I want to avoid the reverse of that Sigur Ros interview.
January 22, 2009 9:22 AM   Subscribe

I have managed to book a phone interview with a somewhat famous Detroit techno group for a radio show. I have never interviewed anyone before beyond being on a job interview committee. What do I ask?
posted by mkb to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If they're somewhat famous, maybe they have given previous interviews. Read those to help inform your questions. If there's a question they're often asked, skip it--they'll appreciate it. If there's something in previous interviews that looks like it needed to be further explored, preface the question by bringing listeners up to speed and then ask them to expand on it.

Write your Qs down, and have more of them than you think you'll need. And try listening to an episode of Fresh Air. Terry Gross is a consumate interviewer, and she's able to get people talking in a way you'd never expect--even when it's Iggy Pop or Christopher Buckley. Get a feel for how she digs for answers.

Good luck!
posted by andromache at 9:36 AM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: Having done a fair amount of interviews during my college radio days, I suggest you make sure that you let *them* do most of the talking. It's easy to start babbling!

My favorite question (stolen from a friend) is: "Does your mom approve?"

They've probably been asked who their influences are a zillion times, but try asking what music they're listening to now. The answers are often fun and surprising - in fact, I started listening to Muse because The Matches recommended them.

My other favorite question is "If you could be in any band other than your own, what band would it be and why?"
posted by radioamy at 9:57 AM on January 22, 2009

Exactly. Read stories and interviews and find questions they haven't been asked yet. Also, have followup questions. There's nothing more boring than something that sounds like replies to a list of email inquiries.

Read the 313 list archives and browse the Discogs Detroit forum.
posted by rhizome at 9:58 AM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: I used to interview electronic musicians. Some generic tips:

1. The best thing not to do is ask them the same questions they've been asked over and over — they'll like you a lot more if you can show that you did some research. So look at old interviews and get familiar with their history. It'll save them the trouble of repeating themselves and save you the trouble of making a bland interview.

2. Usually artists agree to interviews because they are promoting a new release. Get your hands on a promo and listen to it carefully. Also: Listen to their old stuff to see how it changes to the new stuff. Finding out how and why tracks were made is a good source of question material.

3. Ask them what they think is fresh sound, what is inspiring them now. What don't they like? Gossip.

4. Music technology always changes and there is a lot of politics in making and distributing music. Depending on the group this may be a good source of questions.

5. Try organizing your questions in a timeline, or by category. General questions are better up front. Specific questions are better asked towards the end of an interview. As you do the interview, you'll know if a question can be asked or not, but know that you can always move questions around, if you have them organized well.

5. Above all else, unless you're doing a "20 Questions" style of interview, make it into a conversation as much as possible. Instead of running through your questions, machine-gun style, listen to the answers and get into a flow with the artists. Use your questions as starting points for a deeper conversation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:00 AM on January 22, 2009

There's a pivotal piece of information missing here, and that's what the show is about - and by extension, who your audience is. The questions you'd ask if this is an NPR music show are entirely different than what you'd ask for a pop culture or news show. Can you provide a little more detail?
posted by jbickers at 10:20 AM on January 22, 2009

In an interview with James Lipton, who was lifting from someone else, he said, "Know the answers to your questions before you ask them." This seems like good advice, since you wouldn't be too surprised if they have something interesting to say, then you risk running out of things to say and then become Chris Farley, "Remember that time you were in Goodfellas? THAT was AWESOME!"

You'll also know if they're pulling your leg. A professor of mine once interviewed David Mamet and being David Mamet, he took playful jabs and it all wooshed over my professor's head.
posted by CarlRossi at 10:47 AM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: While it's good to have a strong list of questions, if you feel like you're developing a rapport with the person, don't derail it by sticking to the questions. I once interviewed a musician (Cex) over the phone and we found right away that we immediately liked one another, and I quickly found myself abandoning the list of questions I had and just riffing with the guy. The phone conversation ended up lasting 2 hours, and the interview was published in 2 parts. I did the interview for print, and it can be a little harder to do that on the radio (is this going out live?) but people react to enthusiasm and spontaneity. You're already enthused, so just don't get too nervous and let the conversation lead you, rather than you leading the conversation. The questions you have written down can be used once the conversation winds down.

