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  • Jay Pocknell wrote a new post 1 week, 5 days ago

    FastSpring: why accessibility matters at the point of sale too We are seeing great progress in software becoming more accessible, but how inclusive is the user experience of buying it in the first place? In this article, I interview Shawn Nichols, Senior Designer at FastSpring, to understand how FastSpring are working with retailers, including music and audio software companies, to ensure that processes for purchasing software online are as accessible as possible. So Shawn, would you mind giving me an overview of FastSpring, and your role within the company? At FastSpring we help companies sell their software globally. Say you go to the website of ‘Software Company X’ and they sell their own audio plugins, for example, through their website. We may well be the software that you would be interacting with when you purchase that software using their site. I’m the Senior Designer for FastSpring’s marketing system. I also run our website and I’m responsible for creating new pages on there.  What has FastSpring been up to with regards to accessibility and inclusive design? We realised in the last year that, while we were following some of the minimal best practices with regards to accessibility, we weren’t following optimal best practices, or being as inclusive as we would like. We were probably doing the bare minimum, which I think is what a lot of brands and businesses were doing.  Over the last year, we’ve been really prioritising taking it a step further than colour and contrast, and really getting much more into how screen readers interpret websites, how are they used, and trying to prioritise that user experience when designing our website.  Why is it important to you to develop inclusively? I’m of the opinion that as you do more and more inclusive design, those communities you enable access to become incredibly passionate about sharing the progress you have made, and about sharing feedback with you to develop your products’ accessibility further.  If someone is navigating life challenges, then making it easy for them to read and access information is one way of limiting the impact of those challenges on their life. We want everyone to be able to do things easily – requiring minimal effort or attention.  We’re also in a time where people are positioned more and more towards caring about a brand, and resonating with the people behind the brand. If communities feel included, then they are inherently going to develop a passion towards that brand. I think companies are just starting to understand that now, and see the results. We’re getting there! For the companies you work with, would you support them to improve accessibility on their own sites? A little bit. We have a product team, I’m on the marketing side. A lot of FastSpring’s work is focused on integrating our system with the companies’ website or system.   When we start to work with companies, we see cases where the majority of the company’s site is screen reader friendly, but then the e-commerce structure they have been using, which allows users to go on and purchase their software, isn’t up to scratch. That part may be contained an Iframe or an embed that doesn’t match the user experience of the rest of the site.  Something that we’ve done is prioritise what’s best from an experience perspective. We have Sales Engineers whose jobs are to get that user experience and integration as good as possible, and they’re very good at it! It’s great to see their passion come through.  What accessibility tips do you have for music software companies for their websites?  Firstly, being aware and staying familiar with WCAG helps to keep accessibility on the table. WCAG can seem overwhelming initially, but a lot of is common sense. You come to realise that it’s basically 8 or 9 core principles. Awareness of these principles should help standalone software apps become more accessible too, as there is a lot more web tech being used in software development now. A lot of new software will be a web app or port from one.  Then, listening to users is really important. I’m of the mindset that doing your best towards accessibility should be the minimum, but ultimately you don’t know what you don’t know. Listening to people and involving them is going to generate the most improvement in product. I think that’s why more and more teams are doing UX that includes research, rather than just UI updates that come from within the company.  I think it’s also worth highlighting that Google is doing a lot to intentionally support accessibility – their systems are likely to prioritise websites that have been inclusively designed. As the web moves more and more towards being accessibility-friendly, that will impact how you’re ranked. In turn, I think brands will understand that accessibility needs to be a priority and dip into their wallets.  Software companies are accustomed to supplying specifications such as software requirements, but accessibility information rarely makes it onto product pages. How can we ensure accessibility information supplied in the same way? We notice that as well. It’s on the companies to prioritise sharing that information, but why not start now? Access information is incredibly important for engaging marginalised communities. It’s also good for your brand image to present as a trendsetter who is ahead of the curve. I think this should just be considered best practice and generally, if you can innovate forward, then you should. Complacency, especially in tech, isRead More »FastSpring: why accessibility matters at the point of sale too

  • James Risdon: Let's talk about visual impairment About the author James Risdon is a freelance recorder player and also works as Access Coordinator at ABRSM. He worked for nearly ten years as the Music Officer at RNIB, where he took a particular interest in curating the programme of professional development workshops for blind and partially sighted musicians. This article draws partly on his own experiences, but also the collective wisdom, thoughts and ideas of the many blind and partially sighted musicians and workshop leaders with whom he had the pleasure of working. Prelude This article is aimed at blind and partially sighted musicians, though much of it could apply to other fields.  In this short article, I thought it would be helpful to consider how we talk about our visual impairment when engaged in work as a musician. Inevitably some of what I will say may resonate with you, and some things may be irrelevant. You may even strongly disagree. That is fine. My aim is to lay out some approaches and offer some ideas for your own reflection. The main thing is that you make a conscious decision about whatever approach you take. Language Those of us who have sight problems often have strong opinions about language and how we like to be described and referred to. I don’t. Moreover, we rarely agree among ourselves. In a sense this disputed linguistic territory is fine and disabled people should be the arbiters. But the unintended consequence of this is that sighted people are left anxious and confused about the words they can use. At best this can be mutually embarrassing. At its worst, this can discourage conversation and social interaction altogether. Unless people feel confident to engage verbally, it’s unlikely they will offer us work. So, I am going to use the term visual impairment (VI) throughout. Background I’ve always been aware of people’s reactions to VI. Two specific occasions before I had reached the age of 10 made me realise that people didn’t always think about me, or talk about me in ways I felt comfortable. The first was after an afternoon concert when tea and cake was being served. A well-meaning old lady pointed at me and asked my mother “does he take sugar?” to which my mother replied simply, “why don’t you ask him?” The second was a local newspaper write up of my performance in the Exeter Festival competition. “Blind virtuoso” screamed the headline. I didn’t mind so much that I was blind, but was morally offended by the notion that my performance had anything to do with the fact I could not see. My nine-year-old self was just beginning to learn that the world sometimes saw me differently to how I saw myself. I could have called this article “Thank you, one sugar would be great.” Even as adults, we are sometimes imbued with mystical powers of wisdom, hearing or memory, yet at other times assumed to be incapable of the most basic human functions. That, in itself, can make it hard to know where we fit in as people and musicians. One day we might be hailed as genius for being VI and taking to the stage, and the next we may struggle to find work precisely because we are VI and may fall off the stage. These assumptions and attitudes date back centuries if not millennia, so we are not going to change them overnight. What we can do is consciously consider our reaction, take control of how we tell our own story and ensure we leave people with the impression we would wish them to have. This can be tiring. It can be draining. It can be intrusive. We don’t always wish to be role models; we don’t always have the emotional energy to explain our VI and how we deal with the challenges it brings. Sometimes we just want to turn up, do our job and leave again and not have to engage with the topic of VI at all. But, giving some time and consideration to how we talk about our VI is necessary if we are to influence what people say about us, write about us and what they assume about us as VI musicians. Disclosing a visual impairment This is the decision about whether, how and when you tell someone that you have a VI. For many of us, it’s pretty obvious as soon as we meet. We probably use a white cane, require accessible formats, or rely on access technology. We may just require some assistance in an unfamiliar venue.  Of course, if you feel your VI is no barrier to the work you are hoping for, the decision about whether and when to disclose is more relevant. But, for most of us, the question is much more how we disclose our VI, not whether or when. I’ll leave the topic of disclosure for a future article, so let’s focus on how we talk about our VI. How we talk about vision impairment How we talk about our VI is a personal matter. It may also differ depending on the context: job application, audition, application to a funding body, or letter to a promotor or venue. We each have intellectual copyright over our own story and how we talk about ourselves. In my experience, people will take their steer from us, but they will also fill in the gaps if we don’t tell the story.  Things to consider So, while there are no rights or wrongs, here are some of the ideas and approaches I and others have found helpful.                     Solutions not problems It’s worth remembering that many people will have had limited interaction with anyone with a VI, especially in the context of work. They may therefore have limited understanding of what we can achieve, what the challenges are and how to solve these. Leading on what you will find difficult or impossible, or what you will need in place, is likely to engender fear, uncertainty and hesitation. By contrast, explaining the challenges and then offering practical solutions, or explaining what worked well in previous settings is likely to meet with a much more positive response.  Imagine you are going to do some work experience in a recording studio. You are blind and have been asked to tell the company about your access needs. You are the first blind person they have ever worked with. Before you write back, it’s worth considering that this is not just about you setting out what you need in place to function, but also about setting up a productive and positive relationship where you can thrive, or even be offered a paid position. So, rather than listing your requirements, you could be proactive: You could suggest visiting before your placement starts to learn the route from the station, to orientate yourself around the building and the studios.  You could offer to give staff a demo of what software and hardware you use and the access features that enable you to work independently. This sets you up as positive and your future colleagues may even find what you say interesting and valuable.  As well as explaining any parts of the process that are not accessible, you could suggest discussing workflows to get around this. Rights and responsibilities  It’s important for us as disabled people to know our rights. It’s important so that we can challenge discrimination if it occurs. We can be our own strongest advocates. But with rights come responsibilities, though you could equally think of these in terms of compromise, cooperation, being reasonable, or fostering positive working relationships.   Imagine you have a job in a large office with a culture of hot-desking. It may well be a reasonable adjustment that you are offered a static desk in a convenient location, perhaps near the lift, or near a window for natural light, or in a quieter area so you can hear your screen-reader. You may have a claim to a larger desk to keep equipment. These are all things that an employer should happily consider. But the flip side of this is that you are more obviously the odd one out and may end up missing out on positive aspects of working in the office. So, before dismissing the idea and claiming your right to a fixed desk, you could make an effort to learn your way around the office and engage in discussions about changes to the office layout. It may actually prove possible or even beneficial for you too. It could open up really positive discussions about how it’s helpful for your colleagues to introduce themselves by name when saying hello, for example. What’s your hook?  We all tend to remember people by a particular hook. It may be a physical characteristic, a personality trait, a particular talent or skill. It’s usually something unique to us, or that is sufficiently unusual to distinguish us from the next Peter, or the next drummer. As VI musicians, it is inevitable that we are sometimes remembered by the hook of being blind or partially sighted. That may be fine for you. You may wish to set up your whole identity and personal brand as the blind bass player, or the partially sighted cabaret artist; you may write songs about your personal experience of losing your sight, or use your music to campaign for raised awareness. There’s nothing wrong with this and there is definitely work to be had in this area.  