When visually impaired producer Jason Dasent began his recording career over 25 years ago, the concept of “accessibility” was still in its infancy. But his determination to overcome the limitations of mainstream music software enabled him to compete successfully with his sighted counterparts. In addition to advancing his own career goals, Dasent draws from his unique experience to advance accessibility in the recording industry. He’s produced a number of online audio engineering courses geared toward educating visually impaired producers (which are also excellent resources for the sighted). But it’s his work of partnering with leading manufacturers to make music production accessible for the visually impaired that could prove to be his greatest legacy.
Accessibility Challenges in the Recording Industry
Jason began his recording career back in 1992, working in several of Trinidad’s top recording studios. In 2000, he took the leap to open his own studio in Trinidad, Studio Jay Recording Ltd., catering to both advertising clients and the music production needs for many of the Caribbean’s top recording artists. He’s also scored a number of films and documentaries, winning several prestigious awards for his work. In 2008, he took home top honors at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival for “Best Music Score in a Documentary” as well as several Gold and Silver Addy Awards for his work in the advertising industry.
Just like sighted producers, Jason Dasent had to contend with the massive challenges it takes to succeed in such a competitive industry. Unlike sighted producers, however, he had to do it using software that wasn’t designed with his needs in mind. With such a small amount of tools accessible to differently abled producers, Jason was forced to innovate his own methods. Along with a small team of technically-minded people, he began developing overlays to popular music production software. These innovations were able to make his recording software accessible to screen reading software. While he initially did this for his own use in the studio, Dasent soon realised that these overlays could make music production accessible for the visually impaired, benefiting the entire visually impaired community around the world.
Working with Manufacturers to Make Music Production Accessible for the Visually Impaired
After becoming aware of the innovations he developed on his own, in 2017 Dasent was invited to join the Beta testing team for AVID Pro Tools—the first DAW to fully support accessibility. Today, he’s actively engaged with several other leading music equipment manufacturers in the US and UK, assisting them in introducing accessibility features to their products. Among the industry-standard recording products he’s currently helping to make more accessible is Auto-Tune.
Getting Started With Auto-Tune
When Jason Dasent first tried using Auto-Tune around 10 years ago, the experience wasn’t the success he had hoped for. He says, “I tried using Auto-Tune 5 on my Windows computer running Sonar, which was my DAW at the time. Unfortunately, I was not able to access the parameters of Autotune with my screen reading software.” Not willing to give up, he tried another route to create the accessibility he needed. Jason tells us that, “I then purchased an ATR-1 which was the hardware version of Auto-Tune at the time. Although it has physical knobs and buttons, I found that the screens of information that guide the user through using the interface were not accessible. Not being able to read this information meant that my experience wasn’t much better than with the earlier software version.”
By 2015, the development of screen reader technology had advanced to the point where it made using recording software plug-ins more accessible. So, Jason decided to give Auto-Tune another try. He purchased a copy of Auto-Tune 7 running as an AAX plug-in on Pro Tools (his current DAW) and a Macintosh computer. Though the experience was not perfect, it was markedly better than before. Jason says that now, “I can read and change values of the most important parameters such as Retune, Key, Scale and Humanise.” Finally having access to these essential features was a game changer for Dasent.
A Breakthrough in Making Auto-Tune More Accessible
In November 2019, Jason connected with Mark Gordon, a Senior Software Engineer from Antares, at the ADC (Audio Developers Conference) in London. After spending some time at Jason’s studio, Mark suggested that he give the latest edition of Auto-Tune, Auto-Tune Pro, a try. “The experience was much the same as in Auto-Tune 7,” says Dasent. But this time, he decided to innovate his own tools to improve accessibility. He tells us that, “Along with my wife Sarah and other members of my team, we’ve written a number of macros using the Keyboard Maestro platform which gives me access to the other parameters that I previously didn’t have access to. Now, I can access the Learn Scale from Midi (giving me the ability to remove and bypass notes), and of course, the much loved Classic Mode from Auto-Tune 5.”
Jason’s next project is to incorporate the AVOX vocal toolkit (now available with Auto-Tune Unlimited) into his unique workflow. He says that, “I’m excited about helping to open up AVOX to the visually impaired community. The accessibility out-of-the box seems promising, and our team plans to write macros to make the non-accessible parameters accessible. Just like we did with Auto-Tune.” He goes on to say, “The folks at Antares are fantastic and they’re very open to accessibility. Because of this, and the quality of their products, I highly recommend them to my fellow visually impaired music industry professionals.”
Hearing a More Accessible Future
Today, Jason Dasent is bringing his skills and experience to help make music production accessible for the visually impaired by partnering with the team at Digit. An inclusive and innovative audio brand, Digit makes assistive hardware, software and content for music-making that aims to serve the diverse range of customers it serves. Never content to sit still, he continues to commit himself to developing his professional skills. In October, 2019, he embarked on a course of study at BIMM London where he’s pursuing an MA in Popular Music Practice/Music Business.
Jason Dasent’s drive to make music production accessible for the visually impaired community continues to this day. He intends to build on the progress he’s made by producing an event for Accessibility Awareness Day. Consisting of panel discussions with music industry manufacturers and retailers and a workshop highlighting his software advances, this undertaking will also serve as his Masters Thesis. Producing such an ambitious project might prove to be too much of a challenge for most people. But for Jason Dasent, overcoming any challenge is all in a day’s work.
Music Samples on Spotify