This story is real.
At Radioactive we used to travel to cover different musical events. Besides big international festivals, we also covered the Grammy Awards, and in 1994 we got to cover the MTV Awards.
To do this, we bought the rights from an American company. At that time, almost 25 years ago, there were no technological facilities of today. The Internet was incipient, and the issue of bank transfers and online payments had not been perfected, much less in Colombia.
When we arrived in New York, the first thing we did was go talk to the person who sold us the rights to make the corresponding payment and claim our credentials. His office was in one of the basements of Radio City Music Hall, behind the stage.
After the security guards allowed us access, we had to cross the venue and saw that the musicians invited to the show were doing the sound checks. We continue straight and we arrive at the office of the character who sold us the rights.
He was already very forewarned, knowing that we were Colombians. It is a burden that we have had to bear because of drug trafficking. He treated us with some prevention and was more scared when he saw that we were going to pay him in cash the $ 5,000 that the rights cost us.
Sure, the only way to avoid that form of payment would have been with a credit card, but mine did not have that quota.
The man received the money as if we were handing him a bag of poop. He crouched down and started counting the bills in a corner, and had no qualms about telling us that he felt like a drug dealer doing a dirty business.
Apart from this painful situation, we then wanted to leave the place but, when we passed the venue again, we decided to sneak between the seats, taking advantage of the fact that we were already there, that we had the rights and that there was a constellation of stars gathered.
While Aersomith was doing his sound rehearsals on stage, we, sitting in the front row, watched the other artists who should come up a few moments later to do their rehearsals.
There were Sheryl Crow, Coolio and Tom Jones, to name a few. Although we had them on hand and sat next to them, we did not dare to interview them, fearing that they would take us out of Radio City and that we would not be able to do the live broadcast the next day.
At one point we were by Madonna’s side, but we were self-conscious about interviewing her. When we were about to leave, we saw that Bruce Springsteen was walking down the corridor between the chairs in the venue, and our colleague Andrés Nieto couldn’t hold back and launched into an interview.
Andrés, perhaps the best disc jockey Colombia has ever had but who was always a bit clumsy in handling broadcast equipment, had a portable tape recorder with headphones and a microphone attached to him, but the cables were completely tangled.
Andrés stopped the singer, told him to wait for him a moment while he untangled the tangle of cables, and meanwhile Springsteen looked at him compassionately, with all the calm and patience in the world, with a smile on his face, seeing the painful moment for which our reporter passed.
In the end, Andrés got that exclusive interview and a few greetings from the singer for the station, but he taught us the lesson that you have to be prepared well in advance for when the opportunity to interview a celebrity presents itself.
On another occasion, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico City to a concert and press conference by Alejandra Guzmán. She was releasing her album “Flor de papel”, and we met in a hotel to talk with her.
I had traveled from Colombia, invited by the label, along with colleagues from the competition. We all had the opportunity to interview her and record some greetings. However, when I got back to Bogotá I found that my cassettes were completely silent.
Obviously I suspected that one of my colleagues from the competition had deleted it in some way, but some time later, and with a cool head, I had to admit that I had made a mistake when connecting the microphone for the input that was not.
What Yes and What No
Surely, one of the most interesting moments for a radio presenter is when they are given the opportunity to interview a well-known character, but what cannot happen is that cases like the ones I described above occur.
For this reason, below are recommendations for some things to do but others to avoid when interviewing celebrities.
What to do: Research
There has never been more information on artists than now, so be prepared. Read their bios, look up past interviews, watch different videos of live performances, listen to all the records, know who’s who in the band and their various temperaments.
If the lead singer is silent or is a person of few words, turn to the other members of the band.
Be sure to talk to the most important character in the group. Nothing worse than arriving with the interview with the replacement bassist who was hired to accompany the group in that city, simply because “he seemed the spokesman for the band.”
Study the lyrics of your songs, look for personal anecdotes and try to steer clear of already known stories, so that you do not end up talking about anecdotes already repeated.
Check the facts too: don’t make claims that you take for granted simply because you read them in a flier or on social media. Be very careful what you ask.
Don’ts: Take a Selfie
Unless you’re interviewing a superstar like Paul McCartney, save your ego for another time. Rather than taking a photo with the musician, what you should do is try to build a professional relationship and not act like a fan that just goes for the photo.
What to do: Be on time
It is important for you to know that the label, manager or press officer is unlikely to give you a full day to hang out with an artist.
Most likely, you are one of the 8 or 10 people who were also invited to interview him and who will be transferred to a hotel room to wait for a chance to chat with him.
Although there is a set agenda, anything can happen. The hours change regularly. Performers may arrive later or earlier than planned, so don’t keep that celebrity waiting by putting the entire schedule behind schedule.