But if you  are less comfortable with your VI being your defining characteristic, you need to take control. That is not as easy to do as it is to write. So how can you do this? Start by considering how you write about yourself. Consider the following two openings to a fictional bio: “I am a blind singer songwriter available for gigs and events. Music has been the thing that has kept me going through the difficult times.”  “I’m a singer songwriter available for gigs and events. Music has been my constant companion through life.”   The first makes an explicit link between blindness and difficult times. It sets up certain assumptions about the subject matter or type of songs this artist may write. The second is more vague. There is an implicit assumption that ‘life’ might include ups and downs, but we don’t know. These songs could just as well be about waiting for a bus as being VI. Importantly, the focus is more on music than life or blindness. It may be that you wish to use your VI as a means of distinguishing yourself from other singer songwriters, but in a less obvious way. “I’m a singer songwriter available for gigs and events. My songs are often influenced by my own life experiences, from growing up in Glasgow and losing my sight to falling in love and rock climbing.” This version places sight loss in the context of wider life events. It also leaves room for intrigue and to challenge perceptions: Who did she fall in love with? Can blind people really do rock climbing? Obviously you shouldn’t write this if you are yet to fall in love or suffer from vertigo.  Horses to courses How we talk about our VI might depend on the particular project we are working on, or organisation we are working with. I might never mention my VI in the general course of my music work, but if I am asked by a sight loss charity to give a talk or performance, and my VI is the reason they have asked me and not any other musician, then I will change my approach. As your career progresses, you may feel differently. At the outset, when you are trying to get established, your sight loss may be a useful hook by which people mark you out – any publicity is good publicity. As long as you manage that carefully, it can be a pretty engaging unique selling point. However, you may eventually wish to break free of that identity. That can be difficult, especially if some of your main achievements have been related to your VI. In that case, it comes down to how you tell the story and the relative importance you attach to it. For instance, I never describe myself as a blind recorder player, but my bio usually references the fact I was runner-up in an international competition for blind musicians. I keep this in because it tells people enough, but with a positive spin. Actions speak louder than words It’s not just about what you say. If you want your music to take centre stage and not your VI, think about how you can influence the narrative. Are there some small things you can do to keep control and keep attention on your music? For example, rather than be the object of someone’s attempts to offer help you don’t need, be proactive in explaining what you would find helpful. So, if you are performing in a new venue, make arrangements to visit before the performance and ask if you could be shown around. Better still, go with someone and ask if you can look around. If you are performing with someone else, plan in advance how you will walk on, walk off, acknowledge each other and your audience. In fact, choreographing what to do during applause is one of my top tips. Nothing draws attention to your VI more than being left standing without knowing where to face, or offering a hand to shake when nobody is there, or fumbling around for the stand for your instrument or mic. Explore and be comfortable in the performing space. This will stop you being nervous, but even more importantly, it will prevent your audience being nervous on your behalf. I remember performing in an orchestra years ago in a church. My chair was inches from a large drop off the makeshift stage. I knew about this and was happy with the set up, but several people told me afterwards that they had spent the whole concert terrified I might fall backwards into oblivion. As a performer, that is my issue, not the fault of the over-anxious audience because it leaves them with an impression of me, of any future VI performer they may meet.  Similarly, consider what you do with a white stick or a guide dog during your performance. You can be definite in any decision you make, but it’s helpful to think about it in advance. And not just in terms of your own practical ability to move around, but in terms of what impression you convey to your audience. A guide dog will inevitably draw attention away from you and at least one person in the audience will be wondering how the dog is so well behaved or if and when it is going to bark. Coda Having said all of the above, the most important thing you can do is be the best you possibly can be at what you are being asked to do, whether that is singing, recording or composing. Ultimately, your music is what you are (hopefully) being paid for and what may land you your next gig. If you arrive fully prepared, confident in what you are doing, and ready to deliver, your VI will naturally become less of a focus. Again, that is easier said than done. It requires planning, practise, preparation and precautions. It may not always be possible. It may require a little more planning and preparation than it might for others. But, your efforts will be rewarded. You may be booked again; you may be booked somewhere else; other performers, employees, sound engineers with a VI may be recruited as a result of the positive impression you left. Gradually, some of the age-old stereotypes and prejudices may just be left behind. Whatever your approach, very best of luck. Edited by Jay PocknRead More »James Risdon: Let’s talk about visual impairment

  • That’s great Jay. Thanks for the update. Looking forward to listening to it.

  • Hi Claire, yes the session was recorded. We will now edit it and publish the recording as a podcast in a few weeks time, along with notes and resources. Please feel free to email the SWS team directly for any questions that are specifically about project or content: contact@soundwithoutsight.org

  • Hi. Is there a recording of last Thursday’s monthly meet up?

  • Slau Halatyn interview: replay or read the summary now Introduction The Sound Without Sight podcast features an interview with Slau Halatyn, a New York-based producer, studio owner, musician, and advocate for accessibility in music production tools, notably supporting Pro Tools and Sibelius. This article includes links to listen to the podcast, a summary, key points and resources selected by Zenny Jabeera, and the full transcript.  Listen to podcast YouTube Spotify Apple Podcasts Acast Summary In this podcast, Slau discusses his journey from a session musician to a recording engineer, producer, and studio owner, highlighting his experience with retinitis pigmentosa and how it shaped his career. He emphasises the importance of networking and word of mouth in building his business, which has included working with notable artists across various genres. Despite the challenges of visual impairment, Slau has navigated his career successfully, relying on adaptive technology and support from organisations like the New York State Commission for the Blind. He has been involved in various recording projects, including orchestral recordings in Ukraine, and has been recognised for his work with Grammy, Tony, and Oscar-winning artists. Slau’s studio is a testament to his dedication and resourcefulness. He discusses the practicalities of running a studio, including the setup and financial considerations, and how owning the building was crucial for the development of his business. In terms of equipment, Slau has adapted to the evolution of technology, from analog to digital, always considering accessibility. He has worked with Avid to improve Pro Tools’ accessibility features and has been a voiceover guru for the software. He also advocates for accessibility in other software and hardware, acknowledging the progress made by companies like Native Instruments and PACE Anti-Piracy. Slau provides insights into the people-skills necessary for a producer and engineer, emphasising the importance of learning from mistakes and adapting to various personalities in the studio. He also shares strategies for effective communication and collaboration with both sighted and visually impaired team members. Regarding finding clients, Slau believes in delivering exceptional work to retain customers and build a reputation, rather than actively seeking new clients. He advises aspiring blind or visually impaired engineers to consider freelancing and to specialise in a particular area of expertise. Slau’s tutorials for Pro Tools, produced in collaboration with Berklee College of Music, are available online, and he encourages the community to share resources and solutions on platforms like Sound Without Sight. He concludes by sharing his contact information and expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to share his experiences. Highlights and resources Career development Word of mouth: Slau started off by recording himself and friends, then friends of friends, then strangers to more well known artists. Use social media: not only helps with networking, but also helps to plan events Form a reliable, close network of people: to assist in attending events/conferences, especially since a lot of music conventions, such as NAMM, are difficult to navigate independently. Running a studio/studio equipment  Be realistic with finances: in most situations, you need money to be able to rent a commercial premises to run a studio. Avid and Native Instruments tend to support accessibility a lot. Slau has put a lot of energy into making manufacturers aware of inaccessibility in their products.  Using tech Connect with other people with the same barriers as you’re facing Build and maintain good relationships with tech companies, don’t antagonise. Easier to see success in accessibility with smaller companies, as it is easier to change course. Audio plugins are mostly accessible with VoiceOver, but using a control surface makes it easier.  Slau recommended Plugin Alliance plug-ins. People skills around being a producer/running sessions Connect with other established producers/audio engineers, and get advice from them. Soft skills aren’t spoken about as much as technical skills, but they are very important.  You have to adjust your approach depending on who you’re working with, as everyone has different personalities. Largely learned through experience. Approaching others to collaborate Don’t have to do anything differently when interacting with sighted or blind people, apart from hospitality: guiding a blind person where you don’t have to with a sighted person Sometimes you just have to remind sighted people about your access requirements. Can use Muteomatic which automatically makes talkback heard in talent’s headphones, which makes it easier to work with both sighted and blind artists.  Keeping notes through a session Can make notes digitally and share with talent if you have to, e.g. through Dropbox. Capture entire sessions using a Zoom or other standalone recorder, so you can listen back to details.  There is a comments field on each track with Pro Tools, so you can make notes there too.  Networking Attend conferences with sighted assistance and make them aware of anyone in particular you want to connect with Could arrange for assistant to leave you to it once you’ve found who you want to talk to to make you less reliant on assistant Usually people you connect with might introduce you to other people Resources for people starting out PTAccess Pro Tools tutorials Online groups and communities Consider whether aiming at a mainstream commercial studio job is realistic for your circumstances; there aren’t many studios left. Blind people can’t compete with sighted people with the tasks that entry-level ‘runners’ would be expected to do in the conventional model of career progression in a studio.  You have to be a little more creative. You could do demos if you got instruments at your disposal Should try to build on network and connections with other artists and creatives. Full transcript Please note this transcript was automatically generated, and may contain erroers.  