ON THE RADIO WITH NICHOLAS TOLPUTT
Since leaving the Conservatorium of Music and dedicating myself fully to pursuing an operatic career, I’ve had to learn (usually through trial and error!) a whole host of vital skills not taught during my undergrad. One of these important skills is how to carry yourself with confidence during a radio interview. I’ve had more than twenty different radio interviews and, whilst I’m hardly an expert, I’ve learnt a few things that might be useful to those facing the prospect of appearing live for the first time on radio. So, here’s my list of 5 things I have learnt on air:
1 – Presentation matters!
It might seem strange to worry about what you wear, or how you look going in for a radio interview, but in my experience dressing neatly and professionally really helps the whole process. The reasons for this are twofold. The first reason is confidence. There’s no need to suit up, or wear tails or anything but dressing well can make you feel more prepared and professional, and feeling positive about how you’re presenting yourself will come across in your voice and tone.
The second reason is that in agreeing to a radio interview you’re advertising yourself as well as any organisation or company you might be involved with. A good presentation can only help make a positive impact on your interviewer as well as anyone (fellow musicians/directors/conductors) you might run into in the waiting room! The bottom line is you want to appear professional and scrub up enough to make a good impression on the person interviewing you. If they like you, they are more likely to engage with you and the interview should hopefully flow a little more naturally.
2 – Try and be conversational.
This is probably one of the most important approaches to speaking on radio that I have learnt so far. During the Melba Mentor program, I was lucky enough to have two sessions with Mairi Nicolson who, apart from being perhaps my favourite radio presenter, has an absolute wealth of knowledge in regards to interview technique and radio. In these sessions, we discussed most of the tips and hints I’m writing about now, but one of the most useful ones for me was really just thinking about a radio as being a personal conversation that you’d be happy to have overheard. Thinking of it as a friendly chat can really take the nerves out of the whole thing and if you’re relaxed you’ll sound more natural and hopefully be more interesting to listen to! The only worry with this approach is in going too far and drifting from the ‘point’ of the interview, and so this brings to my third tip.
3 – Have a clear idea why you’re there.
Unless you’ve cured the common cold or become a celebrity on the basis of your personality alone, there will be a specific reason you’re being interviewed. Keeping things conversational is a great way of sounding relaxed and getting along with your interviewer, but being so casual that you forget to mention important points or key information is certainly to be avoided. After all, if you’re going to pull yourself out of bed at 4:30am for the interview, you should probably do more than just chat about your interests. With this in mind, have a clear list of what you need to say (dates, venues, performance information) and another list of what you’d ideally like to say. This second option can include semi-rehearsed anecdotes or stories that you can use to steer the conversation towards your more important points.
4 – Get as much information as you can
Find out as much as you can about what sort of questions might be asked BEFORE the interview starts. It is totally fine to ask for the email or phone number of the person set to interview you so you can contact them and ask them all sorts of questions. It could turn out that you sit down for a five-minute interview prepared to discuss an upcoming concert and instead start fielding questions on what it is like to work with certain people or the latest rumours on casting or any other kind of gossip. Whilst all of this might make for an interesting interview, it might not be what you want or need to talk about. Even worse, you might say something that you later regret on live radio! So you can control some of the uncertain factors in the interview by finding out just exactly what angle the interviewer is hoping to take. You can even send through a few ideas for questions you’d like to be asked, along with a bio or any other information you might feel is pertinent. All of this helps you to feel on the same page as the person interviewing you, making the whole process easier on everyone.
5 – Try to let your personality and passion shine through
Without getting all cosmic woo or new age spiritualist on you, your passion for music is really why people are interested in listening to you, so try to let that come through in what you’re discussing. People want to hear a refreshing and engaging account of what it is like being a musician. Yes, there are plenty of hard and difficult parts about being an artist, and I’m not suggesting that you sugar coat these details, but try to sound enthusiastic and let your honest love for what you do drive the interview forward. This can be especially challenging for early morning interviews when you might be starved of coffee! However, if you can’t wax passionately about how great this Handel opera is, or how wonderful and challenging that song cycle might be, then the listener will hardly be compelled to get out of the house and actually see you perform live, especially when they can just listen to the music via the wonderful radio station that is interviewing you!