The best advice on conducting interviews I ever received

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Music writers today are inundated with requests for coverage from artists and their representatives on a daily basis. There are far too many for one person to ever do them all, and most would not be worth the effort anyways. This is not a slant against artists or writers, rather an acknowledgement that conducting a good interview is hard. Real hard.

I statistic I just made up claims only one in five interviews conducted with musicians ever result in new, interesting information being uncovered. The majority of interviews tend to cover promotional points as if they are being read off a checklist. The basic outline for these conversations goes something like this:

– How are you?

– How is tour?

– Where do you like to tour?

– When are you recording again?

– Are you working on material right now?

– Do you have any crazy stories to share?

– How can people stay connected to you online?

Some questions may be added or subtracted based on circumstance. None of these questions are inherently terrible, but they also limit responses to information that could easily be found in a press release or social media update. 

In order to make your interview deserving of attention you need to uncover something deeper and more human in your interviews. To help you do this, I would like to remind you of something: 

Musicians and celebrities, at any level, are just people.

Now I know that sounds obvious, but all too often journalists treat the subjects of their interview like a business rather than another person. The questions outlined above are not that far removed from the following:

– How’s business?

– Is your latest product performing well?

– What do you like about this product?

– When can we expect another product?

– Are you working on something right now?

– Is there anything consumers don’t know about your business?

– How can we learn more about your products?

Great interviews strip away the idea of celebrity altogether and share the unique perspective on life possessed by an individual or group. That may sound difficult, but in reality it is one of the easiest things to capture. All you have to do is this:

Don’t ask questions. Have a conversation.

Treat the people you interview as if they were someone you started talking to simply because you were curious. Cover the necessary bases of promoting whatever it is they are looking to promote, but also strive to understand the person behind the art. Ask about the influencing or motivating factors in their life and explore why those things have such an impact on them. Ask if they creativity comes easy or if it is a daily challenge. Ask them if they are content. Ask them what they need and want. Ask them the kind of thing you would ask anyone whose happiness and well being you are concerned about because ultimately that is the real reason for the interview in the first place: You care about this person or group, for whatever reason, and you hope more people will as well. 

Allow your interview subject the space and opportunity to be themselves and I promise – people will surprise you.


James Shotwell is the marketing coordinator for Haulix. He is also a ten-year music writing veteran and host of the Inside Music Podcast. You should follow him on Twitter.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.