Interviews have been a staple of journalism since the earliest days of news reporting, but in the age of blogging there has been a rash of so-called writers relying on tired questions that waste the time of the both the artists and the readers who click on their content. We created this post to highlight some of the worst offenders on the bad questions list, as well as to provide an explanation as to why those inquiries are so awful.
If you’re reading and notice something you have asked in a previous interview, please do not take offense. We all make mistake when we’re younger, but that’s okay because we often learn best from our errors. What matters now is that you commit the following list to memory and make a conscious decision to never use the questions included again. If you can do that, and I believe you can, then you should have no issue further developing your career in writing.
“How is tour going?”
This is like asking someone how their job is going while their boss is staring them in the face. Even if the van died three times last night and two members have yet to sleep because they had to drive nonstop to make up for lost time the fact they are on the road at all is a gift from the gods. No artist is going to use your interview to crap on the thing that they are currently trying to sell. Might as well follow up by asking them if they enjoy being able to pay their bills and put food in their body.
“Do you have any crazy tour stories?”
Yes they do, but they are not about to tell you.
“What is the story of your band name?”
What is the story of your research for this interview? The origin of any band name is pretty much exposure 101. Unless you’re talking to an artist just introducing a new project to the world there is no need to cover the story behind the name. It has been done. Even if page one of Google does not provide the answer you want, trust me, it has been done.
“What does you band name mean?”
Again, Google. Also, it doesn’t matter. The fact Death Cab For Cutie’s name sounds like the way someone might describe a hearse carrying the winner of America’s Next Top Model has absolutely no barring on the band’s music. There are instances where band names play into larger themes, but those cases are extremely rare.
“What do you love about (City on Tour)?”
They love the fact people exist there who support them. They love being paid to appear there and see the people who have been supporting them. Even if they don’t get paid, they love getting to perform. You know this already because they’re a band on tour in your city. This is the kind of question the local news asks the touring entertainer whose talent they’ve never seen. Don’t be like them.
“How do you like (City or Country) so far?”
Again, it’s amazing. They’re not going to say otherwise.
“How was your time in the studio?”
Don’t be vague. The time in the studio? Do you mean the writing of the album, the discussions that preceded the writing of the album, the tracking of the album, or one of the dozens of other things that happen while an artist or band is in the studio?
Furthermore, you should respect the creative process to an extent. A painter can’t really tell you what it’s like to paint. They focus fiercely on one thing for a short period of time and do everything in the world to make it as good as humanly possible with the tools they have available. It’s a process that is unique for every musician in existence, and as a result it’s often a deeply personal one as well.
“Who are your influences?”
Everyone they have ever heard. Some more than others, of course, but there is no one true answer to this question. I’ve met metalheads who swear by Modest Mouse and folk singer who need Have Heart in their ears before they can hit the stage. This isn’t even taking into consideration the fact influences often come from places outside music, including movies and culture. The only answer an artist will give to this question is likely something they read in an ‘spotlight’ article about their band in another publication. It’s filler material at best, and it’s rarely that.
“How would you describe your sound for someone who has never heard you before?”
You’re the journalist, not the artist. Don’t make them do your work for you.
“Are you excited for album/tour/show/thingtheyaremakingmoneyfrom?”
Yes. The answer is yes. All the time, 100% of the time, the answer is yes.
“Do you have a (relationship with someone)?”
This is none of your business. You’re there to talk about the music, not the personal relationships of the people who create it.
“What is the most rock-n-roll thing you have ever done?”
It definitely won’t be telling you the potentially illegal thing they did to help you get a few clicks.
“What are three things you’d take with you on a desert island?”
This is one I have heard uttered in several Warped Tour press rooms over the years, and it sends shivers down my spine every time. Introductory interviews are fine, and they require interviewers to use tired questions, but getting to know an artist is not the same as making a new friend during your first summer at camp. Like the relationship question earlier, this falls far outside the scope of your coverage. You’re wasting the artist’s time, as well as that of your readers.
“What is your favorite (thing you would ask a first date)?”
Again, this is all far too basic. Think bigger. In fact, just think.
“Which of your songs is your favorite?”
Ask a parent which one of their children they love most and watch the expression they make. This is what you’re doing when asking an artists to chose between their songs. There may be certain tracks they like at a particular moment more than others, but at the end of the day they love them all or else they wouldn’t have been shared with you, the public.
“What are you doing after the interview?”
Don’t be creepy. Never, ever be creepy. It’s none of your business.
“Do you consider yourself a rock star?”
Do you consider yourself something many people associate with being unpredictable, egotistical, and destined to fail? They don’t either.
“When are we going to hear you on the radio?”
When are you going to write for Rolling Stone? With questions like this, it won’t happen anytime soon.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.