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Avoiding Radio Interview Pitfalls



Avoiding Radio Interview Pitfalls

By Wade Sutton, Rocket to the Stars


I heard the most atrocious radio interview one Thursday afternoon while driving.  Let this story serve as a lesson to all you singers and bands reading Rocket's blogs:


The interview was between a reporter and a football player for the University of Pittsburgh.  It was prerecorded and was airing as part of the pregame coverage leading into the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit where Pitt was taking on Bowling Green.  I was only a minute or two into the interview before I unleashed a string of obscenities at the radio and changed it to something that was easier to listen to.  Like the sound of homeless cats in heat.



What was so bad about the interview?  Well, let's start with the fact that the player being interviewed was rambling and talking so quickly that it left him literally gasping for air every time he inhaled.  And I know what you are probably thinking.  "Come on, Wade.  The guy is a college football player and isn't used to doing interviews."  That is the thing:  It wasn't just the Pitt football player who sounded like he was trying to suck down the microphone with every breath.  The reporter was doing it too!  And they were both mouth-breathing the entire time.  I still wonder if that poor microphone survived the interview.  


At least that abomination of an interview resulted in me spending the following night writing this instead of playing Skyrim on my laptop.  The last thing I want for all of you is to see you finally land a radio interview only to have people turn it off two minutes in.


"Rule #1:  Radio interviews are tools for you to promote your act, website, and show."


I know this is going to sound harsh but you need to keep your head on straight and remember that doing a radio interview is part of your music business.  It needs to be taken very seriously because a lot of people (hopefully) are listening.  I have seen and heard a lot of singers and bands walk into a radio studio and its like they just walked on stage at the Opry.  They end up losing focus during the interview and it sounds awful.  Do not allow yourself to get "caught up in the moment".  I know for people not accustomed to being in a radio studio, actually being there can feel glamorous and make you feel like you are "on your way".  I'm here to tell you to cut that crap out right now.  Just...stop it!  When you are rich and famous and your audience is married to you, then you can sit back during the interview and soak it all in.  But at this point most of you are trying to sell tickets to that night's show so you can put gas in your Scion.


"Rule #2:  Have a mental list of things you can talk about and stories you can tell."


Short story to illustrate a perfectly good point:  One of my earliest radio interviews was with former U.S. Congressman Ron Klink (D-Pa).   I spotted him at a community event and ran over to ask him a question about some hot-button issue that had been in the news at the time.  We probably needed a bridge fixed or something.  Bridges in Pennsylvania are widely considered the worst in the country.  Anyway...I got his answer on tape, went back to the radio station to cut the audio, and aired the sound bytes during my newscasts the following morning.


Then something funny happened.  Later that day I was watching the news on one of the Pittsburgh television stations and there is Congressman Klink at a different event, being asked about the same issue I had grilled him about the previous day.  You know what happened?  He gave the exact same answer he gave me one day before.  Exact...same...answer.  Word...for...word.  I remember thinking to myself, "WTF?"  Only I was thinking the entire phrase because Internet acronyms didn't really exist yet.


Listen to me very closely, dear readers of Rocket to the Stars and Music Clout.  You need to think about how you are going to respond to certain questions.  You also need to take some of your funniest, saddest, most entertaining stories and PRACTICE telling them.  Work on your delivery.  Keep those answers and stories in your back pocket because you will need them at some point during an interview.  Your fans are fans because they want you to entertain them.  Part of that entertainment comes through the stories you tell and how you go about communicating them.


"Rule #3:  Leave nothing to chance."


I have seen so many singers, bands, politicians, professional athletes, community figureheads and others fall victim to bad interviews because the person interviewing them was bad at their job.  Interviews are a lot like dancing in that both people need to know what they are doing for it to come off really well.  If one of you sucks at it, it will be extremely awkward for those watching/listening and you will be made fun of.  In blogs like this one.


There are two things you should always do prior to a live radio interview.  The first thing you need to do is get on the phone and call the person interviewing you.  Talk to them.  Strike up a conversation and get a feel for what to expect when you are actually on the radio during the interview.  The second thing you should do is send the interviewer some talking points so they know some of the things you want to be sure to cover during the radio segment.  It is preemptively taking control of YOUR interview before you even step foot in the studio.  Word to the wise:  Send bullet points instead of written questions.  If you write out questions and send them to a bad interviewer, they will simply sit there and read the questions from the paper.  Like a robot.  And it will make people change the station before the interview is done.


"Rule #4:  Warm up your voice prior to the interview."


I am going to toss out an idea that will make some of you think I've completely lost my mind.  You might want to sit down for it.  Ready?  Here it comes:  If you are doing a radio interview during morning drive, specifically the much-coveted seven o'clock hour, you need to roll yourselves out of bed by four.  


I will wait for you to stop laughing.  Done?  Good.  


You are a singer.  You are going on the radio to talk about the fact that you sing.  You know what they might ask you to do during the interview?  *insert Pitt football player GASP here*  They might ask you to sing.  Some of us wake up in the morning sounding like a cross between Darth Vader and my chain-smoking grandmother.  Many people need to be up for a few hours before our voices sound the best they can sound.  If you are on the air at seven, get up at four so you have time to warm up your voice prior to going on the air.  Stand outside the studio and sing before the interview.  The radio staffs dig that kind of thing.  Its like watching a professional athlete warm up before the game.  People actually take pictures of that sort of thing.


Rule #5:  Learn the art of changing the subject


At some point in your career you are going to cross paths with a radio DJ who either got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, is having an all-around bad day, or suddenly decides he has something to prove.  You will sit down for your interview stoked to be talking about that night's show at the Hard Rock and all of a sudden you are being asked about your feelings on the failed Middle East peace accord or something else that you know absolutely nothing about.  So what do you do?  You learn to take control of the interview and keep the conversation on what it is supposed to be on:  YOU.


The art of changing the subject is a difficult skill to hone.  Radio talk show hosts are great at it.  Politicians are amazing at it.  But it takes a lot of time and practice.  And it doesn't just get you out of questions about heavy subjects like religion and politics.  It will also help if somebody asks you a question you consider inappropriate or humiliating.  Trust me.  It happens more than you probably want to believe.


"Rule #6:  Say hello to all of your sponsors"


If I have to explain that one to you, you are in the wrong line of work.




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After spending nearly twenty years as a professional radio journalist, Rocket to the Stars creator Wade Sutton now helps singers and bands all over world advance their music careers.  He offers classes and consultations on everything from how bands can better interact with the media to designing their websites and media kits.  Wade's articles have been read by people in more than twenty countries and have been shared by top music industry officials and voice instructors, marketing experts, radio stations, and artists.  You can learn more about him and his services at www.RockettotheStars.com.


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