Hello and welcome to the Sound Without Sight podcast.In this episode, we welcome Slau Halatyn.Slau is a New York based producer, studio owner, musician and advocate for accessibility within music production tools.He is best known for supporting the development of the accessibility features within Pro Tools and Sibelius.In this interview, Slau covers topics such as his journey as a recording engineer, producer and studio owner, his tips for honing the people skills involved in these roles as a visually impaired person, and his experience of working with Avid to improve accessibility within their products and becoming the voiceover guru for Pro Tools.This interview was recorded live as part of the Sound Without Sight monthly meetup session for February 2024, featuring questions submitted by our community.We hope you enjoy.Slau, thank you so much for taking the time to join us this evening, or this afternoon for you over in New York.How are you?Very good.Thank you so much.And it’s a pleasure to be here to speak with you guys.So we’ve got a few introductory questions to begin with, just to kind of break the ice and get an idea of your career as a whole, because it’s got so many different facets to it.And Zenny was going to ask the first few questions.So over to you, Zenny.So I’m just going to jump straight into it.So from what we know, so you have a wide ranging career.What’s it like working with Grammy nominated artists?And what are some achievements that you’re particularly proud of?I see.Well, you know, I started out originally sort of as a session musician playing guitar on sort of like film and documentary soundtracks and stuff.And it was through a friend who also worked at this particular studio in Manhattan.And I really enjoyed the process and I was fascinated by the technology.That’s what got me into it in the first place.And then round about that time, I was in a band.We were preparing to record a demo of a few songs and went into a different studio in Brooklyn, Systems 2 in Brooklyn.And I just fell in love with the process.And the thing was, I didn’t consider it a career choice at that time yet.I ended up going to school for something entirely different, a very visually based career in industrial design.So I went to an art college in Brooklyn, Pratt Institute, and I never quite finished because halfway through my school career, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa.So there was really no way for me to complete my work.Right at that time, when I was first diagnosed, I thought, well, you know, this isn’t going to affect me.But boy, very quickly it did.And so I never did finish school.I did work a little bit as sort of an account executive at an industrial design exhibit company in Long Island City here in New York.And then at a certain point, I did seek out some help from the New York State Commission for the Blind because I realized after visiting the lighthouse in New York City that I was legally blind and I had no idea.This was all very new to me.So within a couple of years, I went from, you know, having quote unquote normal sight to not even realizing that I was legally blind.And so the counselor at the CBVH in New York said, listen, you know, you’re entitled to like certain benefits to help you finish school because you never finished the first time around.And so I said, sure, okay, well, what, you know, what can be done?How can you assist me?And they said, well, with adaptive technology and stuff like that.So I did go back to school, this time to a music school, Five Towns College.And there was a concentration in audio recording technology there.So my career path, as far as I was concerned, was going to be, you know what, I’m going to get into electronic music production and sort of aim to maybe teach that subject or teach that as a profession.And that just sort of went by the sidelines because I just got so involved in the recording process as opposed to just electronic music production.So anyway, that’s what started me off in the recording world.And just like most people, I started off recording myself, my friends and stuff like that.And then before you know it, you’re recording friends of friends and then you’re recording strangers because by word of mouth, you just get these calls.And so I continued doing that for a number of years until in the early 90s, my former wife and I moved to London for a couple of years.And there, all I did was since I was not in school, I took a leave of absence from school from Five Towns College, I was working full time just recording stuff.So I was recording, you know, small projects in London.And then when I got back to New York, as I finished school, I had a lot of these, you know, it wasn’t friends calling me anymore.It was literally just people calling me word of mouth from other projects that I had done before I left for England.So just that just took off.Before you know it, I’m recording, you know, pretty well known artists in the New York area, largely jazz, and then it sort of branched off into things like musical theater and cabaret.And you know, the thing is working with, I mean, I’ve gotten to work with, yes, you know, Grammy-winning artists, Tony-winning artists, Oscar-winning artists, even like actors, not necessarily always musicians, but just actors who were doing like voiceover work.So it’s really, it’s so unpredictable what, you know, what direction your career is going to take.If you get involved in audio, you could be, you could be working on one type of project and then before you know it, get into sound design and suddenly you take off in that direction.I can’t say that I ever planned anything.It’s just, I fell into what I do naturally.I do a bunch of orchestral recordings.I’ve done that for probably 30 years now.That was something that I never could have planned on.It was just, you know, somebody contacted me and asked if I would be willing to do that.And I said, sure.And it involved going to Ukraine to record an orchestra there.So I dove in and never looked back.And I just, I do it, you know, regularly every year, every other year we do a project.So I’m sorry, there’s no such thing as a short answer from me.No, that’s fine.I think that was really insightful as well.And actually you answered the next question, funnily enough.So, you know, that was kind of like what kind of came first, which you’ve already kind of answered.I had a couple of follow up questions, well, kind of just one actually.You mentioned, you know, that you kind of were able to make a lot of network, like connections and a lot of networking was done through like word of mouth.Obviously, a lot of it’s kind of moved to social media now.How is that working for you?Has that created any kind of hindrances or is, you know, are you, is that better or like, yeah, how are you finding kind of social media and making networking and stuff?Right.Well, you know, the thing is, and I have to, I have to preface this by saying, in all honesty, I’ve been trying to retire.I really, I enjoy what I do, but for me, I’ve, for a few years now, I’ve been trying to retire, trying to take on, to take, not to take on smaller projects and just stay with the bigger ones and the ones that I enjoy working on.So the idea of sort of like networking and that kind of thing, to me at this point, is not a priority at all.It’s not something that I really seek out.You know, when I first said, well, 30 years ago, had there been a Twitter and a Facebook back then, I would have been all over it for sure.But there wasn’t.And I enjoyed the sort of the camaraderie of my sort of audio peeps, you know, for lack of a better term, my audio colleagues, let’s say, on Twitter, because we had some great discussions.And it was easier to sort of plan on getting together at conventions like the Audio Engineering Society Convention or the NAMM show.It really was quite nice to be able to network in that way.At this point, I’m sort of slowly getting away from that a little bit because, like I said, I’m trying not to actively grow my business.I’m perfectly content to just keep it going as it is.But I certainly realize the importance of social media in terms of people who are getting into the business or thinking of getting into it these days.Yeah, no, that’s fair enough.And obviously, you’ve done so much in your career from what it seems that you’re obviously more than entitled to sit back and just chill.And so following on from that throughout your career, have you had any particularly challenging barriers or obstacles that you had to face?And if there were any, what were the solutions?Yeah, I think as a blind person.I mean, we all know the challenges that we face in terms of software and hardware and accessibility.I mean, that’s always a big challenge.For me, having been sighted at one time, I was used to being able to get around very easily and sort of access anything I wanted.Since I did lose my vision over, at least I mentioned that I lost a bunch of vision very quickly, but then it was sort of a very steady, very slow decline.So at first, I was able to access materials like printed materials, books and such, diagrams, flow charts and that kind of thing.I could see that on a CCTV.These days, of course, well, of course, I should say that I really have no useful vision.So for me, that’s not an option and it hasn’t been for years.So, I mean, that kind of challenge I face every day.We all do.You know, in terms of the social kind of thing, I mean, socializing with networking, let’s say, with other colleagues and stuff in person, there was a time when I could go myself, for example, to an AES show or a NAMM show.But, you know, it’s been years since I’ve been able to do that.So, you know, I mean, whenever I attend shows like that, I always go with someone.I’ve even, you know, quote unquote, hired people to meet me at a show and just go with me to various, to visit various vendors and booths and stuff like that.Because anyone who’s ever been to some of these conventions, the show floors are just so packed with people that you can barely navigate the floor as a sighted person.And so, yeah, I decided I’m going to make it easier on myself and get some help.Yeah, and I think, you know what, that’s part of it.It’s always the little things you have to consider, like, you know, getting around and stuff like that.And you have to do what you’ve got to do, resort to whatever you can.And obviously, I think you said that you lost a bunch of vision, then it was kind of gradual.It must have been really difficult to keep adapting to all these changes.But despite that, you seem very successful, and you’re running your own studio and stuff, which leads me on to my last question, which isn’t actually mine, it’s a community question.So one of our people that’s currently listening actually asked the question, and it was basically, sorry, I’m just reading it.So it was about the studio.It was basically, is running a studio your main source of income now?And also, how did you find setting it up?And also, I think as a little follow up from my end as well, what inspired you to kind of look into kind of owning a studio?Right.So again, when I was entering, when I went to college the second time around, it wasn’t my intention to own and operate a studio.That wasn’t my initial plan, but I was interested in recording.So I purchased a multi-track recording.It was a cassette-based four-track, and then I upgraded it to an eight-track, where I was just recording out of home.And then I entered school, and then that’s when that whole thing really shifted for me, where I realized, oh my gosh, this is what I love to do.And so maybe there’s some way that I could make this a full-time job, because I enjoyed it.I was apparently good at it.People sought me out.Granted, these were friends and friends of friends, but everybody just loved what I was doing for them.And when the time came, I was working out of home at this time, and so my first wife, like I said, before we moved to England, I was just recording out of home.She was very supportive, and if I told her, listen, I’m recording a group of musicians, so you can’t hang around, go somewhere for the day.And I would just work out of, we had a bedroom that was sort of like a control room, and I would set the musicians up in the living room, and that’s how we started.Then we moved to London, like I said, and then there, it was a similar situation, but when I got back from London, a space in our building opened up and was empty.And so the building that I’m in was purchased by my parents back in 1959.And it’s really mostly, entirely I would say, thanks to that fact, that I’m able to have a space to work in and make it feasible in terms of financially, because my overhead is so low.A lot of people, of course, these days, they will set up a studio in a garage or something like that or in a spare bedroom.But those studios, quote unquote studios, they’re really just rooms.They’re essentially a control room where they can work on mixing.Maybe they could record something in that room, depending on the source.Whereas here, since I have a bigger space, about a thousand square feet, I do have a separate live room, a separate control room, a separate machine room, an ISO booth.So the fact that we own the building here makes it possible for me to do this.Because if I were, had I been in a position where I had to seek out a commercial space, I just, there would have been times where I just wouldn’t have been able to support that in terms of, you know, if business got a little bit slower, you know, I’d still have to make those payments and that would have been, in my opinion, impossible.You know, so with such a low overhead, I’ve been able to run nonstop, you know, from let’s say 95, so 25 years or something like that.And it is my only source of income is the studio.But again, I have to make it clear that I am married.My wife was employed.She’s now, she took an early retirement.But I never had to worry about, you know, paying bills or, you know, making sure that there was enough money to go shopping for groceries or whatever, because my wife was always employed and took care of that.So any money that I got from the studio mostly just went right back into the business.So I was fortunate to be able to do that.Hopefully that answers the question.Yeah, it definitely does.And it’s interesting because there’s so many different perspectives and insight, particularly with studio and stuff like that.But yeah, I think Jay has some more questions for you now, going towards equipment and stuff.But yeah, thank you for answering my questions and the community questions.So yeah, if we dig into the equipment and the studio a little bit more now, I know we’ve had quite a lot of questions about this.So yeah, we’ll get as many answered as we can.So the first one is around, I guess, that process of building a studio and, I guess, choosing which gear to go in it, researching gear.Do you specifically look out for things that have been designed with accessibility in mind, or do you kind of go for the mainstream stuff that everyone’s using, and then just try and find ways to make that work for you?Well, mostly, it’s changed over the years because when I first got into, like when I first moved into this space, for example, it was an analog studio.I mean, I had a large format console, I had a tape machine, a 16-track large thing, the size of a washing machine kind of thing.And none of that equipment was…I mean, there was nothing with accessibility design in mind for those things.I mean, those were hardware pieces of equipment that just you had your faders, you had your buttons, I had to memorize the layout of things.As far as the tape machine, the remote, you just had to learn the layout of that remote to arm tracks and stuff like that.When it came to VU meters at the time, if I really put my nose up against the VU meter, I could pretty much make out where it was.But I really couldn’t work that way.So I didn’t rely on VU meters except for if I was recording something like drums, something where I was pushing the tape a little bit to get some saturation.It used to be behind me where I’m sitting now.I used to turn around and just see if I could just make out the red peak lights on the VU meters because those were like flashes.And I could tell if a snare was hitting a track just right, I would see that little peak only on the highest transients.And so at that time, I just had to memorize stuff, and there weren’t any real issues.Then, of course, as things progressed, the