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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. 

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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 soundwithoutsight.org.

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