Rather arrive early. Arm yourself with patience and be on the lookout for any of the other invited journalists not showing up so that you can fill that space. Who knows, they suddenly give you more time to talk to the artist.
What not to do: Don’t ask the same questions as everyone else
In those scarce 5 minutes, or 10 if the singer likes you, you should get to the point. Short and very prepared questions. Remember that the artist will be tired of answering the same questions to all his interviewers.
If you only have that short time, why ask a question to which you already know the answer? If the information is already available, do not clarify it, advance the story.
You inevitably want to ask those in a group how they got together and settled down or what they have been up to since they recorded their last album, but after getting that information, try to look for angles that will not be covered by the other guests.
Look in the letters for what you understand about them and ask them if that is correct. Challenge them about issues and opinions expressed by them that you have not read elsewhere. Don’t try to make them repeat a great anecdote that they have answered before.
As a press day goes by, an artist will give the same learned answer to all interviewers, so to make your interview unique, know which of your questions are predictable and give them a spin. Trust me, the artist will appreciate it as much as the listener.
What to do: Stick to the schedule
If you are promised 10 minutes of interview time, prepare questions for a 10-minute conversation. If you want, have some questions in reserve, but do not expect that in that short time I will tell you about your entire artistic and personal career.
Understand that some singers are very sparing when speaking, so you should have a more extensive set of questions, but there are also others who do not stop talking, so you will have to use your synthesis skills and find a way to interrupt without the interviewee feel bad.
That is why prior research is so important, reviewing other interviews delivered by the character. This is all part of your pre-interview preparation.
Know exactly how much time you have, plan your interview accordingly and don’t waste all your time on a little talk about the last tour and then don’t have time to ask her about her sex life afterwards…
What not to do: Don’t be too aggressive
When you were just starting your career I had the opportunity to interview Luis Fonsi. Like him there are many musicians who like to enter into conversation more than answer a questionnaire.
That is why it is better to ‘warm up the atmosphere’ with an informal talk and leave the loudest questions for last, when they have already entered the atmosphere.
Do not ask your guest to show you his tattoos or to tell you about his latest sexual adventure, unless you have discovered in that conversation that he is willing to enter those grounds.
Save delicate, sassy, cheesy, or insolent questions for a little later, unless you don’t want to be asked again.
What to do: Treat your guest like a human
There are artists who have a reputation for being complicated. Miguel Bosé is one of them. Luis Miguel is another. However, don’t be intimidated.
Arrive unprepared for the interview. Put aside your prejudices and talk to the guest as if he were an ordinary person. Do not show your nervousness or enter ‘with your leg up’ to shoot questions that may unsettle your interlocutor.
Avoid talking about the ego of these people. Don’t ask them about their failed marriages, their fights with other artists, or their rampant heroin problems. They, despite appearing unattainable, expect you to treat them with respect.
Learn to create the right environment, just like you do when you are trying to win a woman you like. Listen to their opinions and react honestly.
Make them laugh, bond with them. You will see that, without realizing it, they might even invite you to stay that night and, before you know it, they will even be telling you their autobiography.
Don’t: Don’t be too rigid
It’s okay to have a script or battery of questions. That way you will already measure your time and make sure you get the answers you were looking for.
However, be attentive to what they reply to you. It is very possible that you will find in these answers much more interesting and unpublished material than the one you had prepared.
Don’t be afraid to ditch your questionnaire if your interviewee suddenly starts spouting revelations about his hidden addiction to porn or confesses that he sometimes steals things from supermarkets.
What to do: Bring a spare recorder
Record your interview on two separate devices at the same time. It could be on a tape recorder and on your cell phone. Check the microphones before the interview, remember to bring a spare charger or batteries, and make sure you have enough memory on your device to record the entire interview.
And don’t forget to make test recordings before the interview. Get familiar with the equipment. Learn how to connect all the cables and use all the options that your equipment provides. Avoid what happened to me with Alejandra Guzmán.
First of all, and even if you feel nervous at first, try to have fun when doing the interview. Contaminate the guest with your good energy. Make him feel that you are there to support him, that you are the means by which his fans will admire him the most.
I once had the opportunity to interview Alejandro Fernández in Mexico City. The artist invited us to an intimate dinner in which only he, his representative, the record label representative and Jairo Ossa, another radio colleague, were there.
In the middle of dinner, my colleague dared to tell one of his well-known jokes. The singer couldn’t stop laughing. Then he ended up ordering tequila. His representative asked him to go to rest but he wanted to stay.
In the end, he ended up telling the funniest jokes, some quite old-fashioned, and so we continued until the wee hours of the morning, and we almost crawled out of the place …
That is what can happen if you create a good atmosphere with your guest.
And remember: if you want more advice on how to interview an artist, be sure to read these articles of my own: