Is Hardware the Only Option? A Look at Music Production Accesible to the Blind

A few days ago I was talking to a fellow blind audio buff, and we got into the discussion of what was accessible, with what screen readers are available, and sadly…there wasn’t much. When I look at blind and visually impaired users of a free screen reader called NVDA, as opposed to the access given to people with JAWS – a screen reader that costs 1000 dollars, the accessibility barriers are very jarring, and it’s very disheartening. When blind PC users upgrade to a new computer, they tend to go to NVDA because it has all of the accessibility JAWS does for no fees. But, along with NVDA being freeware (donateware if you want to donate to the developers) your options are very slim.

 

The two major options for serious music composition on the PC with a screen reader are Reaper and Sonar. The version of Sonar you have to use with any sort of accessible software, is 8.5 – which is about 3 or 4 versions behind the up to date version of Sonar. Same with Reaper, though I think Reaper only has 1 or 2 versions before it. On NVDA, Sonar has a plug in you…supposedly can use to use features? But I have never gotten it to work no matter how hard I try. Reaper has a bit of a better option with Rea Access, but I have never been able to get the hang of using it either with mixing, or with music production so it just…sits there on my computer. The option I use, is audacity – and although it works well, it is very limited in its features. For example, there’s no FX rack, so you have to just keep on undoing and redoing effects. You save a project, and you’re stuck with those settings, unless you save multiple versions of the project in different phases – which is what I do, but it gets rather cumbersome rather quickly. So basically, for me, neither Sonar or Reaper work with NVDA.
The other option, is to use Sonar with JAWS – which, is pricy, as I said earlier. There are two sets of scripts you can use – the Jsonar scripts that are free, and the Cake Talking scripts, which are around 200 dollars. With either set of scripts, you can use all of Sonars features easily. JAWS also has accessible scripts for a lot of different VST orchestra libraries, plug ins, and all in all has better accessibility overall for audio software. You can also use Rea Access with JAWS. But, why do we have to pay so much money to just be able to use software that our sighted peers do? Not even, because these DAWs are highly outdated by now, but they are the only PC options – if you had a Mac, I hear you can use Garage Band affectively, and of course the Pro Tools accessibility, but I am not sure how easy those are to use right out of the box so will not comment on those.

 

The conclusion me and my acquaintance came to is, that hardware is one of the better options for a blind musician. Like, a Yamaha or Korg keyboard with built in sounds, or a mixing board or something like that. Unless anyone else has some good options – but so far, in all of my research, I haven’t found any other option that isn’t JAWS based (which I cannot afford JAWS at this time) or, Mac based. But considering you would have to buy Pro Tools, which is also a pretty penny, that’s not a super viable option for someone short on cash either.

 

I know there are probably ways to work around these things, but I haven’t been able to find them and it’s frustrating. And, honestly, I don’t think I should really have to fight so hard to do something I love to do? Like the whole reason I started doing acappella covers is because I just have no means to produce backtracks for my music because of all of these accessibility issues. Don’t get me wrong: It’s fun, and I’m glad I started doing it because now I have a new skillset I can use for things but like, it’s just really annoying that this was a necessity for me in order to make my own music, all because programs I already have on my computer are unusable with my screen reader. Having to install, see if something works, if it doesn’t uninstall the program, is all so tedious and it all just disrupts the creative flow. If anyone has any answers, I’ll take them. But it’s just so sad to me that with all of the technology out there now, accessibility seems to be further and further from developers minds, unless they are strong armed into developing accessibility by some other means. As of now: I’m looking into saving up for a keyboard for music production, because I have tried everything else and nothing has worked for me. If anyone has any advice, or help with these issues, please let me know.

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Gotta Do You

I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve always had a chronic struggle with wanting to post songs I love to sing, and posting songs that I think people want to hear. Well, recently, after the DIY Musicians Conference, I just decided to start posting songs I like to sing, love to arrange, and want to share. And, turns out, that makes me a lot happier, and I get more views that way as well! Which I wasn’t expecting: Though, I’m not sure if I am really getting more views, or if I am just happier with my content now because they are all songs I love, and this is the content I’ve been wanting to produce.
It got me thinking, though: So many people struggle with this, just in life in general. People are afraid to do a certain thing because of what others will think, or they don’t take a certain step in their career out of fear. But, I realized, None of that matters. At the end of the day, gotta do you, do what you know you’re going to be happy with, produce things that you know you can look back on and say “Yes, I am proud of this” even if it does have minor imperfections, or things you’d like to fix down the road. I think that in the creative field especially, when you release something that you had fun doing, or are passionate about, it attracts more people to your work and really shows through. Right now, I’m working on video game covers, singing Celtic songs, posting originals, and I couldn’t be happier. I know 2015 isn’t over yet, but I think right now my singing career is on the brink of evolving into…something, not quite sure what it is yet XD but I’m just really getting this great creative flow and really good vibes from everything I’ve been doing lately, and it feels great. I want to keep this momentum up all the way through next year, and onward!

Holidays are Here Weeee~

My family is huge into the holidays – like, we start planning for them in September, wait for Halloween to be over, then squeeee it’s November, time to prepare! So currently my Mom has been crafting together decorations out of things around the house, and I have been preparing to cover some holiday music! I am having such a hard time deciding what to do, though – I think I want to do one modern Carol, and one traditional one. I’m really tempted to try and do an acappella version of Carol of the Bells, that’s on the top of my list. I still remember vividly the arrangement we did when I was in middle school choir so sorta want to try and emulate it for nostalgia’s sake, but also am keeping my options open for other things. If you have any ideas, let me know – because I’m just in the planning phases right now as far as covers go.

