Podcast interviews can be powerful outreach for indie artists of all genres. Here are some ways to set yourself up for success once the red light goes on.
For a musician, podcasts can be a powerful way to bond with current fans and engage with new ones — especially in a world turned inside out by Covid-19. Being a guest and having your music featured on an established podcast is a great opportunity, but how do you prepare?
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking with producer and journalist Ben Finane for Soundboard, a Steinway & Sons podcast that discusses musical artistry and craftsmanship. My first solo piano album on the Steinway & Sons record label, Rock Rewind, comes out today (July 3, 2020), and Ben kindly invited me to talk about the methods and inspiration that fueled the music.
Here are some of the strategies I used to prep for this opportunity. I hope they can help you prepare for your own podcast interviews.
Research the podcast
Search, read, and listen to get to know the podcast you’ll be appearing on. Anything that will give you context will help you navigate more smoothly when interview-time comes.
For my Soundboard podcast, I made a point of searching and listening through past episodes (which included some seriously heavy guests). Deep analyses didn’t feel necessary; simply marinating in the podcast ahead of time helped me feel relaxed and comfortable when the interview began.
Research your interviewer
It’s also worth doing recon on your conversation partner(s). Who will you be speaking with and what are their backgrounds and interests? Do they have a deep history of exploring music like yours, or will they be learning lots of new things for and from you? Will you be speaking with fellow musicians, critics, label execs, enthusiastic fans, or people in another category entirely? Anything you can do to feel like you’re conversing with people you already know — rather than a complete strangers — will help reduce uncertainty and set you up for a fun and fluid conversation.
Try to talk ahead of time
If possible, have a casual conversation with your interviewer(s) ahead of time. I was lucky to spend 30 minutes on the phone with Ben a week prior to our interview, just saying hi and discussing my album. Not only did this allow me to get a sense of Ben’s interests and personality, but it also introduced me in a deeper way to the structure of his thoughts and the rhythms of his speech. Knowing, even in rough terms, how he spun conversation made it easier for me to imagine how I would structure my responses — and to enter our recorded conversation from a place of openness, calm, and confidence.
Float some ideas
Do you have particular topics that you want to discuss during your interview? Are there areas you’d rather not talk about in a public forum? Don’t hesitate to let your interviewer know — in a respectful and constructive way — ahead of time.
In preparation for my interview, I sent Ben a quick note letting him know that my favorite track on the new album was “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” an iconic Americana song famously performed by the likes of Leadbelly and Nirvana. He made a point of bringing that track up during our interview and a very interesting chunk of conversation ensued.
Ask about edits and review
If you’re nervous about tripping over your thoughts in the moment, it never hurts to ask if you can review the podcast before it goes live and offer feedback. Over the years, I’ve had some podcast interviewers say yes to this request and others say no; it’s a nice privilege when it happens.
As always, ask respectfully and from a place of collaboration, rather than mistrust. If you are given the chance to review, make sure that any edits you suggest are as absolutely minimal and non-destructive as possible. The last thing you want is to create large amounts of new work for your interviewer(s), and make them regret having invited you in the first place.
Don’t be pushy
In all communications, remember that you’re a guest. Don’t shy away from clear and honest communication, but always engage with grace and gratitude for the opportunity.
In the days before your interview, take time to imagine how the interview conversation will play out. If you’re asked about your influences, how will you answer? What if the interviewer wants to go deep into the inspiration for a specific song, or have you comment on other artists? Any work you can do ahead of time to pre-empt likely questions will give you solid thoughts on which to build a response.
As you visualize, note that you may not be asked the specific questions you come up with and that your answers on the day of the interview may diverge from what you imagined. It’s all good. What’s important is to normalize, ahead of time, the idea of talking openly about your music in an interview setting — the same as practicing written musical material ahead of time, then diving into inspired improvisations once you’re actually on the gig.
Test your tech ahead of time and have backups ready
Digital conferencing technology can be amazing, but it can also be a demon if things go wrong. Give your entire setup a dry run ahead of time to make sure everything looks, sounds, records, and transmits as it should.
Have backup utilities ready to go if something fails. If you’re doing your podcast interview via Zoom, for example, have Skype, Google Hangout, or some other utility easily available in case your initial portal blanks out.
Set the stage
If you’re dialing in to the podcast from home (as most are these days), make sure to create a space and vibe that will set you up for success. For my Soundboard interview, I made a point of getting dressed in one of my regular gig outfits, even though the podcast was audio only. Dressing the part helped me effectively shift into the mindset of musician, composer, and recording artist.
Make sure you have a quiet place to do the interview, even if it’s a closet or a bathroom. And if you think it will help get you in the right headspace, consider having your instrument or other musical gear nearby.
Eat well and rest up
Just like with a performance or athletic event, giving your body the downtime and nourishment it needs will help you react quickly and articulately. Don’t underestimate this — a good night’s sleep and a healthy meal are among the best gifts you can give yourself leading up to an interview.
Remember that, in an ideal world, your podcast interview boils down to two people talking about music that they love. Enjoy the opportunity and follow the conversation wherever it goes.
Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.
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