tape machine got really old.It practically caught fire one time.There was smoke coming out of it, luckily.I smelled it before my client saw the smoke, and I just realized that it was getting more and more expensive to keep a machine like that maintained.And so I decided to go for changing over to a digital format.And I practically went with what’s called a radar system.At that time, it was owned by a company called Otari, and that was the manufacturer of my tape machine, in fact.And I was supposed to have a demo model come to me, and at the last minute, they said, Oh, one of our clients, his machine went down, so we have to send this unit to him.So it’ll be another month or something.And right around that time, Pro Tools HD was introduced.And I had used Pro Tools a little bit in school.I used it with just a screen magnification program.It was on the Mac.It was called Enlarge.So I could reverse the polarity of the, you know, instead of black on white, it would be white on black.It was easier for me to see.So I was sort of familiar with it a bit.And then I decided it was time to take another look at it.And so I had a license for Pro Tools because I had bought, it was a Mark of the Unicorn interface card, which came with Pro Tools.At that time, it was, you know, I don’t know, it was Pro Tools 5 or something like that.And I took a look at it and it seemed pretty accessible.But at this time, I was starting to rely on a screen reader rather than just the enlarge.So I was using Outspoken.And boy, the stuff really looked quite accessible to me.And so I decided to, instead of going the radar route, I decided to go and dive into Pro Tools.And it was probably the best thing I could have done, you know, at the time.And I have no regrets.I mean, to me, I’m very comfortable in the Pro Tools environment and stuff.So since that time, so since, you know, we’re talking, I made the transition in 1999 to being a digital studio.Since then, of course, I had to keep accessibility sort of more so in mind, especially when it came to software.Not so much hardware.But, you know, these days, when something is hardware based and it has some degree of attention paid in terms of accessibility, I tend to really support that and try to seek that out.For example, years ago, Native Instruments introduced some accessibility into their product, into their complete control product.And since then, they’ve expanded that.At the time when they first introduced it, it was great that they did actually get into supporting accessibility.It left a lot to be desired at first, but it’s improved.And I mean, even now, there’s things that I wish that it was better at, but that’s okay.Things are moving forward and progressing.And I think it’s a great thing that they’ve embraced that.And I wish some other companies would also.Absolutely.I think there is quite a lot of momentum around accessibility right now, certainly in the last couple of years, in the time that I’ve become a lot more involved in this space.It’s grown so much, and there’s so many more people talking about it now, which is great, including, of course, Avid, who were one of the first people to really make a massive step.And obviously, you being part of that and helping to drive that.Just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your experience of working with Avid to improve accessibility across their products.How did that come about, and are you still involved?Right.Well, as I mentioned, back in the OS 9 days of Macintosh, Pro Tools 5, Pro Tools was quite accessible.It wasn’t ideal, but it was really quite accessible.And then when Apple introduced OS, I upgraded to OS 10, and then I tried to run Pro Tools under OS 10.And like nothing, of course, was accessible.Outspoken did not work under OS 10.So we had like really no options.We had to, a lot of people who were blind Pro Tools users had to stick to OS 9.Then Apple introduced what was originally called spoken interface, which became VoiceOver.I was on the beta team for spoken interface, and that’s when I tried Pro Tools on OS 10.And like there was nothing.Like you launched it, and you saw the menu bar, and that was it.So we reached out to DigiDesign at the time.Avid purchased DigiDesign as a company.Avid was a video company that purchased an audio company to sort of ensure that it had a strong and robust audio platform.But DigiDesign didn’t respond to our requests, and we made a petition to ask them to please support the need for accessibility in their products.And we got something like 1500 signatures or something like that.Well, I was invited to come out to California to visit with them and discuss this.I was there to demonstrate, really, the level of accessibility that we had under OS 9 and then under OS 10.So we had two computers set up.I had my laptop running Pro Tools 5 and OS 9, and I showed the VP of Marketing at that time, David Gibbons, and the head of Pro Tools, Wendy, about.I showed them how I could navigate and do stuff on OS 9 with Pro Tools.And then right next to it, OS 10, and I just showed them that nothing.I could see nothing.I could do nothing.And it was a real eye-opener for them.They said, wow, well, we obviously have to fix this because you were able to use this under OS 9 and now under OS 10, nothing?So that started a process.Sorry, long story short, they were in the middle of transitioning with like certain, the way that widgets were drawn to screen and stuff like that.They said, we need to make this transition first and then we’ll address accessibility.So it did take about two years, I’d say, about two years.But then they reached out again and I flew out there and they showed me what they had done.And it was like, it was literally like someone turned the light on where you could not see anything now.Suddenly, all these controls were visible and stuff like that.So in very short amount of time, they had done this and then released it as part of their, as part of the next release, all these accessibility fixes.And then what happened was maybe two years later or so, things started breaking down a bit because, you know, the programmers weren’t officially paying attention to any of the stuff that was done.And so things were starting to break.And it was right around that time that it was Rich Holmes was the head of Pro Tools at that time.He said, look, we have to sort of like codify this with the CEO, basically, to make this kind of official, that we support accessibility.And he had a great idea, and that was to say, you know, VoiceOver and accessing Pro Tools through VoiceOver was really no different than accessing it in a different language.And right at that time, Avid was making a concerted effort to support international, it was there, they called it IL support, international language support.So they were making Pro Tools in Spanish and Italian and French and, you know, Japanese, et cetera, et cetera.And he said, it’s really no different.You’re just using a different language, a different way of accessing it.So maybe if you wrote a letter and I wrote a letter to the CEO, we could sort of make this official, make this part of the process.And so I wrote a letter, and so did he and the CEO at the time, Gary Greenfield, said, you know, Slau, you’re working with the right people.Let them proceed what they’re doing and, you know, let’s make it official.So that started the journey that has continued really to this day.You know, there was at that meeting, I met a person who was the liaison for third-party developers, and his name was Ed Gray.And when he walked into the meeting, he came in and said, ta-da!And I didn’t know what was going on.I kind of looked toward the door, and there was this guy with a long white cane.I thought, who is this?And then I was introduced to him, and, you know, he said, that he, because of diabetes, had started to lose his vision.And so he very quickly, you know, became involved in anything having to do with accessibility, given his obvious connection as a visually impaired person.And, you know, we just, from there on in, it was like anything that came up in terms of, not only accessibility, but just general sort of networking in the industry.I always turn to Ed because he, as the third party, you know, partnering director, he knew everybody and everybody knew him.So he was a really great connection to have.Unfortunately, you know, some people know that we lost him recently, you know, from complications, from diabetes and some other stuff.So right now we’re in the process of, you know, trying to establish who will take on that role of sort of addressing accessibility sort of like on an ongoing basis.We have a whole beta team, of course, but that’s just one aspect.You know, you need to have somebody who’s in the culture of that company to sort of carry that banner because there are plenty of people outside the company who will wave the accessibility flag, but you really need somebody inside the company.And the good thing, though, is that over the years, various individuals that we’ve worked with in AVID, you know, they’re keenly aware of the issue and have, you know, helped along the way.But again, still, there needs to be a point person for that.So we’re just still kind of trying to figure out who that person is.Yeah, I mean, Ed, absolutely massive loss, really, really influential in this space.And it would be great for that initiative to be more kind of tied up across the industry as well.Different companies collaborating on the topic of accessibility.There needs to be that kind of that sea change so that, you know, when improvements are made, it’s easy to kind of translate that to other software and, you know, document that best practice.So just one little quick question.Have you got one piece of advice for someone, maybe they’re a user of technology and they find it frustrating that they’re hitting accessibility barriers and they want to make a change.One piece of advice for kind of getting that voice heard?For getting the voice heard?Well, I mean, I think number one, you know, it’s always a good idea to seek out other people who are in that same boat.You know, we now have a bunch of communities.There always were sort of like email lists, and those were great, too.But nowadays, not only through just regular social media, traditional social media, but also things like WhatsApp groups.There are so many these days where, you know, you’ll have a community of users who have a common focused interest.Like, let’s say, for example, there’s a complete control WhatsApp group.There’s a Pro Tools WhatsApp group.There’s a, you know, Reaper, Logic.There are so many.I think sort of, you know, being part of those communities, I think, is important.Because I think what happens is that you have situations where there’s bound to be some contact through individuals in that group.There’s bound to be some kind of networking contact where somebody says, oh, you know what?I know so-and-so from blah, blah, blah.And then, you know, you have the potential to interface with people at various companies and even invite them to participate in real-time chats, Zoom calls.You know, we’ve had that happen with a bunch of people.For example, Byron Hardin, who has IC Music.You know, he’s invited, you know, people from various companies that deal with access, that have taken an interest in accessibility.And they participate and get to sort of have, you know, Q&As with people, with users.You know, years ago, we started doing this.We started having a group of people who were blind or visually impaired meet up at NAMM.And we would break into, like, maybe two or three groups of two or three.And we’d go to various developer booths and sort of speak to these developers and product owners, product managers in person to raise the issue of accessibility.And just as an illustration, I mean, we used to go to Native Instruments every year, probably five years in a row, and they just never budged.I mean, they were just not gonna do anything for accessibility.It was practically comical how they would say, nope, we’re not doing it.I mean, it was that blatant.And I don’t know exactly what changed.I think possibly the leadership changed at a certain point.But boy, when they got on board, it was like, again, like somebody turned the light on.And just to be clear, some companies.It’s not like they’re…I mean, in the Native Instruments thing, I’m saying comically, it was almost like they refused to.But they showed no interest.But there are other companies that it’s not that they have no interest.They’d like to make their stuff accessible.But they don’t know where to start.They don’t know what it’s going to take.And sometimes it’s a matter of just having a connection with a blind and visually impaired community to have some feedback, to understand like, all right, so, oh, okay, labeling buttons and stuff like that.That’s like the very first basic step.Like, okay, so let’s start from there.They just need a little bit of encouragement.I always point out a great, what I consider a great success story was Pace Anti-Piracy.When I started using Pro Tools, I discovered this new thing that to me, what is this iLock thing?And it was the licensing scheme that DigiDesign used at the time.And okay, so it was this key that got inserted in USB slot.You had a little card that had the license, and you put the card into the key, and it would transfer the license from the card, you know.And I thought it was a great system.And at a certain point, they got a sort of like a web interface that came up where you could transfer licenses and manage them.But then suddenly they created a standalone application, the iLoc license manager.And it was not accessible, like nothing.We could do nothing with it.And so we approached the company, and they said, oh, okay, yeah, okay.So, you know, we’re going to have to work on it.But, you know, we have to do a few other things, whatever.So we were, the community was patient, because there was still a way that we could sort of get around it.Well, with sighted assistance, of course, that was always an option.But it got to a point where it was like really taking a long time.And one of our Pro Tools users even like threatened a lawsuit.I mean, it was crazy.And I said, I kept telling our users of saying like, you’ve got to be patient.Don’t antagonize people.That’s the last thing you want to do.You got to maintain good relationships with companies like this.You can’t lash out.Fortunately, the way this timing worked out, Pace was switching over from one…Their platform was QT.That