 

Another thing I really want to do this year is make some beaded decorations for around the house. My Mom really got me into the crafting mood, and I know you can make wire work snowflakes and trees, and snowmen, so I am going to get some thinner gage wire next month and see what I can whip up. Excited to start some sort of jewelry design again, even if it’s for an ornament instead of a pendant!

 

What about you? Do you start your holiday planning early? Or just straight up start the holidays now like me, drop a comment and let me know!

Hymn of the Faith Acappella cover

Yesterday I was working in call with the Mana Aeliria game developers on tweeking the theme song, so I didn’t have time to do a blog post. I figured I’d just wait until today, since today is my YouTube video posting day (I post a song every two weeks now) and link it here for my Thursday post. So here is my cover of Hymn of the Faith, from the video game Final Fantasy X, arranged and mixed by me. Enjoy, and have a happy Friday!

Singing Lesson YouTube Videos

Singing, like many things, is something that you continuously learn new things about no matter how experienced you are. YouTube is a great place to find some awesome singing tips and tricks, but sometimes it’s hard to find videos that aren’t just repeating the same thing over and over again. So, I wanted to share this video with you guys that helped me tons with my singing technique and confidence.

Singing confidence is something I struggle with – in fact, just last week, when I was trying to hit a certain note, I got nervous, thought I couldn’t hit it, then gave up. The next day on my Twitter feed, I saw one of Evynne’s video singing lessons linked, so I clicked on it and then ventured to her singing videos playlist. I found this one right here, and wow did it help! Her tips not only got me to hit the notes I wasn’t able to hit before (even though they were in my range and I was just psyching myself out) and also gave me some awesome tips as far as using your muscles go to help you sing. Give it a watch, and feel free to check out her playlist of other singing lesson videos – some other interesting stuff in there is how to sing like a Disney Princess.

I’ve never seen someone combine both classical and contemporary techniques to help people sing, and Evynne’s lessons are a breath of fresh air. Hope you enjoy these tips as much as I did!

The Myth of Exposure

Last week on my Facebook feed, I saw someone post an article about getting exposure as an artist in any medium was a good thing. Needless to say, the word “exposure” got other creatives commenting on the subject of getting exposure, aka, giving free content and doing free shows to get it, so you can then move onto using said exposure from free jobs, to then being recommended to people who will pay you for jobs. This has been weighing on my mind since, so I just wanted to go more into my opinion on the matter in more detail here.

My opinion? In short: Exposure is bull. Let me ask you something, have you ever gotten a paid job from someone after doing a free gig? Have you ever gotten someone telling you at the free gig that they would recommend you to someone, then never hear from them again? I have! At first, I made the mistake of doing freebie gigs for “exposure” and thinking it would get me better paying jobs, and more cred in the community. It did neither: The jobs that I did get from said gigs paid the same amount, or nothing, or I would be recommended to people who scoff at the fact of paying for a service rendered because hey it’s singing, I’m doing you the favor by letting you be here and perform! Forget the fact that I am a professional, and am doing this to make money – I mean, I can totally live off of 60 dollars for the month, just like you! -sarcasm-.

The popular opinion in that Facebook post was don’t settle for free jobs for the sake of exposure, and I whole-heartedly agree with them. Like, After a certain point (I believe I blogged about that point here as well) I just got so fed up. Like, it was like pulling teeth to get a decent paycheck, and the event managers acted like they were the ones doing me the favor! I am a firm believer in don’t take an unpaid job for exposure now: Take an unpaid job, only if you feel passionate about what you are doing the paid job for, or if you want to do a friend a favor or something. Basically, don’t feel like you have to do free gigs for exposure, because you don’t: You can just as easily get paid for exposure (and probably get better exposure by doing so because you will be performing for an audience who probably would be willing to pay just as much for your service – someone who is talking to someone and hears “Yeah, I was told you paid 60 for them” guess what? They will offer you that or less) don’t do free unless you’re ok with doing free. But don’t be pressured into doing a free job because of the myth of exposure.

What’s your opinion on free vs paid jobs/content creation? Have you had a good experience working for free and getting a job that pays well from doing a free job? Drop a comment and discuss!

My First Pro recording Studio Experience

So along with my DIY Musician Convention experience in Chicago, I got to use a recording studio for the first time! A friend of mine goes to an arts school, and said if I was ever in the area, I could use the recording studio. So of course I took her up on the offer because hey a free professional studio to use? I’m all over dat! So after the setup of the studio, we were ready to go!

First thing that I was like whoaaa this is so cool to was the fact that you had monitoring headphones on, and could hear the engineer from the other end. I know that’s probably a given for people who have used a studio before, and I was expecting it, but actually using the process to record was really interesting! There was 0 latency when listening to myself, and hearing my tracks – and although that took a while to get used to also, it didn’t take long to get in the swing of hearing my tracks and recording along to them.

I was using 2 mics to record at the same time, too – which was so cool! It’s definitely something I want to replicate in my home studio. I was planning to upgrade my preamp and get another mic anyways, but seeing how nice it was to not have to record a toooon of tracks to get said ton of tracks – record twice, and get four tracks worth of layers to play with – I could just see how streamlined my workflow could get with a 2 channel preamp and another mic. And dang, that mic quality! I got to sing on a 5000 dollar mic, routed into a 7500 dollar preamp, and hoo boy I wish I could afford both because I loved the resulting sound. I am so excited to hear the final mix of what I did there!

Using a pro studio for the first time was one of those eye-opening experiences. Like, one of those “Is this something I’d want to do for the rest of my life?” type of moments, and my answer was yes. I love to sing, and hearing myself on pro audio equipment was an experience I won’t soon forget. So happy I got the opportunity, and can’t wait to use a studio again!