Interviews: How to Prep for them, Handle Them, and Make Them Work to Your Advantage
Having spent many years running the artist and media zones at HRH festivals, I’ve witnessed hundreds of bands running the gauntlet of interviews: press, radio and TV; traditional media and online. Festivals are a great chance to get back to back interviews in a short space of time.
Here are some useful tips on how to prepare for an interview and how to handle it on the day. I’ve also asked some industry contacts and experts to suggest some tips, so hold onto your hats, here we go!
As with most PR, be smart: strategise, plan and prepare your answers! Don’t just wait until the last minute or wing it: sit down as a band before interviews and plan what your story is. Make sure that you’re in sync with each other and on the same page, as regards your aims, your band’s image and ethos, and who’ll be saying what in the interview.
“Remember that you are not only selling yourself you are also selling your product,” advises Smudge Smith of Powerplay magazine, “Promote it. Have belief in in what you have created. Tell the ‘writer’ of the struggle or even the ease with which the creativity flowed. Tell us the stories behind the songs, tell us the influences and the feelings.”
Also, think about the reactions you want to create: the emotions you want to evoke. Play to your strengths. Think consciously and creatively about the impression and image you want to put forward: the band’s ethos, their ideals, what you want to be and do. What’s your narrative? What’s your story? And what’s your takeaway message: the one you want the fans and public to come away with when they’ve watched, heard or read the interviews.
Do Your Homework!
Kairen Kemp (broadcaster, PR consultant and speaker) particularly stresses this: “Research: Find out as much as you can about regarding who, what and where. Listen to the show you’re being called into.”
She also offers this excellent practical advice: “As soon as you’re offered an interview get all your ‘ducks in a row’. Get straight back to the producer (who is most likely to have been the person contacting you) and ask how long and what form the interview will be in. Who will be interviewing you? Would they like you to play live or will they play a track? Do they want the track in advance or on the day on CD? Point them towards your website but also send in a biog/press release as relevant with gigs coming up and contact details.” Smudge Smith agrees: “Do YOUR homework: read the magazine or website that is interviewing you. Most will have a format of the questions and you may even come across some interviews written by the guy sent to interview you. They will tell you a lot about the writer.”
Ask yourself, why should the media you’re interviewing for want to interview you? Why should they feature YOU? What’s in it for them? And for their audience or readership?
Steve Ager (top radio plugger -U2, Nirvana, The Cadillac Three etc.) also stresses the importance of research and prep: “For a new artist I'd suggest they listen to the radio show or read the magazine, to help steer a better interview as in the early stages a good story can really help befriend the interviewer; also, never be afraid of steering the interview: the interviewer may not ask what you want to say!”
Prepare answers to classic questions, like the following:
- What do you sound like?
- Where do you see yourself a year from now? Or in five years? Ten?
- Where do you want to be or get to?
- What are your influences? Who are your idols?
- What are you listening to right now?
- Who do you want to tour with?
N.B. You’ll often hear the same questions being asked, sometimes on the same day, even back-to-back when you’ve got multiple interviews lined up, e.g. at a gig or at a festival.
Smudge Smith gives this warning and advice: “You have thirty interviews scheduled in one day and most of us ‘writers’ will ask the same inane and unoriginal questions. You’ve just got to answer each question with the same enthusiasm from the start. This enthusiasm is infectious and will hopefully be reflected in the interview/review.”
Music is often going to feature in the questions. Steve Ager puts it like this: “We all have music in common, so other music, new or old, is always a door opener.” So prep answers on these common, gateway topics.
Practical Matters, How to Interview Well and Not Be at Home to Mr Cock-Up
There are of course many practical matters for example: Who is going to take part in the interview? And who isn’t? Remember: Rock and metal press will concentrate on the singer and guitarist – don’t let it go to your heads, or ruffle your feathers.
Are there any foreseeable risky questions or topic, e.g. a band member leaving on bad terms? How will you deal with such subjects?
Image, Appearance & State of Mind
Think about your image. This can be key in some genres.
“Appearance is everything,” stresses Kairen Kemp, “and it shows respect: that you’ve made an effort and that you give a damn. Dress to match your brand, if relevant. Above all, make the most of every opportunity at whatever level. You never know who’s listening and who the team could meet up with after seeing you. If you engage with the presenter and production team they will remember you and feel kindly toward you.”
The Importance of Not Being Drunk, or Slagging People Off
Smudge Smith offers some more on point advice on what NOT to do! “DON’T do the interview drunk. Even though our pieces are edited those comments made under the influence could be printed and then your PR team will have a major headache!”
Also, it may seem common sense, but be very careful what you say about any other bands or brands. Don’t slag people off! What’s said can get to other people’s ears, and cause rifts and quarrels. And what goes around, comes around.
Manners Maketh Band
On a more positive note, remember that manners matter! What do we mean by that? Well, for one thing a band shouldn’t be too cliquey (e.g. ignoring journos and filling interview with in-jokes and banter between the band). Remember the press are there to help: don’t make them feel left out, either by what you’re saying or the dynamics of the conversation.
Vicky Purcell, of Ramzine, offers some vital advice about this: “The biggest DO is to have a conversation with your interviewer: it may sound really simple but there is nothing more frustrating than a band that just gives one word answers. If RAMzine has decided to talk with a band, it's because we need to produce an article or a video.”
“Think about the answers and how you want to talk about a particular topic. I recently interviewed Zacky Vengeance of Avenged Sevenfold and I almost didn't need to ask him any questions, as he just kept on talking. If you are a new band, you may not have as much to say as someone with as many years under their belt as him, but try and think of your back story and what you are looking to promote and make sure you give decent answers. First impressions can go a long way, if I spoke to a band who were really keen to do the interview and it went well, I’m much more likely to cover them again in the future.”
Be prepared that after the interview the interviewer and crew might want to take a photo or ask you to record a sound bite.
When leaving, bear in mind Karen Kemp’s advice: “When you leave thank the presenter, then the producer and then get out of their way!”
And finally, as ever, Smudge Smith has a handy tip! “Finally and most importantly it’s always a good idea to turn up at an interview with a big bag of merch for the writer – we love free stuff and we’re easily bribed. I’m XXL by the way…”