was their authoring platform.They were switching from QT5, I think, to QT6, where accessibility is like pretty much built into QT6, where if you create a program, you can easily make it accessible.But, of course, this was legacy code that had to be worked on for a little while.And I later heard from the guys at the company, Alan Krontz and Andrew Kirk, what the process was like.It wasn’t easy for them.I mean, they had to kind of scratch their heads and go through this process.But at the end of it, the people that worked on it, presented to a company meeting what they had done and where they were and where they ended up.And at the end of this presentation, they got a standing ovation.It was almost a team building project.And it was fantastic.I thought that it was wonderful that they went from being completely unaware about accessibility to making their software completely accessible.I can’t even think of an aspect of their iLoc license manager that isn’t accessible.There’s maybe one or two list views or something like that that don’t read exactly correctly, but with OCR, you could get an idea of what’s going on.But it’s like 99% accessible.And I think it’s a great success story.Yeah, and it’s those kind of stories.It’s easier to see such success stories with smaller companies just because it’s easier to change or adjust course in a small boat as opposed to a steam liner.Yeah, I do totally get that.And I think one of the things at the moment is trying to kind of document those successes to make it easier for maybe it’s big developers, maybe it’s small developers just to have a breadcrumb trail to pick up when they’re thinking about what do we need to do?Because accessibility can be an overwhelming topic if it’s not something that you’re used to and it’s not in your company culture.So yeah, just one little shout out to the Media Association on the work that they’re doing at the moment, trying to pull together a standard or at least a working group for accessibility.And also just to flag our Knowledge Hub at Sound Without Sight as a place, a directory to kind of collate all of those communities that you were talking about.You know, if you are, if you’re really into a specific piece of software, it’s likely that there are a group of people already using that.If it’s something that we don’t have already on our Knowledge Hub, please do submit an article so that everyone can then access that.Yeah, that’s just something that we’re trying to do.So just to rattle through a couple of quick questions.So a community question from Scott Chesworth.Is the DAW comparison project that you produced still a good representation of accessibility in Pro Tools?And if not, what’s new?As far as Pro Tools is concerned, not much has changed, really.I mean, they’ve introduced a couple of new features, which are essentially accessible.I would say that the things that they recently introduced that are not really accessible, that still need work, are like their mobile apps.I can’t remember what it’s called even.It’s like you can run it on an iPad.It’s kind of like a sketch or something.I can’t remember.Yeah, those things are still not really usable.There are some controls that are visible and stuff like that, but to me, it’s not viable.I don’t know about someone who is visually impaired.Maybe they could use it.And we have some users that are, Pro Tools users specifically, that are visually impaired as opposed to totally blind.But I haven’t heard of any real success on that front right now.But as far as that DAW comparison, I mean, as far as the Pro Tools part of it, it’s pretty much the same, I would say.Okay, so another quick community question from Ibrahim on Ofeco.So quick fire, top three, which plugin packages or companies would you say are most compatible with VoiceOver?As far as plugins, I mean, most plugin packages are compatible.I would say once in a while, you come across these situations where VoiceOver will see plugin parameters, but you can’t interact with them to change them.One good example was, at a certain point, Valhalla plugins, you could see all the parameters, but you could not interact and change them with VoiceOver.If you had a control surface, you could, and that was fine.And that’s when I first got into some of their plugins.I was just using it with a control surface.But since then, I’ve reached out to them, and a friend of a friend is very close with the developer of…Well, yeah, the owner of the company, Sean Costello.So I was in touch with them and sort of raised this issue.And like the following versions of all their plugins, so you could change the parameters with VoiceOver.I would say that I’m a big fan myself of the Plugin Alliance plugins, like all of their plugins.Well, I say all.There are a couple of plugins that are sort of more like drum replacement things where you have to…It’s more involved in terms of getting involved in the browser of that plugin to choose samples and stuff like that.That stuff is not accessible with the Plugin Alliance stuff, but that constitutes maybe 3% of their plugins.But all of the rest of their plugins, AMP modelers, effects like EQs and reverbs and all that kind of stuff, those are all accessible and they’re fantastic.And Sound Toys is also another popular one, very usable with VoiceOver.Amazing.Thank you very much.So I think now just to move on to the role of being a producer, running sessions, there is a lot of focus within the VI community on overcoming barriers with hardware and software.I was wondering if you had any advice on honing the kind of people skills involved in being a producer and a recording engineer.So imagine these are kind of all important for coaxing those good performances out of musicians, but we kind of rarely hear them spoken about.Right.Well, I think that’s because, you know, these days that there is a lot of focus on, you know, on technique of, you know, how do you, you know, get a great tom sound or a kick sound, you know, whatever.I mean, these are, these are, you know, there’s no shortage of sources for, you know, I mean, of people showing you how to do something, whatever.But really, that’s, that is not at all, that’s, that’s, that’s a rather than a 20,000 foot level, you know, view, that’s a 20 foot view of the process and, you know, of making, let’s, I’m going to say music recording.All right.In this case, that’s largely what, what, you know, audio engineers deal with, not always, but it’s often what they deal with.Music recording, it used to be that you would get a job, you know, mopping a floor, you know, sweeping a floor, cleaning toilets, and you graduated to being able to make, you know, make tea for, for the talent, you know, in a, in a recording session.Then you’d move on to, you know, maybe being a tape operator.You work your way up to, to, to assistant engineer maybe.And if you were lucky, one day the engineer didn’t show up and you got to sit in, in the, in the engineer’s chair and, and do some overdubs or something like that.Along the way, I mean, from day one, you would start getting an education about how to deal with people, what to do, what not to do, equally as important.And we just don’t see that anymore.I didn’t have that experience of, of getting into the studios with that sort of trajectory.Mine was going through school.So I was taught in school, you know, what to do, what not to do.Still that, that was still theoretical.I mean, we did have sessions in school, and we had to fulfill like all of the various roles, you know, on various sessions.So on some sessions, I did one thing or another session, I did another thing.And we were, you know, tested, critiqued, et cetera, et cetera.So, you know, I think that today, I mean, yes, there are schools, of course, that teach audio.Not too many of them are going to be viable for a blind person to attend just because some of that stuff is just not going to be accessible.I mean, when I say some of that stuff, you know, they might have, you know, a large format console and the tape machine.And if you have no sight, it’s going to be a challenge.So it’s not the easiest thing to get into in terms of being a blind person.I think, you know, what can one say having said that?I mean, you kind of almost have to, you know, dive in at the deep end and learn by your mistakes.I mean, if you do know other, you know, individuals, not necessarily blind or visually impaired individuals, but anybody else and try to sort of pick their brain about what, you know, what kind, what are good practices and, you know, what would be common scenarios, I think that’s a good idea.I mean, this subject, yeah, you don’t hear it.Even in the sighted community, you know, people don’t talk about, you know, in terms of production, about getting a good performance.Once in a while, you’ll see an article about it or something like that.But I think part of why we don’t see this discussed too much is because there’s an infinite variety of individuals, personalities and circumstances that you could almost never say anything about it that’s going to apply to a different situation.You know, you’re dealing in an environment that’s potentially, you know, emotions can run high, and it could be volatile in that sense.I think largely it’s common sense.You try to think twice before you say something.And again, it depends on your role in the studio as well.Because if you’re just assisting someone, you shouldn’t offer your two cents.Because it’s not your place in terms of how things would work in a situation.I mean, I had a situation once where I had an assistant who during a session really struck up a conversation and started offering advice to one of the musicians.And I thought, oh gosh, I can’t believe they start, and I of course had to tell them later on, that is not appropriate.You don’t do that.You’re not part of the production team.You haven’t been here for previous sessions and stuff like that.You have to learn how to interact, but it’s largely experience.And sometimes it’s an uncomfortable process learning that.But that’s one of the ways that you do learn.Sure, sure.So just moving on, we’ve got another community question from Peter Bosia, which is saying, given the differences in ways of working, there might be between sighted and blind or visually impaired producers.How do you approach collaborating with a team, so other producers or engineers or musicians who might be sighted or blind?What do you feel like the differences are there?And how can you build bridges between those two communities in a session?Yeah, as far as working with sighted, 99% of the people I work with are sighted.So if I meet someone, somebody’s coming in for a session, I’m talking talent in this case mostly, or even if they’re a producer or another engineer or something like that, I mean, the very first thing I will tell them, even in an email before they get here is, oh, by the way, I’m blind, just so you know.And if that just didn’t, if the opportunity didn’t present itself or it slipped my mind, I tell them immediately when they come in.Because in the studio, I don’t walk around with a cane or anything like that, and many people have just assumed that I was sighted.So I make it a point these days to make sure I tell them.When I do work with someone who is blind, I mean, there is a certain kind of shorthand, I think, that we all kind of understand that, you know, like if a blind person comes into the studio, I mean, I let them know, by the way, to your right, there’s a, you know, there’s a whatever, a mic stand or a table or whatever it is, to avoid the sort of, you know, unfortunate incidents where they, you know, they walk into something or knock something over.So obviously, I’m prepared for that kind of eventuality, or I shouldn’t say eventual, possibility, because people don’t always walk into things.But, you know, it’s, I don’t think I do anything differently with sighted individuals.I just think that, to me, it’s a non-issue, and usually, to them, it’s a non-issue.I mean, once in a while, they might point out something or do something that is clearly visual, and I will remind them, I have no idea what you’re pointing at.They go, oh, sorry, you know, they’ll, it just reminds them of something, you know, like that.But, you know, I don’t think I do anything different with sighted talent or engineers or anything like that, but with blind people, yeah, sometimes I just try to think, what would I like to know if I were them, and I try to accommodate.And I guess what about if you’re working with musicians who are used to working in a really kind of specific way, you know, with communication through the glass from the engineer, and that can be quite a kind of visual form of communication.Right.Have you developed any ways of working there that might be useful for others?Yeah, so there’s no difference whatsoever for me.I have always been in a situation where the talent is in the other room.I’m in the control room.I always hear them from the microphone.They always hear me through the talkback in their headphones.And also I have speakers in the live room.So even if they’re not, if they don’t happen to be wearing headphones at the time, if I press the talkback button, it goes over the loudspeakers in the live room.So the communication in terms of that has never been different for me.I do have windows in the control room.I didn’t when I started, and to me it was a non-issue, but then I realized as I was working with other producers, I realized that the visual sort of connection between live room and control room was more important when, say, the producer wanted to make a motion, like keep going and turn their hands in a circle, something like that.So I put in windows years ago.It doesn’t make any difference for me, although probably for the talent sometimes, I’m sitting here at the mixing console, right?So the windows are in front of me where the live room is over there, and I know where people are set up.So if I gesture to someone to cue them because they weren’t sure about where to enter, they get the benefit of me doing them.What I don’t get the benefit of with the windows is like, let’s say we’re listening back to something and very, let’s say, I’m sure it’s the same with various DAWs.You have the capability of monitoring playback or live input.And with Pro Tools on any given track, you’re either monitoring the playback or input.You can’t do both at once from the session itself.So I have a specific setup so that I can monitor the live room no matter what’s going on.I have a microphone in there where I can