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Monday, August 10, 2009

Life is not a waiting room

This week I hope to interview a relatively young band I have come to like quite a bit in the last few months. I was asked by my editor to do a small piece on this band, and I hope to cover their next Dallas show as well. The deal is, I want to ask questions that are not generic, but aren't too inside. And this attitude is very fresh in my mind after a brief encounter at the Warped Tour.

Though the day was cloudy with some visits from the sun, that early July day was still hot. The three bottles of water I had went a long way for me to survive the day. But there were a few trips to the press room where I just sat and relaxed for a few minutes. During one of those trips, I experienced an interview that I know all too well. It's the kind of interview you've heard plenty of times before, and the kind you've seen plenty of times before.

Questions like, "How's the tour going?", "How would you describe your newest album?", and "What do you like about touring?" are all questions I have asked before, and so have millions of other writers. But something just didn't sound right while I sat there listening to this guy conduct an interview filled with these questions. And this has been staring at my face the whole time:

Generic questions yield generic answers.

One of the frustrating but rewarding parts of the research for POST was reading online interviews. For every ten interviews that asked about how cool the tour has been so far or how awesome it was to tour with this band, I found a couple of interviews with real meat in them. Now, meat isn't necessarily trash talk or rumors. I mean stuff that went beyond the surface.

I know that oftentimes editors just want their writers to skim the surface, but for me as a fan and a curious person, the surface just isn't enough. Many of the interviews I have conducted in my life have had limited time allotted, so I had to make the most of the time I had. In other words, there's little room for generic questions. Just showing the person I've interviewed that I've done some research often drew praise. Hearing the phrase, "Wow, you've really done your research," never gets old for me.

All this said, generic questions are not the end of the world. Frankly, they can get the ball rolling and lead to meatier stuff. Besides, this is probably the first (and maybe only) interview you have with somebody, so you have to break the ice in some form or fashion. I just want to encourage young writers to not be afraid to go beyond the shallow end of the pool when asking questions.

1 comment:

Sarah Evans said...

People don't realize how crucial good interviewing skills are in producing good writing. It's something that took me a long time to learn as a journalist.