For many musicians, interviews can be a nerve-wracking process. There's the conversation itself, the pressure of outsiders seeing your responses once it's over, and of course, the potential of being misunderstood or otherwise misrepresented. The good news is that interviews get easier (if not less painful) with more experience. In the meantime, should you find yourself getting apprehensive before your first interviews about your music, here are five tips you can use to keep your cool, make yourself more comfortable with the process, and allow you to make the most of the opportunity at hand. Good luck!
1. Know your audience
You may be the one answering the questions, but a little advance research could mean the difference between giving an okay interview or a spectacular one. The known is almost always better than the unknown; if you don’t have the full scoop already, find out exactly who you’ll be speaking with and for which outlet. If it’s a local paper or radio station, which section or show will run the piece? Is it a niche publication or a more general music rag? Search the outlet’s website for other stories by the interviewer. Does he or she have a history of covering bands similar to yours? There’s no need to go overboard here (no cyberstalking, please), but taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the publication, audience, and journalist will help you feel more in control heading into the interview and allow you to better prepare your answers.
I recently wrote a column about how to answer the question, "What does your band sound like?" Any journalist worth his or her salt wouldn’t dare pose this question during an interview – it doesn’t even qualify as an amateur move – but my suggestions are fairly similar for prepping for any number of conversation topics from your band's musical progression between albums to your experience working with a particular producer. Don't get caught like a deer in headlights, especially if the discussion turns to a particularly sensitive topic such as parting ways with a bandmate. No interview is guaranteed to go completely how you'd like, but troubleshooting in advance will help smooth out potential bumps. Think back to taking tests at school: weren’t the questions you were anticipating easier to answer than the curveballs (and much less panic-inducing)?
Some of the coolest, most collected musicians on the stage have a hard time being put under the spotlight for an interview. And video interviews? Even worse. Talking to the press can be a chore for anyone, even moreso for those who aren’t naturally outgoing. And many musicians communicate better through music than through conventional conversation. Whether you’re a hermit offstage or the most extroverted person in your social circle, a couple of practice runs never hurt anyone. If you’re coming up on your first music interviews, enlist a couple of your friends to help you prep.
I've found interview jitters to be more apparent with in-person interviews (print, online, or video) versus phone calls, where you have the relative comfort of being in your own environment. The key is to shake off as many of those jitters as possible and come across like they were never there to begin with. If you find yourself getting totally wound before an interview and are able to step away for a few minutes, try getting some air, listening to a song or two on your headphones, or taking a few deep breaths to calm down before meeting your interviewer.
5. Have fun!
If your nerves start to get the better of you before an interview, remember that you and your bandmates – not the journalists – are the experts on your music, and that goes for well known members of the media community as much as the rookie college reporter. Following the steps above, or whatever works best for you, will enable you to come to your interview feeling your most confident before the journalist even hits the record button.
Jamie Ludwig is a veteran music writer and editor who has worked in various facets of the music industry. She is currently the editorial director of ChicagoMusic.org, a not-for-profit website focused on regional and touring music of all genres; a contributor to Noisey (Vice) and Wondering Sound, among other titles; and has spoken on a number of industry panels.