hear.So if we’re listening back to a vocal take, I mean, sometimes the talent will go like, they’ll wave and they’ll shake their head.So it’s clear to a sighted engineer that, oh, no, they want to redo that.But I monitor the live room, and the talent just knows.They’ll go, no.I could hear them already say, I didn’t like that.So for me, I like the fact that they’re comfortable with the visual aspect of working just like they do in any other studio.To me, again, the playback and stuff like that is setting it up so that I can monitor in real time what their reactions are.That’s a little accommodation for me.And the other thing that I’ve done is I use a plug-in called Mute-O-Matic from Sound Radix, which is just a way of automatically having my talkback be heard to the talent in their headphones.I don’t even have to press talkback.So if the transport is stopped, they hear me.I don’t have to worry about reaching over and where’s the talkback button?Oh, there it is.I hit it or something.I don’t even have to do that.It’s just automatic.Once the transport starts, once it’s engaged and we’re playing, it mutes automatically.So they don’t hear the control room anymore.As soon as I stop, they can hear me.And I could still hear them, of course, because of the microphones.That’s cool.I’ve not heard of that plugin.Yeah, it’s a free plugin from Sound Radix, S-O-U-N-D-R-A-D-I-X, soundradix.com.Cool.So just one more question on this topic of running sessions.How do you approach keeping notes during a session?I guess I’m used to working with producers and they’re scribbling away on a piece of paper or marking up a score, that kind of thing.Any tips for keeping hold of all the good information?What was a good part in a take and that kind of thing?Yeah, what I tend to do is I have in Dropbox, I have a folder with all of my current clients and I keep a record of every session.And if something does come up, I hit command tab and I just type my notes that way.But I don’t do that so often.Usually, when I’m working with another producer, that’s their job.They take their notes.I might jot down things like, Oh, I think this take three, like playlist three in this particular song, somebody might have bumped the mic, I got to check that or something like that.I might write a note like that for myself.But when I do more complicated, more complex sessions, I mean, like, for example, the orchestral sessions that we do, I record the whole thing.I mean, because we’ll have typically three hour long blocks of sessions, so we might do two or three three hour sessions in a day at the studio.And we might do that two or three days in a row.I will literally have like an R09, you know, what do you call it?Not Roland, what’s the…Forgot the company name.Ederal, Ederal, owned by Roland.Ederal R09.And I would just record the whole thing in real time, so that if I ever have to refer to something, I know I have it there.And I’ll say out loud, you know, I’ll keep the thing right there on the desk next to me, and I’ll say out loud, oh, I got to check this take or whatever, you know, for this particular mic or this particular section.And I just…It’s like…Yes, it is more to go through in terms of audio, but I only refer to it if I need to, but it’s like a real safety net for me, because I know that no matter what, if I think to myself, wait, did the conductor like this take or the other one?Undoubtedly, it’s in the recording.That’s a really good tip as well.I’ve definitely been there where I’ve done a few takes and I was like, actually, what was the reason that we were doing this take again?Right, and I do…And just quickly, I do also like in the session markers, there are comments, in Pro Tools that is, there is a comments field.On each track, there is a comments field.I’m trying to get Avid to maybe make it so that those comments are attached to the session playlist instead of just the track, because that would be fantastic if they did that.Let’s say on a particular track, you do a take 3, a take 4, you could literally in the comments of that particular take, make your notes right there.There is a way to do it also with the new feature of track markers, but I haven’t researched that enough to know whether that’s a viable solution.Anyway, sorry.Thank you very much for that.That’s our questions on the running sessions, being a producer kind of thing.I know, Sarah, you had a particular one about networking.Do you feel like that’s been answered or is there more to dig into there?Yeah, so I know you mentioned earlier about that at first you could attend events on your own, and then as you lost your site, you would bring someone with you.And you’ve answered that quite well, but I was just wondering though, like if you were sort of to attend a conference that did have, that was quite busy, and there was a lot of people, how would you sort of figure out which people you would want to connect with and communicate that with whoever you’ve brought to assist?Like how would you bring them around?I mean, if there are specific people that I know will be attending and I want to meet with them, I mean, like I said, at this point, for a number of years, I’ve always gone with a sighted assistant.Often it’s, I mean, sometimes it’s even my wife might attend with me or a colleague of mine, or like I said, I literally hire people to just, I’d say, hey, look, if you want to attend the show, I’ll fly you out there, give you a place to stay in a hotel, and you assist me, but you get to attend the show and see whatever you want to see as well.I mean, I would have arrangements like that with people sometimes.And I would, if there was a specific person that I wanted to see, I would say to them, because they might not know, for example, who Frank Filippetti is or something like that, and he’d be on a panel, and I’d say, you know what, I gotta go over to Frank because I gotta ask him to introduce me to Leslie Jones, for example, another engineer, because I want to contact with her, I want to be in contact with her over, you know, Skywalker Sound or something like that.I would basically lean over to them and say, the guy who’s talking now, we gotta approach him after this, you know, and then when the panel is over, well, Frank knows me, so he recognizes me, but the point is getting to him.That’s the problem.So, you know, they get me to him, and then, you know, hey, Frank, could you introduce me to so-and-so?That would be a likely scenario.The other thing that I found that when this happens at trade shows, when I would go with sighted people, I’d go to, let’s say, to a booth where I didn’t know the person, and I would ask them a question.What they would inevitably do is they would start answering me and then turn to the sighted person, and then really focus on them.And they’re not the person who is seeking this information or trying to communicate something.So we came to agreement that they would bring me to that person, and then they would walk away.Like my sighted colleague would introduce us, oh yeah, Slau has a question for you, blah, blah, blah.And then they would walk away to make sure that there was no sort of like this sort of misfocusing of their attention.And then as we were done, I’d turn around and walk away.And then that person would say, he’s done and they’d come back over to me.Okay, that’s really like helpful to know because obviously I know a lot of people don’t like doing that because they don’t want to be overshadowed or people to focus on the other person.I think that seems to happen a lot in just different situations in general, really.So I guess like my final question around the whole networking thing is you might know who you’d want to talk to if they’re on a panel and stuff, but what would you do if it’s just because other people have attended the show, so making sure that you’re able to sort of interact with just everyone else that’s attended like you.I’m not sure if I understand the question, sorry.So obviously there’s a lot of people in attendance, so just attending with communicating and networking with other attendees, not necessarily anyone that’s on the panel.So you don’t really know who else is there.So making those kind of connections with and building, just building a network with everyone else around.I would say that at an event like a conference, like the AES or something along those lines where you might have a panel discussions or something like that, occasionally there might be somebody that maybe has a question in the audience or somebody that I don’t know.And again, if I’m with, I would be with a sighted guide, no question.I might say, you know what, that person says he’s from Sony Masterworks.I’d like to try to reach out to him because I have a particular issue or something, you know, whatever along those lines.I mean, that always really relies on sighted assistants at a conference.I mean, I don’t attend conferences to network with people that I don’t know.I often attend conferences to network with people that I do know.You know, so we would have a group of people, let’s say that go to AES in San Francisco or something that are all very sort of, let’s say, microphone-based.I’ll call it microphone-based because, I mean, I know so many people in the microphone sort of manufacturing world.And so we would sometimes, you know, like spend crazy amounts of time just going to parties and stuff like that.It was just a certain group of people that I fell into being friends with and they would send me microphones to try out and get my opinion on certain things or I’d write reviews.So they would send me, you know, I would say copies of the microphones, not copies, you know, sample, you know, they would send me product to sort of get my opinion on something and see what I thought.So, yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily go myself to seek out just simply meeting people like that.It’s just not, didn’t fall into my sort of world.I realized that sighted people, of course, might walk by and see somebody with a T-shirt that says something and they, oh, you know, and they strike up a conversation.It just doesn’t happen for me.OK, thank you.That’s really interesting because I know, you know, these things, a lot of people like wonder.And actually, it’s quite refreshing to sort of hear like, well, I don’t really go to these events to meet new people because I think, because there’s so many people around, when people turn up, it’s probably one of the first things that, you know, that comes into the head.And really, you don’t really have to do it that way.Until you said that just then, I actually didn’t think of it like that.So that’s, yeah, thank you.That’s really great to hear.I think as well, once you, once you kind of find your crowd a little bit and you do meet some people who you do want to talk to, they know people, right?And often they’re more than happy to introduce you to other people.Yes, yes, that certainly does happen.Yeah, because you might go to a party or something like that and then so and so say, oh, have you met so and so?And you know, and that’s just, you don’t expect that kind of stuff, but that stuff does happen.Yeah, but I don’t, yeah, I’ve just never, I just know that that’s a potential, but I never sort of like sought that out.Yeah.Yeah, so another question that’s related that has come up a few times being asked by attendees.How do you find clients that you want to work with?How do you approach them in an accessible way?I, well, you know, back, the place I mentioned in Brooklyn, Systems 2, where I recorded like for the first time with a band, I always modeled, I really looked up to the owners, Joe and Nancy Marciano.I thought they had a fantastic studio, had a fantastic business, recorded amazing artists.And I was kind of like, wanted to like model myself after, you know, their kind of world.And one thing that I found early on was they never advertised.And I thought, wow, really?You don’t advertise?And they said, you know, like, we put in an ad into the Village Voice like initially, and then after that, nothing.They never had a website.They just never got into promoting themselves that way.Meanwhile, musicians and engineers knew them and knew their studio, and they were highly regarded in the industry.They sold their building a few years ago, and they finally retired and stuff like that, so they’re no longer in Brooklyn.But I sort of took a cue from that, and I never looked for clients.I just never looked for clients.And I don’t regret that, because most of the time, sort of my goal whenever I was recording somebody, my goal was to have them be thrilled when they left with their recording, at the end of the day or at the end of their project.That was just my goal, because I took pride in my work, and I still do to this day, and that’s my ultimate goal.And then if you treat it that way, chances are they’re going to be returning customers, and chances are they will play it for someone who is either like-minded or a colleague in a different band or a different artist, whatever.And if you’re good at what you do, that business will come to you.So I’ve never looked for a client, never.Interesting, interesting.So just two quick questions to wrap us up, and I’m going to roll a few into one, which is going to be, if I’m in the position where I’m just starting out, are there any particular resources that I should be looking at that I would find helpful to get involved with mixing and mastering and producing?Anything that springs to mind as someone who’s just starting out as a blind or partially sighted engineer?Yeah, you know, I can’t think of anything.I mean, I thought about this a little bit because I saw that question, you know, really…I think you might be doing yourself a bit of a disservice there.I was thinking you might plug the Pro Tools tutorials.Well, you know, that’s so specific though.I mean, because, yeah, I mean, if you’re planning to use Pro Tools, yeah, there is a tutorial that Berkeley College funded through a grant.And yeah, I did produce a series of tutorials on how to use Pro Tools.It’s like 20 hours of material.But that’s so specific.That’s just Pro Tools.I mean, you know, I’m thinking in sort of like larger terms, you know?And, you know, I suppose, you know, there’s no shortage of sources or, you know, learning techniques.I mean, you could practically Google something and get answers right away to almost anything you want to know.So nothing comes to mind.I mean, you know, there are, like I said, those WhatsApp groups that I mentioned earlier.I mean, in