By Dave Tarantino
What was the most challenging performance you ever gave?
Who has been your largest artistic influence?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
What was your first artistic experience?
Do you have any regrets about your career?
These are all questions I have heard or seen in actual interviews conducted with musicians. To most they seem like perfectly acceptable questions to ask in an interview setting with a musician. But, in most cases, it does not allow for a completely organic and meaningful answer. For my own taste, a really good interview is not a question and answer session, but more of an in-depth conversation. So why is this distinction so important?
Conversations with musicians and artists are vital to the state of the art itself. The way I came to this conclusion is a brief journey that allowed me to pinpoint what has become one of the deepest sources of artistic inspiration.
First, a brief history of how I came to love a form of media that is not so new, but has recently gained in popularity: podcasting.
I grew up listening to a lot of talk radio. For me, the fact that it was audio only always proved to be an easy way to find out about what is going on in the world while not being entirely consumed by it; A.K.A. multi-tasking. But, more later on about why I think audio broadcasting is the best form or media.
So, one day a few summers ago when I was away from home for a couple of months and without my radio, I looked into buying a portable earbud radio headset. While mentioning it to one of my friends, I was advised to check out this cool thing called a podcast before I went out and purchased more audio equipment.
It was love at first site.
Most shows on talk radio also are accessible through downloadable podcast episodes. I already owned an iPod, so the only thing that I needed to do to listen to my favorite talk radio shows was to download them and listen whenever I wanted! The only bad thing was that at the time I had already wasted 8 years of my life without it (Podcasts were first introduced by Apple in 2004).
That’s the brief and wonderful love story of how I discovered podcasts. But, there is one in particular that really did it for me, and it opened up my understanding to how I live and breath as an artist.
A few months into my podcasting love story, I came across one called “WTF” with comedian Marc Maron as the host. If you have never listened to a podcast, this should be your first stop. The production value of the show is nothing special: no crazy sound effects, no panel of 20 experts, no on-the-scene news reporting. The show is cut down to the most pure form possible, a one-on-one in depth interview.
The host, Marc Maron, is one of the best interviewers I have ever come across. The shows last between 60 and 90 minutes and Maron has an innate knack to allow any of the 600 guests he has had on the show feel at ease and open up. The show is centered on the guest, usually a famous actor or comedian, talking about the arch of their career. Inevitably, along with their life story, important issues about their work come up. The length of each interview allows for an in-depth look at all of this.
I began to notice that every time I listened to this podcast, I felt a huge sense of inspiration. There was something so comforting about hearing people, including some of my favorite actors and comedians, tell their story. Eventually, I realized why:
As an artist, we work hard at what we do in order to achieve an intangible goal. While we may strive for perfection constantly, we know it is never obtainable. In the meantime though, we look for the next bit of inspiration that will help move us along to the next level in our artistic progress. Sometimes this can be achieving a higher level of technical facility: your octaves are finally in tune, you just figured out the ending of your novel, a single brush stroke makes a painting come into focus. But for me, inspiration often comes from talking to other musicians and artists about their work and about how their careers have developed.
I fall into the trap of looking at a great artist and thinking that they were just born with their artistic ability. I forget that their path to greatness was extremely curvy just like the rest of ours, and they had to work hard to get there. In fact, they probably worked harder than anyone else if they are so great. When an artist makes their craft seem particularly easy, I tend to disbelieve that they had any struggle at all to get there. This is absolutely never the case.
Marc Maron’s WTF podcast reminds me of this truth with every single episode.
So now a bit back to the love story:
It was not just puppy love. It was something I deeply felt for, especially for podcasts like WTF. To me it was not just fun and games hearing about how comedian Louie CK rose as a stand-up in New York, it was quenching my endless curiosity for how great artists got where they are.
Now there was only one flaw in this relationship. After searching for a podcast that is focused on interviews with classical musicians, I could not find any. Marc Maron does interview a good amount of musicians on his, but they are mostly with rock musicians, and, unfortunately, some of those episodes are not his most successful. There are various other shows that conduct interviews with musicians, but for the most part they are shallow and not in-depth. They are just some short clips looking for “that one sound bite”.
There was only one thing that I could do to repair that relationship: start my own podcast!
When I first had this idea, it seemed so natural to me. I began to realize that when I hang out with musicians, especially ones that I think of as role models, I attempt to conduct a “WTF Podcast”-style interview with them automatically. So, why not keep doing that but add a couple of microphones into the mix?
By this point you probably get the point: I am really into radio and podcasts. But if you are someone who is a musician or artist yourself, or are even somewhat interested in the arts, you should be just as into podcasting as I am. To go even further: this medium is essential to the continuation and proliferation of any art form.
First, why audio broadcasting (radio, podcasting, or otherwise) is the perfect medium:
In a television interview, any normal human being would be at least a little worried about their appearance enough to make them feel stilted and unnatural in front of a camera.
In a magazine or print newspaper interview, you do not get the full essence of the person’s speech: they way they might have inflected their speech, or the speed and rhythm that they might speak a sentence.
The only problem with recording the audio for an interview is getting certain people to loosen up in front of a microphone. Many people get really nervous when they have a microphone in front of them. But, there is no other way to get the interview done. In all three mediums, print, television, and radio/podcasts, the subject must have a microphone in front of them somehow. Any professional interviewer who contributes to print sources still must record an audio version of the interview so that they can accurately write down what the person said at a later time.
Along these lines, podcasts are even better than live radio broadcasts. In live radio people must be on top of every word they say. Most people tend to not open up as much in case they say something off-color by accident or fumble with their words; there’s just too much pressure. A long-form interview for a podcast can be painstakingly edited. While journalistic ethics is of course the most important thing of all, someone being interviewed on a podcast does not have to worry if they mumble or forget the name of something, even if their phone goes off in the middle of the interview. It can all be taken out later. When these pressures are off the table, it becomes instantly easier for someone to open themselves up and really tell their story.
So now that you know why audio broadcasting is the best form of media, I will explain why it is essential for the arts:
This brings me back to what inspires me to continue as an artist myself. We can only advance any art form and advance our own skills as an artist if we listen to other artists speak. Yes, art had advanced an insane amount centuries before the microphone was ever invented. But artists must constantly adapt to new technology in this age. To me, the best way to capture and distribute examples of musicians and artists telling their stories in modern times is through podcasting.
What I hope to achieve through my podcast, Musician Speak, is just that. My dream is that years from now you will be able to access thousands of podcast episodes from hundreds of different podcasts that feature every kind of artist imaginable. This vast library will push the next generation of artists to the next level.
Sounds great, right? So, get right to it! All you need is an internet connection to listen to a podcast, never mind any fancy phone or portable music player. Most podcasts are available to play right off of the show’s website. As I said earlier, I would start with Marc Maron’s WTF if you need a recommendation. After that, I would check out my very own podcast, which you can find at musicianspeak.com.
If anything, at least create mini-podcast episodes in your day-to-day life. Next time you run into your friend or colleague, or even an artist you don’t know that well, strike up a conversation. Ask them a little bit about a part of their life that you do not know about. Listen to their stories and experiences. If you don’t already, you will begin to understand why it is so important.
Dave Tarantino is a musician living in Boston, Massachusetts. As a musician, his short career so far involves performing many different styles of music and taking on the role of an administrator for various groups and projects in the area. He also recently launched his own podcast, Musician Speak, where he conducts long form interviews with musicians. Check it out at musicianspeak.com.