Also, definitely read old interviews, and try to ask them something they haven't heard before. When I used to do music interviews, I would end all my interviews with the question "Is there anything you've always hoped an interviewer would ask you that they never did?" and sometimes, I would get questions I could recycle for future interviews.
posted by orville sash at 11:16 AM on January 22, 2009

Response by poster: jbickers, this interview will be for a weekly one-hour radio show that focuses on a particular artist or label etc. In this case all the music for the hour will be by this artist. This is being recorded prior to broadcast.

Thanks to everyone for the hints so far.
posted by mkb at 12:15 PM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: On my radio show I have standard questions for the bands:

1) How'd you met/group form
2) Band name origin
3) Musical heritage (What did your parents play, older brother or sister give you)
4) First concert, who and where
5) What musician inspires them
6) Best/Worst audience and what is an ideal response from the audience

If you're lucky they might have a good tour story, but they never can think of one on the spot, so ask them to recall one when the music is playing, because they always have to discuss amongst themselves and who's going be the one to tell it.

I also have them bring in not just their music, but anyone's music. Group's tend to get self-conscience if you ask them too much about themselves, but they do love to talk about music, so get them on the topic of other band's works well too.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:32 PM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: You might also ask them how the changing economy and the decline of Detroit as a major city has influenced their music, and if they believe the Detroit scene is dying due to the current economic climate i.e., are DJs, producers and bands moving away, and if they are, where are they looking to emigrate?). I love Detroit dearly and worry about it going from being a landmark city (both of industry and music) to being abandoned, literally.

Detroit music in general evokes strong emotions and has been incredibly influential; will its legacy die out? Where will musicians go if Detroit dies out? What will they, as musicians, do to draw people back to the city? How do they view the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, past and present? How do they feel about Detroit techno's influence being widely accepted in Europe?

How has the rise of things like Serato and Ableton affected their production techniques, if at all? Will live instruments and raw vocals make a comeback in electronic music? Who do they dream of playing with, if it was their last gig on earth? What's the best venue they've ever played? Other cities they've visited that have thriving scenes and where do they see the future of their style of music developing?

These are the questions I'd ask... I used to be a music reviewer, many moons ago.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:44 PM on January 22, 2009

Don't forget to help them plug whatever their promoting. Something along the lines of "and when can we see you guys live again?" or "and people can buy this new album off your website, right?"

Nthing researching old interviews with them. Make sure you localize your interview too. Ask what their favorite venue in [radio station town here] is. If you're interviewing a whole band instead of one person, let whoever is talking the most take the reins, but feel free to shoot a question at particular members too.

Ah, to be back in the shoes of interviewing bands. You've brought back pleasant memories.
posted by OrangeDrink at 5:53 PM on January 22, 2009

You: So how did the recording process go for the new album?

Band person: It was awesome, we had a lot of fun working with the great people at SuperMix Studios - hey guys! - and it was pretty smooth except for that time the bassist was abducted by aliens, and we're really excited about the fresh sound now that Dan's writing songs with us, and the new direction we're taking. Oh, and Dan got new drumheads so that's cool too.

You: Tell me more about the bassist being abducted by aliens.

People will slip the damnedest things into a boring narrative; the problem is that we, as listeners, tend to zone out and think "oh, this is jsut the standard story about recording". If something catches your attention, ask about it.
posted by catlet at 7:51 AM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, I just recorded the interview, it doesn't air in a while. Maybe I'll post it to Projects after it's aired.
posted by mkb at 11:38 AM on January 28, 2009

If you do, please let me know, I'd love to hear this. Thanks mkb!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:17 PM on January 28, 2009

Response by poster: If anyone is interested, I will be airing the interview tonight at 6PM eastern time. I'll follow up with a projects post.
posted by mkb at 10:01 AM on March 20, 2009

Response by poster: Here it is!
posted by mkb at 7:07 PM on April 16, 2009

Epic win, listening now thanks!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:00 PM on April 16, 2009

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