What Susan Boyle Can Teach a Radio Producer

What Susan Boyle Can Teach a Radio Producer

A good radio producer needs to know how to conduct emotion like an orchestra.

Have you seen the Susan Boyle viral video that’s making the rounds? The unlikely star brings the house down on “Britain’s Got Talent”. The video has topped the 100 million-viewer mark and may become YouTube’s most viewed ever.

Boyle, 47, of West Lothian, Scotland, sang as she auditioned before awestruck judges and audience members. Since then, the entire world has been watching, and re-watching, the woman with the big voice. What makes this video so endearing? Emotion is key here. Let’s go back to the beginning and unravel this extraordinary video for perspective.

Stay with me here. Imagine you are a producer. What would it be like if you were given just an etch-a sketch with the assignment to create a lot of attention with whatever you can put on that simple screen. That’s precisely the challenge radio and TV producers are faced with every day. You’re given a screen or a set of speakers and you’ve got to make something special happen. So what do you do? What direction do you take? Draw a few lines or speak a few words and hope it works? That won’t cut it.

To get real attention you’ve got to touch hearts. Emotion touches hearts. So let’s use the Susan Boyle Video as an example. This is a masterpiece of attention getting. It looks so natural and feels so good to watch. Plus, it is nicely embedded in real life for believability. But don’t be naive. This didn’t just happen. A talented producer was behind this.

The Hero’s Journey, a template of storytelling, is used extensively in this video.  In typical Hero’s Journey fashion, Susan Boyle is a regular person just doing her thing. She accepts a challenge against pretty big odds. The challenge is visible in multiple ways : her look, the actual singing competition, the doubting audience, a panel of unforgiving judges. All elements that contribute to the dark night of the soul, or belly of the whale experience, that marks every Hero’s Journey.

Susan even has helpers, friends, if you will. The sidestage guys who are like a couple of pals cheering her on. Their presence adds power to the strong feelings that emerge in this mini story. These two guys represent ‘us’. We are also represented by audience members who are visibly taken by the transformation right before their eyes. They express our unspoken sentiments. Note: I am not suggesting the video was contrived. It was simply well crafted and presented in a way that contains these elements of the Hero’s Journey and that makes a great story.

When Susan sings she is pulling the proverbial sword from the stone. And we, the metaphorical townspeople, love it. We all cry out in unison, “Bravo, well done!” Perfect ending. Knowing all this as I watched, I still felt it deeply. That’s why the Hero’s Journey works. It is already coded in our psyche. You can tell who the hero is in any story by a little known trick. Find the one who transforms. Our hero here is Susan Boyle and of course, you and me. We find kinship in her courage, faith and heart. 

Being a good radio producer means learning from all great art, including excellent TV.