording, or doing OTHER interviews. (In that event, break it up and let each member handle a certain amount of interviews on their own, or perhaps in groups of two.)
Lastly, can the contents of your interview be easily re-purposed? Can you share a video link or SoundCloud clip with your fans? Is the final story something you’ll be allowed to embed or link to from your website? If so, great. If not, let’s hope it’s a great conversation and you really connect with the interviewer’s existing audience.
In short: you want every interview to be worth your time.
Identify what is most compelling about your music or story
Do you know what your musician story is? What’s your hook? Why should someone who’s never heard of you take an interest in your music or story? Find it. Know it. Boil it down. Be ready to tell the interviewer something interesting about yourself.
On the other hand, don’t give it ALL away. You need to save some good stuff for other interviews. For instance, one interview could focus on your songwriting process, or the stories behind the songs. Another could focus on the recording and production process. Another one could deal with life on the road, or your personal life, or your inspirations.
Another point that’s worth making, and it’s something that we’ve talked about a lot on this blog: your musical persona should enhance what is most interesting about you. You can’t (and shouldn’t) convey every little thing about yourself, so super-size a few of the most dramatic aspects of your story.
Investigate the audience ahead of time
Have you done your research? Do you know who the audience is for each of the media outlets where you’ll be interviewed? Do some homework and make sure you’re prepared to speak to THAT audience. A music business podcast will probably want to have you on to talk royalties and other revenue streams, not your trip abroad that changed the way you conceptualize vocal harmony.
Practice, practice, practice
Delivering a compelling interview is a kind of art, and one that requires practice, just like your music. Whether you’re being interviewed on camera, at a radio studio, over the phone, or via email, obviously you want to make the most of it. In the days leading up to an interview — when you’re driving around town, when you’re muting the TV during a commercial break, or when you’re taking the dog for a walk — practice asking yourself questions. Throw yourself a few curveballs. Craft some interesting answers, and make sure you’ve included all the important information in a succinct way. Then speak your answer aloud.
Why out-loud? Because when you’re nervous your heart beats faster and your breath flutters. Then your voice shakes. Then you’re sunk. Practicing out-loud ahead of time will help you avoid some butterflies.
BUT… don’t memorize your answers verbatim. Just come up with the basic framework, and a few soundbites. WHY? Well, see THIS ARTICLE for warnings about what happens to your mind (and face) when you memorize a speech. Also, an interview is supposed to be (at least in appearance) a conversation, not a monologue.
A last word about practicing: it’s important to remember that you’re not going to have time to squeeze in everything you want to say; so be ready to adapt your practiced answers on the fly.
Embrace the fact that it’s all about you
You’re not just the guest, you’re also the subject and star of the show for however many minutes you’ve been afforded. That doesn’t necessarily mean you want to try to outshine the host or interviewer (after all, it takes many stars to make a constellation), but it’s okay to come out strong, display some big personality, and deliver confident answers. Remember: you’re the absolute authority on YOU.
Avoid one word answers — even if it’s a yes or no question
The point of the interview is for you to tell your story. So tell it!
If the interviewer asks you Were you nervous to put out your sophomore album after so much buzz happened around your debut?, don’t just say yep. Give them the grit and drama, the struggle to overcome, the breakthroughs and brilliance!
Don’t be long-winded
On the other hand, you want the interview to be a conversation. Don’t bloviate — and don’t make the interviewer have to constantly interrupt you. Give them a chance to respond or ask another question.
It’s even okay to discuss this beforehand with the interviewer. Ask them how many questions they’d like to ask. Divide that by the total time for the interview, and then you’ll have an average timeframe to shoot for with each answer.
Be ready to talk for 2 minutes, or 2 hours
Hopefully you’ll have a good idea going into the interview what your time commitment will be: 2 minute TV news spot, one hour phone call, etc. But there are times when things are cooking, and the interviewer just keeps the conversation rolling (this happens more often in podcasting where there’s no fixed time limit). But the point is simple: get ready to talk for a looooong time, even if you only need to call upon that reservoir 1 out of every 50 interviews.
Don’t be afraid to leave the topic of music
Musicians aren’t one-dimensional subjects. Some of us have other things we want to talk about in addition to music if the opportunity presents itself: our political convictions, relationships, past struggles, favorite burritos, etc.
The rapper Killer Mike is a perfect example of this. He’s appeared numerous times on cable news networks talking about racism in America, social justice, and other issues that inform his music (but without the interview being about the music itself).
Bring it back around to you
But let’s say you DO want to talk about your music and the interviewer gets off-topic. That happens. If they do, roll with it for a bit. Be good humored about it. But if the interviewer goes too long without asking you a question that you feel is relevant to your music career, find a way to guide the discussion back on course. After all, you only have so many minutes to get the word out, so you wanna use every one of those minutes wisely.
Be visceral and descriptive
The skunky smell of the tour van. The burn of the bright stage lights. The way the rain looked on the runway as you landed in London for your first tour of the UK. Bring the listener or reader into your world with rich description. The more vividly you paint your world, the closer they’ll feel to you and your music.
Quote your own lyrics
Musicians are petrified of seeming pretentious, but if reciting one of your lyrics helps to illustrate some point you’re trying to make about your songs, or life, or the creative process — do it, and don’t be ashamed of it. Again, this interview is all about you, and a clever or heartfelt lyric might be just the thing to win over a new fan.
Plug your website, upcoming shows, email signup list, etc.
What are you hoping to get out of the interview? What’s your top priority? More YouTube subscribers? More people to come to your show in San Francisco? More CD sales? Say it! Don’t be shy. False humility seems a little weird when it comes from someone who’s agreed to be interviewed. So mention your YouTube channel. Plug your show. Tell listeners where they can purchase your music online. I mean, don’t be obnoxious about it; maybe just give yourself a single shout-out during the discussion — but what I’m saying is, no one will fault you for pimping your music in a directly actionable way if you’re gracious (and sparing) about it.
Get permission, and get the files
Earlier in this article I mentioned “re-purposing.” You want to make sure (particularly if the interview goes well, or if it’s from a high-profile media outlet) that you can share it on your website, social platforms, and email newsletter. If there are audio and video files that won’t be readily accessible and embeddable via services like YouTube or Soundcloud, ask the interviewer if you can get a copy of the file and post it directly to your sites, social, etc.
Of course if the interview is meant to be exclusive content that only lives in one place online, fine — but it can’t hurt to ask in an attempt to broaden its reach.
Alright, those are just a handful of interview tips for musicians. Again, practice is key. The more you practice, the better your interviews will be. The better your interviews, the more new opportunities will open up.
Have you been interviewed recently? What tips would you add to this list? What mistakes did you make, and what did you learn from them? Let me know in the comments below.
[Interview picture from Shutterstock.]