Anthony Dockrill reports
At the recent CBAA conference a number of great workshops were held, but there was one I felt was particularly special because it grappled with something that is often done badly across the radio dial – the music interview.
Talking Through Your Arts was a master class on doing a music interview that gets beyond the glib and cliché to an interview that might just help you find a real connection with your guest.
CBAA’s Amrap Manager Andrew Khedoori and Paul Gough conducted the workshop. Both have many years experience in front and behind the microphone and their insights are something just about anyone could learn from.
If you ever wondered why the music artist sitting opposite you in the studio is bored and disengaged its because they have done dozens and possibly hundreds of interviews built around boring and empty questions. Lazy presenters and producers have conditioned many of them to believe the interview they are about to do will be just one more they have to endure. So if you look down at your questions and you could ask most of them to any guest. You need to throw them away.
Paul and Andrew made the point repeatedly, you won’t engage your guests if you don’t do research and you yourself engage with their work. Asking them what is their favourite ice cream or how they are finding Australia simply won’t cut it.
So you need to research and find a narrative frame to the interview. This may sound daunting but it is not as if you are trying to write their biography or solve a puzzle – you just want to find a door into their music. In short, your job is to have a conversation with them as a person but also one that acknowledges you are talking to an artist.
When Paul was producing for John Laws who was interviewing Glen Campbell this meant asking Campbell about the song I guess I’m Done. The track was a personal favourite of Campbell but one that also meant a lot to him as an artist, it was also one that no one ever talked to him about. Paul’s research helped him and Laws get beneath the surface to a place where Campbell felt safe to share his own passions.
Andrew and Paul made it clear it’s vitally important to soften up your guest off-air with small talk to help them relax but you also want to drop to them that you know their work. So you subtly communicate to your guest this isn’t going to be for them just another empty and boring interview.
Your questions need to be asked not necessarily in the order you wrote them, as you want the interview to have a frame which also means you reveal slowly, according to Andrew.
Following on from this point Paul showed a simple key into your guest’s world: find a single story you could bring up in the interview. He gave a number of examples, but one that illustrates the point – an interview he had with Gary Numan, who is an artist not known for lively interviews. His research found that Numan still owns the first guitar he got when he was a 5-year-old. Bringing this up in the interview not only connected Paul and the listener with Numan on a deeper level but allowed Numan to talk about something that meant a lot to him. Numan instantly opened up as the interview jumped over the incorrect cliché of him as an artist who uses just synthesisers and keyboards.
The final point made was to listen!
Yes, you want to research and write considered questions, but never be afraid to go off the page and follow the conversation.
About the Author
Anthony Dockrill is the Program Director of 2SER FM Sydney.