general, things like Pro Tools Expert, for example, they do excellent tutorials on stuff.And given the fact that pretty much what they talk about, even if you don’t see it, they tell you what they’re doing, it’s going to be pretty much the same for a blind user.Once in a while, you get these videos where they say, well, you click on this thing here.And like, oh, gosh, what are you talking about?But you can sort of deduce what’s being said.But in terms of somebody who’s starting out, this is what I would say, if that person is blind or visually impaired.To me, I’ve always said this.I would say that if you’re blind or visually impaired, I would not plan on trying to work in a recording studio, in a commercial recording studio.First of all, the numbers, they’ve been decimated over the years.There are so few commercial studios left that the competition to try and get in there just to clean the toilets is ridiculous.You’re going to face challenges as a visually impaired or blind person that the other people just will not face.Like, go get us Chinese food, and it’s a mile away.You’re just not going to be able to compete with sighted people in that environment.To me, I always say, if you’re thinking of getting into that kind of business, you have to consider yourself a freelancer.You know, think of yourself, consider yourself a business by all means.It is your business.But you have to be self-sufficient, and you have to be able to deliver a product to become an expert maybe in a particular either genre or style of music or type of recording.Like maybe you’ll only work on vocal recordings, or maybe you’ll only, you know, produce drum recordings or something like that.Maybe you might have a piano or something like that.If it’s a good piano, by all means, you could do demo recordings for people.But I always say, don’t plan, don’t have unrealistic goals.And to me, it’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to walk into Blackbird Studios or Avatar and say, I want a job.I just, it’s not what I think is a good idea.Having said that, I think we’re all in the business to try and change that.And, you know, where there are suitable solutions is, you know, try and promote those as much as possible.And access those, I guess, also at the same time, don’t assume that you can’t do something because it’s quite likely that there will be people that have found alternate pathways.Yes.The kind of the mainstream expectation to be an engineer that is the first person in the studio every day, the last person to leave.And at lunchtime, you’re grabbing lunch for everyone.That can be difficult.But you, that’s not stopping you from working with artists in your local area, building up really good relationships with artists and building up your kind of testimonials that way and finding your own trail to follow, really.Sure.And let me just say, and that reminds me, that one thing is that I’ve been in situations where I’ve worked in different studios in the capacity as the chief engineer of that particular session.Even though I do not normally work in those particular studios, let’s say, I don’t need to know the console.If it is a commercial studio, they have an assistant engineer.That engineer comes with the studio, and that assistant engineer has to be capable of running the full session by themselves, okay?So anything that I need, all I have to do is say, could you patch the Pultec into this particular vocal channel?They take care of it, and I tell them what settings to use.They can set it up, and they know how to set it up, even without me telling them.But the point is, I run the session, I conduct it, I drive Pro Tools during those sessions.It just so happens that I’ll have the keyboard in front of me, the QWERTY keyboard that is, and I’ll just run Pro Tools, and we’re fine, and we get the stuff done, and then I take it back to my studio here to do whatever, editing, overdubs, mixing.These are sessions that are more like cast albums where we might have nine or ten people, and nine or ten people in my live room, it’s possible, but it’s not ideal, whereas these studios are three times the size of my live room, so it’s much easier.So it is possible as a blind person to get to the point where you know what the process is, how to run a session, what the technical considerations are, which microphones you want to use if you had anything at your disposal.And you can work, quote unquote, in a commercial studio environment and be successful at it, but you probably as a blind person wouldn’t have an easy time at all trying to get on to their staff.That’s what I kind of mean to say.No, really good to have that clarification.It’s really great to have you also saying that all of those things can be done, and the examples of the work that you do at your studio, all those different roles really across the board, the producing, the recording, the editing, presumably some mastering as well, getting involved with all those things is great.So I’m just going to round off from our questions there.I can see we’ve got one hand raised.Sydney, would you mind unmuting Marshall so we can ask his question, please?Yes.Hi, Slau, can you hear me okay?Yeah, I mean, throughout the whole day today, my audio has been just crazy.We couldn’t figure out why everything is so quiet.I can hear you, but go ahead, yes.Maybe I’ve not got enough gain on the pre.No, no, no, it’s just across the board.Everybody, to me, in my headphones, no matter that my settings are maxed out, everything is kind of quiet.But I can hear you, don’t worry, go on.All right, so just a 30-second background about myself.I’m Marshall Fairbrother.I work at the old library studios in Mansfield occasionally, and I’m based at home most of the time.Okay, now I’m losing you.But yeah, speak closer to the mic if you can.Yeah, I’m right on top of this 58.In terms of running a session where, for example, you might have two microphones on a guitar cab, and one is on-axis, one is off-axis.Is that something that is in any way possible to set up as a blind person, or is that something you would almost certainly have to all the time turn to your assistant to?And that’s from Marshall Fairbrother, who works at the old library studios in Mansfield, England, with Inspire Youth Arts.Okay, so first of all, let me just say, because some people find my answer just kind of a little bit unusual.I would never put two mics on a cab.To me, I know that some people do, but especially one on-axis and one off-axis, to me, I’m much more of a, I will put the mic where I get the best sound, and I’m going to keep it there, and that’s it.I’m not one of these people that really get into the kind of science experiments where you have an SM57 and an R121, and you’re trying to blend them and get the perfect sound.To me, I personally am not one of those people that gets into this kind of real experimentation.There is a place for that, yes.There were times when I did try to experiment, but I really got to the point where, to me, the best mic is the closest one that’s plugged in, and I don’t get into the minutia of trying too many experiments.So the idea of one mic on axis and one mic off, to me, it almost wouldn’t matter.I don’t see any challenge as a blind person to setting those up.They will either be complementary in terms of phase relationship or they won’t be.And as an engineer, you should be able to instantly hear a phase issue.Like you have to kind of learn how to be allergic to an out of phase microphone.I just instantly hear it.And so if it is out of phase, adjust it on the fly, if you are set on recording both sources.But the other thing is that these days, gosh, auto-align post.You run one of those mics through auto-align post by, again, Sound Radix.And you could fix a phase issue instantly, in no time at all, with no effort.Yeah, I have that thing.It’s amazing.Yeah.Yeah.Yeah.So we do have one more hand up, which I think we’ve just about got time, if you’re okay, Slavs.We’ve got a hand up from Jijesh.I hope I’ve pronounced your name there correctly.Sidney, would you mind unmuting them, please?Yes.Hello.Barely hear you.Barely.Pro Tools, you have that Berkeley tutorial there, and I was also told some Dropbox tutorial is also available.So where we can get everything.So Jijesh is asking for the best way to find those resources, and I think I’m going to kind of relay this to Sound Without Sight, not as a plug, but just as that is the genuine ambition behind Sound Without Sight to be the place that connects these things together.So if there is a specific piece of software that you would like support for, you would like to find resources or a community of people, you should be able to search in the search bar on Sound Without Sight for that piece of software and find resources that should help you on your way.Right.And just specifically on your Pro Tools tutorials that you helped to create, Slau, I think the quickest way to access them would be at ptaxcess.github.io.Have I got that correct?Yes, that is the official.Yes.Awesome.Just before we end, I just want to ask one more really quick one.Yeah, yeah, sure.Where can people find your kind of social media, your work and stuff, and, you know, kind of follow and all your kind of connection, social connection?Yeah, you know, I used to be on Twitter.But that is no more as far as I’m concerned.So I don’t, I’m not on there anymore.I do still, I believe I still do have the Sessions with Slau website, but that was really for the podcast, which I have not hept up.I mean, you know, I am of course on the Pro Tools WhatsApp group and the email list and stuff if people, you know, need to reach out to me.And you know, my email is Slau at Bsharp Studios and that’s besharpstudios.com.That’s the best way to reach me.I’ll quickly paste that in the chat for anyone who wants it.Well, thank you very, very much for your time.That was really, really insightful.Yeah, and we got most of the questions answered, which is great.Thank you for staying a little bit longer than we planned.Yeah, really, really appreciate that.My pleasure.Thank you so much.Thank you for listening to this episode of the Sound Without Sight podcast.Sound Without Sight is a community driven online knowledge hub, collating information and resources to support blind and partially sighted musicians and audio engineers to break down access barriers.If you’re a visually impaired musician or audio engineer, why not share some solutions you’ve found on our knowledge hub?You can learn more and get involved at soundwithoutsRead More »Slau Halatyn interview: replay or read the summary now

  • Hi everyone,

    I wonder if anyone might have any useful suggestions for me. I sing in a (pre-dominantly) barbershop chorus and we have someone currently auditioning to join us who is blind. The thing is, we are heavily reliant on our MD waving his arms around to direct us and give us cues as we sing. Now, this person seems pretty good at following…[Read more]

  • 'An Introduction to Inclusive Design of Audio Products': summary and recording from the Audio Developer Conference workshop Introduction The last couple of years have seen a huge increase in the attention to the discourse surrounding inclusivity and accessibility in design of audio and music software. With recent efforts by companies such as JUCE, Muse Group and Ableton to make their software accessible, precedents are being set and the concepts of inclusivity and accessibility are reaching the mainstream. I’m sure I speak for all of us users of assistive technology when I say that this is really an exciting time to be in this field. Seeing a workshop titled “An Introduction to Inclusive Design of Audio Products” announced in the lineup for ADC23 in London was a really pleasant surprise. The Audio Developer Conference is “an annual event celebrating all audio development technologies, from music applications and game audio to audio processing and embedded systems”. Curated and chaired by Jay Pocknell (Sound Without Sight / RNIB), workshop panelists included representatives from names as prominent as Native Instruments, Softube and Focusrite, as well as the companies mentioned above, so this workshop truly represents a big step in the right direction for inclusivity in audio software development. I have picked out my highlights below, and you can catch up with the full workshop by following the link at the end of the article, video chapters included. The workshop ADC describe the workshop as follows: “As the audio industry seeks to improve diversity within its workforce, and the music industry seeks to widen the diversity of artists creating music, it is essential that inclusion is woven into the design of the tools available to creatives. But what do terms such as accessibility and inclusive design actually mean? How might you begin to adopt inclusive design practices so that your software becomes accessible to a wider audience? What are some of the big-name audio companies doing to support accessibility and how can you learn from their experience? How can companies take practical steps, together, to act on a shared desire for a more inclusive industry? This session sought to answer these questions.” Introductions and updates The workshop kicked off with some introductions by the panelists, as well as some updates about their recent and planned work in the field of accessibility. Harry Morley and Dan Clarke from Focusrite took the stage to introduce their recent updates to their Focusrite Control software, in both versions 1 and 2, which is now fully accessible and even reacts to touch on the hardware by reading the state of the controls. They also announced updates to Launchpad, their iOS beatmaking app, as well as a JUCE rewrite for their plug-in suite, which makes them fully accessible with screenreaders. Focusrite products have been a standard in audio production for many years, and their hardware is in constant use in studios across the world. Therefore, every advance Focusrite makes in accessibility is a huge step forward in inclusivity of visually-impaired musicians and producers, who are now beginning to be able to use practically the same setups as their peers with a comparable amount of feedback. Tom Poole from JUCE was up next, restating JUCE’s commitment to accessibility and reminding developers that the standard GUI controls in JUCE are now fully accessible out of the box. He also revealed that the next version of JUCE will allow developers to build interfaces using web views, which offer a whole new set of well-understood accessibility