Interviewing for podcasts is as easy as putting a microphone in a room and asking a few questions—as long as you're satisfied with your listeners turning you off after a minute or two. If you want your listeners to hang around for your conversation with a rising star, read on. In this article, I'll share a podload of tips on conducting and recording a killer interview. In the next installment, we'll get down to the waveform level as we polish that interview up for podcasting. Although you can do amazing salvage work with today's digital editing tools, it's faster, easier, and usually better-sounding if you begin with a great recording.
To get listeners to stick around, you have to give them compelling content: all killer and no filler. That means interviewing people who are famous in their field, hot right now, or who have something intriguing and unique to say.
I recommend starting with the topic. What are people talking about? What are you talking about? Find a person at the center of the swirl and come up with three or four questions that you are dying to ask.
After that, it's a matter of persistence to get that interview. Let the potential guest know that they will get lots of exposure and that the interview will be easy and worth their time. It's helpful to know who is on a publicity tour. Right around the release time of any commercial item (e.g., a book, CD, or software) key individuals will go on a publicity tour to get the buzz going out on the street. That's the time when you can easily score an interview if you appear to have even a shred of credibility (see sidebar).
With the interview set up, you will need to choose how to conduct it—in person, over the phone, or over VoIP. I detail these different options in the sections that follow.
Face-to-face interviews are best, so try to set up something local. Then pick a spot that will have good acoustics. I can guarantee you that it's not the local coffee shop. The clink of the glasses seems like it would add ambience but it will distract from the interview. You need someplace relatively noise-free.
Many libraries have small conference rooms you can reserve for an hour at a time. If the interviewee is staying at a hotel, then ask to meet them in their room. The cushions from the couch, the padding in the bed, and the curtains will all dampen the room noise. You should also turn off any fans or air conditioning since those create a nasty periodic noise that is tough to remove.
Once you have the location set and the noise dampened you need a recording rig that you can rely on. Think simplicity and quality. You want a setup that has the least possible hardware and software. If you are running on a computer, make sure that your sound recording software is the only thing running. Every additional box and cable is one more thing to fail or add noise.
I interviewed 56 people for my book The Art of Digital Music, including such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Phil Ramone, and Ray Kurzweil. Although my co-author Kelli Richards lined up the bulk of the interviews using her fantastic Rolodex, in many cases we had only the slimmest connection to the people we were approaching. She had bumped into Ramone at some function seven years previously, for example. No matter. We simply submitted an email through the potential interviewee's website, saying we'd like to interview them for an upcoming book.
In the message, we described our goals for the book and listed a bit of our background and sometimes a few sample questions. We also referred the potential interviewees to a password-protected, one-page website with more information. (I theorized that the password would make it more enticing.) Neither of us had written a book before, and I'd done only a handful of interviews. We didn't even have the actual title for the book. But simply asking politely and directly did the trick over and over again.
As an example, this was my pitch to Marty O'Donnell, the composer for the hit Xbox game Halo, which I sent blindly to a link on his site:
[...] introduced us briefly before the interactive audio roundtable at GDC [the computer game developers' conference]; I'm a frequent contributor to Electronic Musician and have also been on staff at Keyboard, Music & Computers, and several other magazines. I recently started Crank It Up to 1, an interview-based book about digital music production, and thought you'd be an ideal interviewee.
I've put details about the book at CrankItUpTo1.com; the password is [...]. In short, my goal is to inspire readers to get more involved in digital music. But rather than take the standard approach of spewing tech jargon and sampling theory, I'm weaving together tips, insights, and horror stories from artists and visionaries. So far I've interviewed people ranging from Ikutaro Kakehashi to Mark Isham to Steve Reich; after hearing you speak at GDC, I'm sure you could add some wonderful perspective.
If you're interested in participating, please let me know a few dates and times towards the end of this month or (better) in early April when we could do a phone interview. Thirty to 45 minutes would be ideal.
Hoping this works out,
For a podcast interview pitch, you have the advantage of being able to point the potential interviewee toward actual recorded interviews you've done, though I found that many of the people we interviewed didn't look any deeper than the initial email before accepting. I also think that including phrases like "spewing tech jargon" and "horror stories" in the pitch suggested that the interview would be informal and enjoyable.