Tips for the Journalist Interviewing Musicians

Once you break into the world of music journalism, the most glamorous part is interviewing the artists. But that first interview with a musician can be a very daunting process indeed. On top of the usual jitters about doing something new, it can be a little intimidating to sit down with the artists, especially if you happen to be a fan of the musician or band. If you're getting ready to conduct your first musician interview but don't know where to begin, these tips will help.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

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Before the interview, it is essential that you do your homework. Learn everything you can about the musician in question. Although you will want to focus on whatever is going on right now in the artist's career—after all, they're talking to you to promote whatever that is—don't focus exclusively on it during your preparation. Your confidence will soar with every bit of knowledge you pick up about your interview subject.

List Your Questions

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You want an interview to be more like a conversation than a strict Q&A session, but you shouldn't go into it cold (especially not your first one). Spend some time coming up with the questions you want to ask before the interview. At the very least, the first question will give you a good jumping-off point to spark the discussion. And, if conversation really doesn't start flowing, at least you'll be able to draw out the information you need to write your piece.

In terms of what you should ask, it depends. Always ask some basic background info. Remember, you're trying to get someone to tell you a story in their own words that you already know (because you've prepared). To that end, ask the obvious questions, even if you think that the musician has heard them 100 times. They probably have, but you still need to gather info for your specific piece.

Having said that, don't be afraid to throw some unique queries in there. Don't be shy. Have fun with it. These off-the-wall questions can often start the best conversations.

Practice With Friends

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When you're new to interviewing people, it's a good idea to have a few test runs. The musician you're interviewing shouldn't be your guinea pig. Ask your friends to pose as the musician and run through your questions. Get comfortable saying them and practice your transitions between questions. Your actual interview probably won't be anything like these sessions, but you'll feel much more in control when your questions have had a little real-world run-through.

Steel Yourself

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OK, now, don't let this put you off, but sometimes musicians can be a little difficult during interviews. In the majority of cases, they're not, but sometimes it happens. You may encounter a musician who is in a bad mood, who hates doing interviews, or who is having a laugh with their bandmates by making interviews uncomfortable. Or any number of things. This can be especially true when it's the end of a long day of interviews and the artist is tired of answering the same questions again and again.

Now you know. So how can you prepare? Well, there's not much you can do about it. If you're prepared, knowledgeable about the artist, and have questions ready to go, then you've done your part. Just control your reaction. Don't get thrown. Roll with it. Do your best. It will make a good story someday.

Don't Try to Cable-News Host Them

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If a musician is knee-deep in controversy when you interview them, then you can't very well ignore it. But don't stir up trouble. This isn't some political show on a cable news network with some host shouting over people. Keep the focus on the music and give the musician plenty of space to tell their story and promote whatever they are there to promote. 

Remember: You're Not the Expert

Being in the presence of a musician or band you admire can tempt you to show them how much you know about their work. But, a little of that goes a long way. Remember that the interview is all about the musician; they are the expert. Keep your questions short and focused on the musician and their work.