Music Blogging 101 - How To Interview A Band

by - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hello music lovers! For those of you who enjoyed last week's lesson in 'How to write a gig review', this week I thought I'd tackle something a little more complicated. Interviewing a band or musician can be a nerve-wracking experience, particularly if it's someone whom you really admire. Whether you're doing it for a blog or a different publication, it's important to make sure that you use your time wisely, ask exciting and interesting questions and listen just as intently as you talk. Here are a few tips to make sure you get as much out of the experience as possible.

The Logistics

Turn Up On Time
We'll start easy. Turning up on time not only makes you look professional, but it means that you can maximise your chances of actually getting your allotted interview time. When you organise to interview a band in person, it will normally take place either at the venue before their concert or as part of a press tour, and in both instances, there will probably be journalists with interview slots before and after you. Being slack in this respect annoys everybody involved and minimises your chances of being invited back. As does wasting the first five minutes of your time slot trying to get your dictaphone to work, especially when you only have 15 minutes before French Vogue are set to arrive for their slot - thanks Alt-J. Which brings me to...

Pack the right equipment
Unless your planning on broadcasting your interview, a simple dictaphone should suffice. Depending on my surroundings, I use either my tiny little Olympus model (see on Amazon here), or my more professional zoom mic (here). Whichever your choose, make sure it is on the appropriate setting before you start and consider propping it up somewhere discreetly on a table rather than pushing it in the interviewees face - it will make the conversation seem much more relaxed and allows you to look up and talk openly.  To avoid any lost-audio catastrophe, I often have my iPhone recorder running in the background too just in case a SD card fails.

Familiarise yourself with the band members
Believe me, there is nothing worse than setting off to interview a band, only to realise that when you get there, you have no idea who to look for or what their names are. A simple google search will save you any blushes, and if possible, ask the tour manager/ PR in advance of your arrival which member of the band you will be interviewing - this way you can tailor your questions appropriately as you can't always guarantee a full band interview. No point asking the drummer really intense stuff about how he writes the lyrics if it's nothing to with him! If you are lucky enough to interview a whole band at once, get them to state their names as soon as you start recording, making life a lot easier when you have to transcribe later.

The Questions

Ask open questions
When interviewing someone, it's often much easier to ask questions that begin with 'why' or 'how' rather than 'who' and 'what', as it offers much more scope for the interviewee to reply with an extended answer. For instance, asking 'what is your favourite song on the record?' could get a one-word answer, asking 'how did you go about whittling down the tracklisting from the 100 tracks you demoed?' is much more likely to incite something you can use. Stick to open questions as much as possible, and save closed ones for when you simply want to clarify something.

Be Original
There is only one time in a band's career where it is acceptable to ask how they got their name - when they are first starting out. A good research phase before you write your questions will help here - avoid asking the questions that you have already seen asked a million times over, or if you really must, find ways to subvert them 'what single lyric would you like to be known for' as opposed to 'what's your favourite song', for example. Dig deep to find out things that haven't been covered - a good stalk look through a band's social media posts can often reveal little-known facts that make fun interview topics, or revisit old nuggets from their career - this worked particularly well in my interview with Twin Atlantic.

Be fun and controversial - when appropriate
Don't be afraid to throw in some less-than-serious questions - I've found that asking difficult bands funny questions can help open them up and ease them in early on. Flattery and admitting that you are a fan is fine and can even help wangle you some extra time, but keep this to a minimum - you are there to do a job after all and there is a fine line between knowledgable and creepy.

When it comes to controversial or touchy subjects, (deaths, band splits etc), it is up to you as an interviewer to gauge the appropriateness of the situation. If you think a question is likely to go down badly, ask yourself whether it is really necessary or if you must plough on, ask it later on so that you still have a good interview beforehand to use should anything turn sour. Big acts will sometimes have a list of topics they are not willing to discuss - a tour manager will advise you of these in advance. you'll know from body language whether an artist really doesn't want to talk about something, but it doesn't mean that your piece will be worthless- in fact, a difficult interviewee can often make for a really fun and original approach to a feature (see my feature piece on Drenge)

Follow themes
If you're planning on writing your interview up as a feature rather than just a Q&A, it might help to organise your questions in themes to maintain a good flow. For instance, start with a few questions about the city you're in and touring life to get them warmed up, before delving into the more serious stuff about the new record, the line-up changes, the future inspirations etc. It'll make it much easier for you to pick out key quotes later and the whole interview will flow much more like a conversation.

And one last bonus tip...

Stick around!
As lots of interviews take place at the venue, why not stick around for the gig? It can often help add colour to a feature piece, or help you cement topics that were covered in the interview. It's also a great time to grab some pictures if you were too nervous earlier, although I always advocate the gratuitous band selfie in the name of music journalism - you can check out my gallery of some of my celeb encounters here! Always make sure to thank the band and give a business card to the tour manager or PR - they often represent several bands at once and can hook you up with your next interview.

So there we have it! Bit of a long one, but hopefully it's given you some food for thought. These tips don't just go for bands either - they can also work for job interviews, email interviews and everything in between. Feel free to check out some of my interview over on my music blog or share your top tips below - I'd love to hear them!

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  1. Ooh I did a post like this a while back, so really enjoyed reading yours! The following themes tip is a really good one, I definitely prefer writing interviews in feature style.

    Milly // Mini Adventures

    1. Thanks Milly, glad you enjoyed! I flit between Q&As and Features, but when I have plenty of time and an interview went really well, a feature is a lovely way to capture some of the smaller details that may have otherwise been forgotten x