features and standards. Given the ubiquity of JUCE’s plug-in framework, their efforts have already borne fruit, and I have no doubt that they will continue to in the future. However, JUCE will have to keep on encouraging developers to do specific accessibility work for web views, as their accessibility still depends on adherence to standards, which is most definitely not always a given for web applications. Adil Ghanty from Native Instruments gave us a brief overview and history of the development of NKS and how it relates to accessibility, hinting at new features to be released for the newest S-series Mk3 lineup of keyboards. The iZotope plug-ins have also received significant accessibility-related updates, including the new Neoverb. Adil highlighted NI’s in-house approach to accessibility and their commitment to it, and reiterated the company’s plans to take inclusivity into consideration from the inception of their future products. NI has done a fantastic job with Komplete Kontrol and NKS so far, and I truly hope that this quality of work continues into future developments, as a great majority of their software is still not usable by blind users to the same standard as sighted ones. Next came Martin Keary of Muse Group, who showed a video clip about the development of the accessibility features of MuseScore 4. There was also a brief demonstration of Live Braille, a brand new feature which allows blind users to read their scores on a Braille display as they edit them, as well as input Braille music with the computer keyboard. MuseScore has come incredibly far in a very short time and, to me, Live Braille is truly a game changer. As a classical music student myself, having a fully-accessible mainstream engraving software is an invaluable resource. Never before have we had access to a program that would allow us to so seamlessly exchange music with sighted teachers and other peers, without endless import/export dancing. Arvid Johnsson from Softube updated us on the accessibility of the Console 1 lineup of channel strip controllers. Both the Mk2 and Mk3 models have full screenreader integration, and Arvid is putting a lot of emphasis on allowing users to customise the verbosity of readouts, which I very much appreciate. Personalisation options add a whole new level of possibilities that is missing from a surprising amount of accessible software these days, and I’m hoping that this sets a precedent for other developers. Athan Billias from the MIDI Association introduced their Music Accessibility Standard Special Interest Group, whose main goal is to improve hardware and software accessibility for people with disabilities. MIDI 2.0’s profile negotiation capabilities will allow compatible devices to adapt to the specific individual needs of disabled users. It’s practically unnecessary to explain why it’s so vital for the MIDI Association to take part in the discussion, and I very much look forward to experimenting with MIDI 2.0 soon. Adi Dickens from Ableton talked about Note, their new musical idea sketching app for iOS, which now offers a fully-fledged VoiceOver user experience and is being actively developed. They also announced the public beta of the now released Live 12, their flagship DAW, which now offers comprehensive keyboard navigation options as well as screenreader accessibility. Ableton’s work with Live has been phenomenal so far, and I am aware that the team are still actively improving the software day by day. Rated as #1 best DAW for electronic music in 2024 by musicRadar, Live has amassed a tremendous user and developer base, and their work on accessibility means that a great deal of new content is becoming available to visually impaired musicians all over. Finally, Scott Chesworth, producer and independent accessibility consultant, talked about the history of accessible music-making and the challenges we face as blind musicians. Scott runs and helps administer many community-sourced initiatives and resources for accessibility in music technology, including OSARA, the screenreader accessibility and keyboard navigation layer for Reaper. He is now planning to spend more time working with developers on the acquisition and first-run process for users. Accessibility highlights Following on from the introductions, we watched a few short clips from other companies working in the field of accessibility in audio software and hardware. Jim Rand from Synervoz, a software development company focused on projects with complex audio requirements, including accessibility devices that translate between senses. Pierre from Arturia, a renowned plug-in development company who are slowly making their whole ecosystem accessible. Andre Louis, a blind musician, consultant and content creator, who runs the Inspired by Sound channel. His video illustrated the usefulness and speed of keyboard shortcuts, vital to visually-impaired musicians. Tim Yates from Drake Music, a national charity in England and Wales working at the intersection of music, tech and disability. Tim talked about his work with musicians and companies building accessible instruments, and gave a few very useful guidelines for anyone wishing to get into the field. Barry from Open Up Music, makers of the Clarion, a musical instrument which can be controlled in whichever way works best for the user. Audio Modeling, a plug-in developer leveraging JUCE’s accessible GUI framework to make their SWAM lineup completely accessible. Robin Spinks from RNIB with an encouragement message about inclusive design in the audio industry. Jay Pocknell and Zenny Jabeera from Sound Without Sight spoke about the project’s community-driven knowledge hub, and the importance of a resource to document accessibility solutions. An overview of accessible GUI design in JUCE Harry Morley from Focusrite took the stage again to give a brief but comprehensive demonstration of some of the features of JUCE’s accessibility APIs. Using the example of a channel strip controller app, he went through several iterations of the code and gave a few specific tips for developers wanting to use the APIs to improve their own software. Earlier in the workshop, Scott Chesworth expressed his opinion that JUCE’s work on accessibility is “the big leap forward in the last few years” in the accessible audio industry. As a user of many of these tools myself, I wholeheartedly share this view. For a long time, we screenreader users have been limited to accessing plug-ins through flat lists of their automatable parameters. This method has always been unreliable and inefficient for several reasons, including the lack of hierarchy or grouping of parameters and the general unpredictability of what is mapped to these controls. By being able to use the same interface that sighted users have access to, these issues are largely mitigated. JUCE is quite ubiquitous as a development framework, so this is already a massive step forward in making lots of music software accessible. I’m hopeful that their work helps drive other plug-in framework developers to implement similar features in the future. Panel discussion The panelists proceeded into a discussion of the topics discussed so far. Here are a few of the highlights: Arvid Johnsson reiterated the importance of allowing user customisability of verbosity parameters, such as whether the name of a control or the value should be announced first. Responding to Jay Pocknell’s question of what developers could do to collaborate in creating design guidelines for accessibility, Athan Billias once again encouraged people to participate in the MIDI Association’s special interest group to document what has already been done and work together to create standards. Adi Dickens replied to this, stating that they were unsure if it was the right time to come up with a standard. They believed that there isn’t an exact consensus of the definitions of many concepts in accessibility just yet, and that a specific taxonomy of terms has to be established before a standard can be conceived. Scott Chesworth proposed the creation of a development blog as a central resource for music software accessibility information. Adil Ghanty encouraged product managers to actively listen to accessibility-related discussion forums and mailing lists about their products to gain insight into how users interact with them, as well as to hire accessibility consultants and experts as an investment. Adi talked about the importance of individuals effectively passing on the information they learn onto the rest of their team and the business as a whole, so as not to have matters of accessibility depend on a single developer. Final thoughts As I stated in the introduction, I really am ecstatic to be a part of the movement for accessibility in audio software and hardware at this time. Big names in the industry are taking massive leaps forward, and loads of possibilities are opening up for more and more people. I hope that workshops like this one serve to inspire developers big and small to follow in the footsteps of the panelists, and to think about the importance of inclusivity and accessibility. This workshop wasn’t just a tour of what’s already been done so far for the benefit of assistive technology users. It was a platform for developers who have already had some exposure to accessibility to share their achievements with others, to find ways to work together in paving the way for other companies to make their products more inclusive. Like Adil and Athan, I’m a big fan of the idea of user research and focus groups. Accessibility is all about adapting to the individual needs of users, and listening to customers or potential customers is essentially the only way to find out what those are. Bidirectional communication is important, though, and I hope that developers remain aware of the significance of talking to their users apart from listening to them. I’ll definitely be joining the MIDI Association’s Music Accessibility Standards Special Interest Group, and I encourage you to as well! It will be interesting to see how companies like those in the workshop, who have already begun to implement accessibility into their products, continue to move forward in this field. Although Native Instruments was one of the first to make a significant advancement in accessibility with their Komplete Kontrol software and hardware, it perhaps feels as if their progress has been comparatively slower from that point on. While I understand that large companies deal with equally large and complex codebases, several issues that have been present since the inception of the Komplete Kontrol accessibility layer remain unaddressed to this day. Similarly, I’m looking forward to a time when all of NI’s product lines can be considered accessible to visually impaired musicians. The recently launched accessibility landing page on NI’s website is a great sign for the future, and I hope that the swift pace at which other developers are advancing will motivate NI to continue developing their so far excellent and commendable work. I’d like to give a personal shoutout to Martin Keary and his team at Muse Group for their work on MuseScore. I grew up studying classical music at my hometown’s conservatory, and notation was always a problem. I started out with a Perkins brailler, handing out my work to a specialist for transcription, which would usually take at least a couple of days. I then switched to a programme specifically written for braille music which would (when it was in a good mood) export to a format that certain mainstream engraving software could import. During my bachelor’s degree, I fought with a somewhat new piece of software which would finally try to show both print and live Braille at the same time. This came with numerous drawbacks, including its insistence on forcing users to utilise a certain commercial screenreader, a general aptitude for crashing every few minutes and losing unsaved work, and a very hefty price tag. Knowing that a future generation will be able to grow up on a free mainstream notation software such as MuseScore, with a rich set of features and a massive user base, makes me very thankful to people like Martin. Being on equal footing with sighted peers is something I’ve always valued, and notation software is a whole different animal from a DAW. It really is heartening and encouraging to see accessibility truly becoming a larger part of events such as ADC, and I sincerely hope that this conversation will continue to develop across the industry! Watch the full recording Go to YouTube Get involved with the next ADC Mentorship program Applications are now open for the 2024 ADC Mentorship Program: https://audio.dev/mentorship/The ADC Mentorship Program is centered around the Audio Developer Conference (ADC) to help encourage interaction between experienced members of the audio software community, and those who are just coming into it.ADC Mentorship Program goals include fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment, encouraging communication in the audio developer community, and promoting diversity among members. Mentors have the opportunity to give back to the community that they’ve been involved in for years and make valuable contributions to people’s development within it. Mentees will be able to get guidance and advice for navigating a career in the audio industry. However, you’ll need to be quick – applications close on June 1st! Submit an idea for a talk or workshop Audio Developer Conference 2024 Talk Submissions Portal is Now Open! https://submit.audio.devWe invite anyone from the audio developer community – from students to industry experts – to contribute to the Audio Developer Conference by submitting a talk proposal. About the author Guillem León is a Spanish classical pianist currently studying for a MA at the Royal Academy of Music, London. His performance career has taken him to venues such as the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington, IN and St James’ Piccadilly in London. He often participates in collaborative music projects, and is currently preparing a multidisciplinary concert series combining Spanish music and literature. In his own time he composes and produces music for independent videogame developers and content creators, using accessible software such as Reaper and Komplete Kontrol. Being blind himself, Guillem has been invoRead More »‘An Introduction to Inclusive Design of Audio Products’: summary and recording from the Audio Developer Conference workshop

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