1. Know your audience: Guess what? If a journalist is covering you, most likely she or he likes what you do. Or at least thinks it’s interesting enough to bother writing about. That means you have a pretty sympathetic ear. Relax into that.
But do your homework: find out what you can about your interviewers, their interests, and their outlets, with a quick online search, if nothing else. That way you can feel more at ease, knowing who you’re dealing with and what intrigues them.
2. Perform: You wouldn’t give a concert while cooking a batch of rice, doing some laundry, and playing online chess. So don’t give an interview that way. It’s a performance of sorts; approach it like you would a concert. Give it your entire focus, to the best of your ability.
3. Take the time: Ask the journalist how long she or he plans to speak with you. Then budget for at least 50% more time. So if a writer says the interview will take 30 minutes, make sure your schedule is clear for at least 45.
Block off some of that time before the interview is due to start, just in case your day gets nuts. And expect things to start late and take more time than anticipated. (This is, of course, in an ideal world, one that many touring artists don’t get to inhabit. But knowing you need some transition time may help things go more smoothly.)
4. Get a clear connection: Again, ideally, you want to get to place that’s relatively quiet and distraction-free, where you can get decent (if not excellent) cell phone reception, or where internet speed and reliability actually allow online calls. This may be especially important if your verbal English has its rough moments, if your interview involves audio recording, or if you’re talking to a crucial media outlet.
If possible, test your connection by calling a friend beforehand. Have a back-up plan, including a way you can reach the journalist in a pinch and an alternate number or method he or she can reach you.
5. Sum it up: Can you say what you do in ten words? Okay, how about twenty? While no one wants to hear an artist rattle off a prepared statement, you can think about ways to express what you’re up to succinctly.
If you’re working with a publicist, you should already have some clear angles and catch phrases in mind. If not, you can look at past press, talk to your agent or label, or even bounce ideas off a supportive, well-spoken fan. You’re looking for context, for useful comparisons, for brief but compelling stories, for appropriate descriptions you can use to bring the journalist into your life and work. Just make sure they’re to the point and that you avoid hype.
6. Spell it out: Spell proper nouns, unfamiliar musical concepts, foreign language words, and other perplexing terms for your interviewer. Don’t assume the journalist knows exactly what you’re referring to. Though spelling things can break up the flow of conversation a bit, it saves everyone headaches in the long run.
7. Answer the question: Don’t know how to respond to something? Is the question cryptic? Do what politicians do, and turn it around so that you can talk about what you think is important.
A blithe “I’m glad you asked that question” may not work for the music media, but you can ask for your interviewer to rephrase things. Or you can ask your own (polite) question back. Or you can rephrase the question yourself, and go on to answer it.
Whatever you do, say no to any variation on “I don’t know.” Respond. Open the dialogue. See if you can engage and take the conversation to another level.