When I do an interview with an artist / DJ, I don’t do it like a neutral journalist. I am a music nerd, and I do care about the music and the people that I write about.
However, doing a good interview is not easy. I tried various approaches and formats over the years, and my current approach reflects what I have learned. I’ll start with explaining how interviews are typically done to contrast that with my approach.
Record & cut: Lots of work for a little bit of content
I started doing interviews at the local student radio station when I was a student myself. When we started the initiative to create our own radio station, we turned to experienced radio journalists and learned from them. The first approach that we used a lot was to take a mobile audio recorder, go to the person we wanted to interview, ask our questions and then cut out the best parts. A radio-friendly interview was not supposed to take longer than 3 minutes.
This approach works, but recording and cutting the material is very time-consuming. You often ended up working an hour or more for one minute of interview.There is also one strange effect that I noticed a lot: People often said the most interesting things when the microphone was off before and after the interview. During the interview, a lot of people just talked very unnaturally, probably because they were afraid to say something wrong.
Live-interviews: Bad for shy artists
Live interviews combined with DJ sets seemed to be a great idea to me at first. You just invited an interesting DJ / producer to your studio, let him play his music and interview him in between. This approach is a lot better as you have more time and you can easily combine a good impression of the artist’s sound and the person behind it. I used that approach for quite a while, both at the student radio station as well as in the shows that I played at various web radio stations.
For me, this works quite well if I have an artist in front of me who is comfortable with speaking into a microphone and can talk straight to the point. However, not everyone is like that. Many times, I had guest DJs that played great sets, but were just too shy to present themselves well when being interviewed. I also got the impression that some people don’t like to listen to people talking in the middle of a DJ set. Even if the talk is interesting, it still interrupts the music.
What I do today: Talk & summarize
So this is what I do to today: I meet with the DJ / artist that I want to interview. We sit down, have a few beers, talk and simply have a good time. I take notes on the side that I use later to write the article. I do ask questions, but I don’t do a formal interview, and I am definitely not neutral in the interview since I like to comment, challenge or support the words of my interview partner. I also do interviews via phone sometimes, but that just means you have to leave out the beer.
After that, I take my notes and try to identify the topics that we talked about. There are often one or two topics that I find especially interesting in retrospective, and I try to choose those topics that my interview partner either has a distinct view on or a good story to tell about. For example, Elodie & Thompson talked a lot about their experiences in Ibiza, and CJ Masou’s topic was the combination of electronic music and Jazz.
I then condense these topics into a few paragraphs and add a few quotes from the artist. These quotes are often not something that my interview partner said word by word, but mostly a condensed version of what he said. A “real” journalist would probably scoff on that, but this approach helps me to show my perspective of the person behind the music a lot better than the other approaches. I also think that I am doing the artists a favor if I don’t give them the pressure of having to speak in a radio-friendly way. So far, the feedback was very positive.
I also ask my interview partners for a photo that they are comfortable with and a DJ set or other examples of their music. I think it’s important to have the interview, the music and some pictures together since that gives you a much better impression than just a magazine article or a radio interview. However, I believe that it’s better to separate the music from the words so that they don’t interfere with each other.
To conclude this, I would like to say that doing interviews and getting to know interesting people in the process is what I enjoy most about running this website – and that’s why I keep doing it.