Steer clear of the mayhem of mindless music

In radio reporting, the strategic use of music can significantly enhance the storytelling experience, invoking emotions and providing depth to narratives. Regrettably, many radio news features in Uganda suffer from what I call ‘mindless music mayhem’. This happens when music is relegated to mere background noise, lacking context, and is added as an afterthought. It hampers audio clarity, diverts attention and obscures the essence of the radio story.

A primary drawback of improper music usage is when it becomes a distraction, overshadowing the core content of the radio story. When the music is excessively loud, disjointed  or unrelated to the narrative, it can overpower the reporter’s voice and essential information, leaving the listener struggling to follow the story. The primary objective of radio reporting is to convey information effectively, with music serving as a supplementary element meant to enhance the narrative rather than dominate it.

Another consequence of misused music in radio reporting is inappropriate emotional manipulation, a phenomenon referred to by veteran radio story editor Rob Rosenthal as “emotional fascism“. While music has the potent ability to evoke emotions, when utilized incorrectly, it can manipulate listeners’ feelings in a disingenuous manner. Striking a balance between using music to enhance the storytelling experience and avoiding excessive emotional manipulation is imperative.

When incorporating music into a radio story, it’s essential to consider several key factors. Here is a short selection of valuable articles that provide insights into this process:

While music is a useful common audio element used in radio storytelling, there are other ways to enhance your storytelling through sound. Consider these alternatives before succumbing to the mindless music mayhem:

Use natural sound and ambient noise. Immerse your listeners in the story’s world through the organic soundscape. From the gentle lowing of cows to the lively calls of street vendors or the rushing of a river, these auditory elements infuse realism and vividly establish a sense of place. It offers a sensory experience and envelopes your audience in the story’s setting.

Harness the human voice. Never underestimate the potency of narration and vocal performance. A captivating narrative voice serves as a guiding force, leading your audience through the story’s twists and turns. Refine your vocal delivery to craft a distinctive, personal and unforgettable auditory journey.

Embrace silence and well-timed pauses. Silence is a powerful tool, capable of building anticipation, accentuating poignant moments, and providing listeners a moment to contemplate information. Strategically weaving moments of quiet and deliberate pauses lends a rhythmic flow, heightens dramatic impact, and allows the narrative to breathe and resonate as intended.

Diversify your field recordings and interviews. This approach brings a heightened sense of authenticity and depth to the narrative. By incorporating voices from individuals of various ages, races, with diverse accents and languages, who are directly involved in the story, you introduce first-hand accounts, emotional insights and nuance. This diverse array of voices paints a more comprehensive and vivid picture of the events, making the storytelling experience more relatable and engaging for your audience.

Integrate thoughtful sound effects. Much like music, sound effects are invaluable in setting the scene, heightening suspense and enriching the overall auditory journey. However, exercise discernment in their application, steering clear of excessive artificiality to maintain an authentic narrative.

Explore your audio archives. Unearth the treasure trove of archival material and historical recordings to add layers of depth and context to your radio narratives. By integrating pertinent excerpts from speeches, interviews or audio capturing pivotal events, you can resurrect history and provide a distinctive viewpoint on the narrative at hand.

The options to enrich your radio storytelling are boundless. Engaging the audience through a diverse range of audio elements ensures a deeper connection and a more impactful listening experience. Ultimately, mindful and purposeful use of audio elements can elevate radio reporting to new heights of storytelling prowess.

ACME Mwalimu

The African Centre for Media Excellence's training unit, known as ACME Mwalimu, scours news platforms and online resources to curate the best training tips and resources for journalists and media organisations, empowering them to become impactful contributors to public debate and development. If you have a training tip or question, you can reach out to ACME Mwalimu at training[at]

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