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for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Profile of Rick Boggs, Audio Engineer/Producer

Intro: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment of audio and video producers is expected to grow. If you are interested in this kind of work, read this story from CareerConnect mentor Rick Boggs. You might say you could have money coming out of your ears!

The Story: Essentially, my job title is audio engineer/producer. At least, that is the skill set that keeps me employed. However, I had to become an entrepreneur and business owner in order to become employed in this position. Somewhat surprisingly, the audio recording industry does not seem to be open to hiring audio engineers with vision loss.

As an audio engineer, I record, edit, and mix various types of audio productions, including music and radio commercials. Since 2002, I have primarily produced audio description for film and television (a.k.a video description). In my producer role, I oversee production teams, cast voiceover talent, communicate with clients, ensure production quality, and enforce deadlines and budgets. As a business owner, I analyze financials, policies, and practices, as well as develop marketing and strategic plans. Writing proposals, agreements, web content, and all business correspondence are also responsibilities of mine.

Typically, my day starts with me wearing my "business owner" hat. In this capacity, I handle e-mail and voicemail from clients, partners, or prospects; confirm bank account balances; check competitor websites for new developments; and check the calendar for meetings. Then, I switch hats and become the producer to review notes about the day's jobs, call members of the day's production team to confirm everyone is on schedule, and load the latest version of the voiceover script into my braille notetaker.

If I am not scheduled to engineer, my job will be to direct the voiceover talent while I listen carefully to each take and make aesthetic decisions about tracks and placement of descriptions. I may also need to follow the script to ensure the words being recorded are as written. Afterward, I will listen to the final mix and suggest adjustments if necessary. If there are questions about the recording, I'll consult with our consumer advisors or the client before making a final decision.

If it is my day to engineer, I fire up the Mac G5 and Pro Tools audio workstation with all of the associated peripherals as soon as I arrive at the studio. I use the built-in Apple screenreader software to navigate the Mac and the C/24 Ethernet control surface to gain physical control of faders and knobs that appear on the computer monitor. Audio is digitized from a pro video deck, or is imported from a DVD. I check all connections between the voiceover booth and the edit bay and test the system. Also, I must ensure proper placement of microphones for the recording, cue up each spot for recording, and then actually record the performance. The next step is to edit the tracks, removing breaths and mouth noise, mix the descriptions with the original program audio, and either transfer the finished recording back to videotape or generate an electronic file and upload it to a server for the client.

A production team for audio description consists of the audio describer, who writes the script; the description quality specialist, who is a visually impaired expert consumer; the engineer; the voiceover artist; and the producer. There are very few people in society who really understand the nuts and bolts of this work and fewer who have experience doing it. This makes hiring in this field always a challenge. As a result, we often train most of our own employees.

My own path to this career was certainly not planned. I am truly fortunate that it worked out at all. Looking back, I now understand that my biggest problem in planning a career was my failure to address the fact that, at my core, I am an artist. From my youth, I learned to play multiple instruments, composed music, painted, sculpted, wrote short stories and poetry, but I could never afford professional lessons of any kind. To a handful of generous people who cared enough to make a difference in a young person's life, I owe a great debt. Some donated instruments while others volunteered their time to teach me everything from music notation to synthesizer programming and MIDI.

My own volunteer work and advocacy efforts have contributed greatly to my professional development and opportunities. Through relentless research, I was able to persuade digital audio software developers to make their programs accessible for people who use screenreaders. In the Screen Actors Guild, I became an advocate for equal opportunities for blind performers, and this work eventually provided the kind of industry knowledge and personal relationships I needed to start my business producing video description.

My career is really the culmination of two simultaneous pursuits: (1) trying to learn how to record my own music and (2) capitalizing on acting and voiceover opportunities that kept coming along.

The best part of my job is creating something of quality. I also find much pleasure in the fact that everyone who works for me agrees that we have a fun, congenial, and sometimes inspired workplace. However, I do not like being on call 24/7 and having very tight deadlines as we often do. Neither do I like that our clients generally do not understand the mechanics or nuances of this kind of work, and thus have little appreciation for how well we do it. And, I have grown tired of the tedium of technical troubleshooting that seems always to be necessary. Because I sometimes have to watch a variety of movies, TV shows, and documentaries that sometimes, unfortunately, are completely uninteresting, it is nice that every project is different.

Perhaps, the greatest reward in my work is opening this profession to others with vision loss. The Blind Producers website, which I set up in 1996, provided advice and assistance to other aspiring audio engineers with vision loss. We now have a small network of colleagues to help newcomers to the technology. I strongly suggest that anyone just getting started focus on the "business of the business" more than the technology. Develop strong business acumen. Take business courses and seminars at your local Small Business Administration (SBA) affiliate. Read entertainment and advertising industry news. Learn who owns what and follow what record labels and TV networks are doing. Always have a collaborative approach because you will never be the only game in town.

The Contact: Rick Boggs

Learn More about Audio Production through the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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