I believe that one of the most important things an event planner can do is get perspectives on how other industries work. I sat down with Jennifer Boyer, Indepedent/Freelance Writer, formerly of Cheeky Chicago to talk about her experiences doing celebrity interviews. It was great to get an idea of what it takes to write great articles and the experiences involved with working with celebrities. Equally important is what coordinators can take away from this – in other words, what you should be aware of if you are organizing an event dealing with celebrities. Not to mention reaching out to smaller & independent publications is a great way to incorporate the local scene in addition to increasing promotion.
TCEP: Tell me about one of your favorite interviews and why it was so great.
JB: Sia was amazing and so funny. We chatted over the phone for about 45 minutes. I called her cell phone while she was at home in Los Angeles. Her pets’ veterinarian even called, but Sia let it go to voicemail because the interview with me was her priority at the time. So sweet! Sia was honest and forthcoming; more than any other artist I’ve interviewed. She answered all of my questions with very detailed and lengthy responses. I was quite shocked at the kind of “insider information” she was giving me in regards to famous songwriters she had worked with, but with whom she didn’t have good experiences and didn’t want to collaborate with them again. We laughed a lot, which is always a good thing when trying to make an artist feel comfortable enough to have a good conversation and reveal things about themselves that the public may not know already.
TCEP: If you are interviewing someone when they are busy, say in between a concert and meet-and-greet or they just need to be on the road soon, what are some helpful things the publicist or person coordinating the interview should have set up and be prepared for?
JB: The best thing a publicst, tour manager, personal assistant, business manager, etc. (whoever is in charge of interview coordination) can do is BE ON TIME AND STAY ON SCHEDULE. Nothing makes me more irritated than people who act like their schedule is of utmost importance and then once I get there to do the interview (either early or right on time, I might add), everything is so far behind and rearranged in a different order. If a tour manager tells me to be at the venue at 5:30pm for an interview with the artist, then I expect them to take me to the artist for the interview right when I get there at 5:30pm. There have been more times than I can recall where I arrived at the venue and waited, waited, waited (and waited some more) for somebody working with the venue and/or artist to come and get me to bring me to the artist.
Also, the person coordinating the interview should have a predetermined location for where the interview should take place. Somewhere very quite so I can pick up the conversation on my tiny digital recorder. The interviewee’s exact words are incredibly important because as a reporter, you don’t want to misquote what the artist said. That could end poorly. I also cannot stress enough how important it is for me to be as alone as possible with the person I am speaking to because when other hangers-on, crew members, bandmates, venue personnel, etc. are in the room while the interview is occuring, the artist is ALWAYS distracted and breaking off mid-sentence to talk to whoever else is present.
TCEP: What sort of venues do you enjoy interviewing people in? What is an ideal setting?
JB: The artist’s dressing room is okay if there is no one else there. Or if the tour manager is there sitting quietly working on his/her laptop, that is fine. If the venue is huge (i.e. an arena), it is great to use an empty dining room or meeting room that is practically soundproof. Anyplace where there are absolutely no distractions for the person being interviewed is wonderful. Then you have their full and undivided attention. It is so awkwared when the artist stops talking to me (the interviewer) so that he/she can talk to someone else in the room. I have conducted an interview in a coffeeshop, which is okay, but not ideal. I don’t like the other people sitting around or walking by. Places with waitstaff are a tad annoying because the waiter is coming back and forth asking questions. Essentially, I prefer an empty and closed off dressing room or somewhere in the venue that is not being used and isolated from the tour crew, fans, venue staff, etc.
I suppose the dream setting for me to conduct an interview with an artist, songwriter and/or producer would be the recording studio where writing sessions take place and the making of the music occurs. That way, you get to see how the song is being made from beginning to end and ask questions along the way. I envy journalists who get invited to the person’s home to conduct the interview. That would be amazing! The interviewee would be so relaxed and (hopefully) comfortable talking about everything.
TCEP: What are 3 things that make interviewing celebrities difficult?
1) If I am a huge fan of that celebrity, I am extremely nervous and tend to babble with my questions. I go on and on and on. When I listen to myself talk on the recording during the transription process, I am mortified by what I sound like. I ask myself, “Why did you say that?,” “Why didn’t you stop while you were ahead?” and tell myself, “Shut up, already!” and “Stop talking so much, you sound ridiculous!” So very embarassing. The person I am interviewing probably things I am nuts.
2) I have to put my fanship aside and let go of any preconceptions I had about that person. A lot of the people I want to interview because I admire them and am a fan of their work may not be what I imagine them to be once we finally meet. People who I look up to could turn out to be major jerks.
3) They always have so many freaking people around them! Seriously, they are almost never alone. Which makes speaking with them a little strained.
TCEP:In your opinion, what qualifies as a “good” interview question?
JB: A question that makes it impossible for the answer to be a simple “yes” or “no.” I want to get the person talking. A lot. I love long responses. The longer they talk, the better. Also, a question that has never been asked of them before. I do my homework and research the artist/songwriter/producer to extreme measures to make sure I know as much about them as possible. I check everywhere on the web for information about them. I really want to get them talking about something they have never spoken about before.
TCEP: Why do you think incorporating freelance and smaller publications in press & press conferences and for interviews is important?
JB: As the saying goes, “all press is good press.” Whether the media outlet is Rolling Stone or CheekyChicago, what’s the harm in letting each and every legitimate outlet interview the artist? If the artist is promoting a new project such as an album, movie, TV show, DVD, tour, book, etc. there is really no harm in letting a smaller unheard of media outlet cover the topic. Especially if the outlet is online because then people can perform a Google search using keywords and that freelance publication’s interview may pop up right away!
Plus, you never know who will end up where. For example, I could start out with CheekyChicago and end up with Billboard. A publicist should not burn any bridges by denying a journalist access to their clients because you never know when that publicist will need help getting press for their artist in tough times.
TCEP: What is something an event planner should consider when including press in the set up and process of their events.
JB: Always give the person covering the event a plus one so that they have somebody there to assist them and keep them company. At least somebody to talk to while they are there. Working events alone can truly suck and be extremely boring. I love bringing friends as my plus one and having them help me carry camera gear, take notes, observe, etc. Have the check in process for collecting media credentials be as smooth as possible. A final list should be printed out and at the entrance or media check in area with all of the final confirmations. I cannot stand it when I check in at a venue to photograph and review a concert and my name is not on the list. Which means I can’t get into the show because there are no tickets or photo passes for me. Then the whole ordeal of contacting the publicist, tour manager, etc. ensues with text messages, phone calls, emails and whatnot flying all around to resolve the miscommunication, which is the worst. I hate it when there is miscommunication between publicists and tour managers when it comes to review tickets, guest list, photo passes, will call, etc.
Also, members of the press are pretty powerful because our experience can make or break the artist when it comes to the opinions others will have of that person. If the person covering the event has a horrible experience, the review will not come out portraying the artist in the best light (if you catch my drift).