I actually wrote this article 5 years ago, while I was a college radio DJ in grad school at WMBR, MIT’s radio station.
At the time, I decided it would be fun to learn more about how bands eat on tour, given that I had a radio show called Eater’s Digest about the intersection of food and music.
Over the course of three years, I interviewed 30 bands (mostly indie rock) about their favorite restaurants around the world, what they requested on their rider, and what they like to cook when they’re at home. It ended up being a surprisingly wonderful experience, not just because I got to meet a lot of great people and amassed tons of recommendations for where to eat, but it was also a lesson for me personally in how easy it is to start up a series like this if you have the ambition.
I compiled their recommendations into a map of places to eat around the world:
Unfortunately, since Vox ripped me off* recently by claiming trademark over a name I already had (?!), the show is no longer on iTunes Podcasts, but you can find all episodes on Mixcloud at https://www.mixcloud.com/scientiffic/.
Below is my unedited interview guide I wrote in January 11, 2014 on my old radio show’s Tumblr. But since it’s 2019 now, I want to add a few things:
- Don’t get into cars with strangers by yourself! I did this on many occasions and survived, but I would bring a buddy if I were doing this again, at the age I did this show.
- Document the process! I wish I had pictures of doing these interviews, but I had none because I was doing the interviews. 😅
- I don’t claim to endorse any of these bands — the archive serves purely as a record of what happened from 2013–2016.
I’m by no means an expert, but when I started interviewing bands 6 months ago, I literally knew nothing — who to contact, how to contact them, how to record an interview — these were all things I had absolutely no experience with.
Ten interviews later, I’m still learning a lot but thought it would be worth sharing what I’ve learned so far (especially since the only guide I found online was on wikihow, and I don’t necessarily agree with what’s there).
First, a little bit of background. I’m a PhD student, and I do food interviews with touring (mostly indie rock) artists for my radio show on WMBR (MIT’s radio station). Generally, I record the interviews at the venue before a show and play them on the air afterward. I do very little post-processing, mostly because I’m uninterested in doing it and don’t have the time. Have I mentioned I’m a PhD student?
I’m not using the interviews as a way to get my foot-in-the-door of the indie music scene / business (and have basically zero connections in that world). Doing the interviews has been purely a fun side project and a way to take my mind off my actual work (research). That being said, the stakes are much lower (or nonexistent) for me than for someone who actually wants to pursue a career in media / broadcasting / etc.
I specifically started doing food interviews because I’m genuinely curious about what it’s like to travel (and eat) all around the world, and I find most music interviews to be repetitive. Music has always been an important part of my life, but I don’t particularly enjoy talking about it, and I know much more about food than I know about music.
Below is my guide to various parts of the interviewing process. I hope it’s useful to other people just getting started, but of course, it’s based solely on my personal experiences, so take that into account…
Who do I contact, and how do I find their contact info?
Most artists will have booking and press contacts listed on their website / Facebook page / record label’s site. You want to reach out to the press contact. This person can be someone at their label, someone at a PR firm, or even a member of the band itself, depending on how big the band is.
When and how do I contact them?
My advice for this is basically the same as my advice for sending emails to people more generally — send them an email at around 1 PM (their time zone) so they can read it after their lunch break. Don’t send it on a Monday morning / Friday afternoon, and definitely don’t send it too close to when the artist’s new record is released (because they’ll be inundated with interview requests). If you want to be really strategic, you can look at the band’s tour schedule and figure out when they have a day off and send the email then. I typically send the request about 2 weeks before a scheduled show.
I find that most press contacts are extremely fast at responding to email if they’re interested. I’ve gotten responses within 5 minutes of my original email, but typically they’ll respond in the same day.
Writing the email + following up
Your original email should be short with just the right amount of detail (who you are, who you want to interview, and what day you want to do the interview). The scheduling details come later. Send the email to yourself first and see what it looks like through your phone. Does it look too long on a mobile device? Then it’s too long.
Once you’ve gotten the okay, be sure to get the contact information of a tour manager or member of the band. This is important for confirming the interview the day of. Often, you can request to be added to the guest list with a +1 as well.
The day of the interview
Send a text message to your day-of-contact in the early afternoon to check if the scheduled interview time still works (and that the band remembers that it’s happening). It doesn’t really matter at all what time you scheduled the interview for– you will likely get a last minute text requesting that the time be changed. As a general rule of thumb, the interview will probably happen ~45 minutes later than it’s scheduled, even if the final time is confirmed.
Doing the interview
I try to set expectations from the start, including how long the interview should take and that it’ll be recorded and played (unedited) over the air later.
It’s important to find a quiet spot to do the interview if you’re recording it. Usually, this is just the green room in between soundcheck and the start of the show or after the show is over, but sometimes it’s a tour van, behind the venue, etc. If you can, do the interview before the show or after the show rather than in between sets because sound isolation tends to be pretty bad in venues, and there will be a lot of background noise.
Try to find a place where you can have an uninterrupted conversation. If you do the interview in front of the venue, you’re definitely going to get interrupted by fans wanting to talk to the band, and that’s not good for an unedited recording.
As for actually doing the interview, I typically use the built-in mics on a Zoom H4N, but sometimes a friend will come and help me set up external mics. I thought it was goofy to have a conversation with someone while wearing headphones to monitor levels, but I guess that’s how it’s actually done.
If you’re using a portable recorder, try to just get one or two members of a band to do the interview — any more requires a more specialized recording setup. Also, I find with larger group interviews, tangential side conversations tend to form, so it’s easier to manage interviews with fewer people.
After the interview
After you’ve posted the interview on your blog / played it on your radio show, etc., email a copy of it to the press contact and thank them again for helping to set up the interview.
I started off using SoundCloud to host the recordings from my interviews, but the free tier has a 3 hour storage limit, and pro accounts can be pricy. After I reached the SoundCloud limit, I started using MixCloud since they have unlimited storage. The main issues with MixCloud are that there’s a bizarre limitation that you can’t rewind tracks and I think it’s generally less used than SoundCloud for the type of music I listen to, so people are less likely to search for interviews there.
Personally, I do very little promotion for the show / interviews, mostly because I don’t have the bandwidth to do it, so I’d look elsewhere for advice on promotion…
This is where I describe random things I’ve learned, mostly the hard way.
Going up to a band directly after a show to ask for an interview is ok, but if they say they’d be up for doing a phone interview / answering questions over email some other time, that’s their polite way of saying fuck off.
Don’t force an interview. If someone’s uninterested, you don’t want to do the interview anyway because it’ll be uncomfortable and awkward. Usually, people that are up for doing the interview are super nice and friendly (but maybe that’s because I intentionally seek out people I think would be nice to talk to).
Silences feel much longer than they actually are. I’m still trying to get comfortable with silences and giving people enough time to finish their thoughts.
Mac DeMarco will talk to anyone. Seriously.
That’s about it for all my thoughts about interviewing. Remember, this is supposed to be FUN!
If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment below. (I don’t think it’ll happen, but I hope it does because no one ever seem to leave comments on these Tumblr things.)
*my radio show existed from 2013–2016, and I got this email from Vox this year before my show was taken down from iTunes