give great interviews: 12 tips

Great interviews don’t happen by accident

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If you want to give great interviews, preparation is key. Here are 12 tips to help you prepare and make new fans when the press comes calling.

Whether communicated orally or in writing, interviews help to inform your target audience about who you are and why they should care. Additionally, they help to communicate your personality in a unique and candid way.

Great interviews don’t happen by accident. Both parties, the interviewer and the interviewee, need to do a great deal of preliminary research. In fact, preparing your complete interview in writing before the interview can serve as helpful research for the busy interviewer and provide additional content that can be posted on your artist websites.

Below are a few of the most common interview topics, from the meaning of your band name, how your band formed, and the reason your influences do or don’t show up in your sound.

1. Your name

Be prepared to succinctly describe the purpose behind your name. Ryan Raddon, a popular American DJ, chose the stage name Kaskade after he saw a picture of a waterfall, which he felt fit perfectly with the continuous, flowing sounds and textures he creates on stage.

2. Your sound and style

Be ready to own your genre, give a few like bands, and offer a fun and descriptive phrase or two that sums up your sound and style. For instance, The Tikiyaki Orchestra describes itself as being an “Exotica band in the style of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman,” a broad mix of Lounge, Latin and Hawaiian music, and “A sonic adventure to a far away South Pacific island.”

3. Who is your audience?

Take some time to research who your fans are and be able to explain who your music appeals to. For instance, Lady Gaga’s audience is specifically made up of Electro/Pop fans, as well as the “the outsider culture: the freaks, the rebellious and the dispossessed.” The more concise you are, the better.

4. Your earliest influences

Be able to describe the various musicians who helped shaped your musical sound and style early on as a young musician. For me, it was the drummers of the big band albums that my father played around the house (mainly Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa), and the drummers of the rock albums that my older brother blasted from his room (mainly Ginger Baker and John Bonham). This question is one of the most common interview questions asked, so be prepared to answer it succinctly.

5. Who is your biggest inspiration?

Explain how you got started in music. Nas’ exposure to his father’s professional jazz instruments (mainly trumpet), and his father’s large collection of books (including Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War) were huge motivators. Additionally, the struggles he experienced in his neighborhood of Queensborough, New York and his desire for a better life motivated him to start writing raps at a very young age.

6. How did your band Form?

Formulate a genuine answer that everyone in your group can agree on in advance. For instance, In 2007, Passion Pit started in one member’s dorm room at Emerson College in Boston, MA. Coldplay started after Chris Martin met Jonny Buckland during orientation week at University College London in 1996… or was it during spring break in 1993? Get what I mean? Have your story together.

7. Current record, tour, crusade

Explain the purpose behind your current project and why people should take notice. For instance, Cypress Hill founded the Cypress Hill Smokeout “to create the ultimate music-fusion festival and advance and educate festival-goers on the medical marijuana movement.” Bam! Nice and concise! SupaMan, a Native American rapper, began making music “to bring awareness to the injustices suffered by indigenous people and prove that native lives matter.” Wow! Now that’s what I call music with a mission.

8. Differentiators

Explain what separates your work from others. When jazz guitarist Pat Metheny introduced his album, Orchestrion (which featured robots triggered by switches), he positioned it as a “first and never-to-be-done-again technological project intended to push new limits” where he works with “a magical set-up of acoustic and acousto-electric instrumentation, assembled for him by a far-flung team of mad musical scientists and digital dreamers.” When Nas released his album Life is Good, he differentiated it as being, “Unlike most of the music in my genre that tends to dwell on the darker side of life.”

9. Funny and crazy stories

Be prepared to share a short tale from the studio or the stage. Ozzy Osbourne got so drunk that he snorted a line of ants. Keith Richards mixed his dead father’s ashes with a line of cocaine. Keith Moon filled his clear drums with goldfish and water, and performed a live concert dressed like a cat. You may not be able to top these stories… but I bet you have something interesting to share.

10. Hobbies

Reveal what you do outside of music. In the best case, you’ll share something that reinforces your brand image and/or endears your target fan. For instance, Rivers Cuomo (of the nerd/alternative/pop band, Weezer), claims he knits sweaters. A coincidence or silly joke? Weezer’s biggest hit was “The Sweater Song,” after all.

11. Upcoming projects

Be prepared to fire off what’s next on your agenda. Have the exact dates of performances and the release dates of your singles. Don’t mess this up! The whole point of giving interviews is to ultimately sell your products and services and generate income.

12. Closing thoughts (“Is there anything else you want to add?”)

Sign off with your contact information, thoughtful quotes, shout-outs to people who have helped you, and reminders to buy your music. Or, you might leave some important message to the world like, “Don’t forget to save the whale forests everyone!”

When answering the questions in a written interview, the process is pretty straightforward (you write thoughtful concise responses and make sure to check your grammar and spelling). However, when answering these questions in a live face-to-face interview, you must remember a number of things.

First, you must have basic interview skills together. Always repeat questions before your answer, use dynamics and various speech rates, be aware of your body movement (sit up straight, make eye contact, and speak into the microphone), make sure your clothing does not give the camera a sneak peak of what’s underneath), and keep your answers short and sweet.

Second, be prepared to respond to that uncomfortable question that might get thrown at you. Stay calm, breathe deeply, smile, and think before speaking. Don’t be afraid to tell the interviewer that you wish to skip the question if you feel too uncomfortable to answer.

Finally, you must know something about the interviewer. It can come in handy. I once started interviewing the person interviewing me when he left a long uncomfortable pause hanging there. Why not?


For more information on the things I’ve covered here, check out Interview Tactics (Gayl Murphy), Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman), How To Read A Person Like A Book (Gerard Nierenberg), and of course, check out my books, Music Marketing For The DIY Musician, The Five Star Music Makeover and Business Basics For Musicians. Good luck!

The contents of this post are © 2017 by Bobby Borg. Bobby is the author of Music Marketing For The DIY Musician, Business Basics For Musicians, and The Five Star Music Makeover (all published by Hal Leonard Books). Get these books at any fine online store in both physical or digital format. Contact Bobby at www.bobbyborg.com. NOTICE: Any use or reprint of this article must clearly include all copyright notices, author’s name, and link to www.bobbyborg.com.

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One thought on “Great interviews don’t happen by accident

  1. I’ve been a musician for nearly 40-some years, including 12 years in a band that toured internationally. During some of those years, nearly 30 of them, I was also working as a reporter, editor or magazine writer – sometimes out of the back of a touring van or on an airplane. So, I’ve been on both sides of the fence. The one thing I’d add to your list is for musicians to drop the attitude about being interviewed. The interviewer might, probably WILL, ask you something you perceive as trivial – such as “How did you get that name?” It’s trivial to you, but understand, a lot of readers/listeners will want to know. And even if the interviewer knows this question is trivial compared to talking about some other things about your group, his or her editor will want to know because he or she knows many of the readers/listeners will want to know. And if you come across with a bunch of attitude about that or something else, unless you’re Bob Dylan or John Lennon (notorious assholes in many interviews), your interview might end up “spiked” (won’t run) or be “buried” (placed in a less conspicuous place than it might have been.) So, answer the fucking question, politely – and hopefully in an interesting way. Same to the other questions. If you don’t want to do the interview, then don’t do it. Try to get there on time, too.

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