Voice Arts Awards Presents Audio Description | Podcast Episode 5

A genderless bust wearing gold and dark gray headphones faces a teardrop-shaped golden statue -- an artistic rendition of a microphone and pop filter atop a round base. Below, the text "New Categories Open For Entries."

Beauty Buzz/Blog Biz | Voice Arts Awards

Contents:

Voice Arts Awards Presents Audio Description Podcast Summary

“But for everyone that’s involved or who’s on any level in the process of making these choices you have to push back wherever you see a situation that is lacking in awareness of diversity and inclusion. And stand up to it by pointing to the opportunity for positive change, for inclusion.”

~Rudy Gaskins

Bravo to this mainstream company for making the decision to embrace inclusion. We are so excited to share with you that three categories of Audio Description will be presented at this year’s Voice Arts Awards Gala in December. Rudy Gaskins, Co-Founder of the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences sits down with us to discuss this exciting news!

YouTube Video

Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. via YouTube

Transcript:

Stephanae McCoy  

Welcome back to another episode of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.  Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. is clearing the air for more A.I.R. (Accessibility, Inclusion, and Representation). I’m Stephanae McCoy.

Nasreen Bhutta  

I’m Nasreen Bhutta.

Sylvia Stinson-Perez  

And I’m Sylvia Stinson-Perez

Steph

And we are your co-hosts.

Introducing Rudy Gaskins

A genderless bust wearing gold and dark gray headphones faces a teardrop-shaped golden statue -- an artistic rendition of a microphone and pop filter atop a round base. Below, the text "New Categories Open For Entries. WE HEAR YOU"
New Categories Open for Entries

Steph  

Webster’s Dictionary defines an ally as a person, group or nation associated or united with another in a common purpose. Today, Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. is thrilled to introduce you to a mainstream ally, who is leading the way with his belief in accessibility, inclusion and representation. During our conversation with our guest, you’ll learn how one phone call created positive change that will benefit many. 

So today, we are so excited to have with us Emmy Award-winning producer Rudy Gaskins. Rudy is the CEO and Executive Creative Director of Push Creative Inc., a branding services company providing strategic marketing design and production for broadcast and cable networks. Clients include Fox News Channel, BET, American Express, Spike TV, ABC Television, and more. 

Rudy is also a co-founder of the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, also known as SOVAS. And we’re going to be talking about voice arts with a specific focus on audio description. Rudy, it is such a pleasure to have you here with us today to share your passion for the voice arts. 

Rudy Gaskins

Thank you. It’s awesome to be here. 

Steph

Can you give our listeners a crash course on exactly what is voice arts?

History Of The Voice Arts

Closeup of a large-diaphragm condenser studio recording voice microphone to record professional voiceovers.

Rudy  

Absolutely. Well, you know, actually, you’re the first person in eight years since the inception of the voice arts to ask this question, which I find very interesting. It says something really cool about you and your insight because most folks took it for granted. 

But basically, voice arts pertains to all voice work that involves the genres that fall under the voice acting umbrella. And there are many; audiobooks, commercials, animation, and of course, audio description, which we’re going to talk about more soon. But it also looks at professional speech, and where any sort of training and honing is required, for example, with Ted Talks, in spoken word poetry, and even singing. 

So this term voice arts came out of our exploration to find the right name for an award that would encapsulate these many genres. And as a result, this included a few casual focus groups that we call them, where we pass these ideas around. We stumbled upon voice arts as the best way to encapsulate it all, it sort of won the day. 

And then we had to look and see if we could uncover whether it was being used anywhere else. To our amazement, it wasn’t, no one was using this term. And so we acquired a US Federal Trademark for the term. So the meaning of voice arts, which I just described, officially came into being with the trademark, and the definition of voice arts as it exists in that trademark.

How To Become A Voice Artist

A female voice artist in her 20s inside a recording studio in front of a professional microphone.

Steph   

Rudy, that is really interesting. So tell me, how would a person become a voice artist? What exactly is the process?

Rudy  

Well, the answer to that question is really a conversation, but the short answer is:

  • Number one, train with a highly credible voice acting coach until you can embody your readiness to compete in the marketplace. You want to come to a point of self-empowerment about your skills. 
  • Then you create a professional recording setup that’s on par with what buyers and talent agents will require for you to audition and record work from home. 
  • From there, you’ll develop a demo reel with voice samples, and you’ll develop some marketing materials, which enable you to reach out to talent agents and buyers, and frankly, other facilitators who can make a difference in your career. 
  • The fourth piece would be with your training and your recording setup and your marketing materials in hand to seek out talent agency representation, while at the same time working on your own relationships with potential buyers. 

From there, you’re sort of launched, but in a sense, voice acting is like swimming. You can’t learn by asking questions and watching other people do it. At some point, you have to get in the water.

Audio Description Nomination Process

3 judges in a row each holding up a scorecard showing a perfect 10.

Sylvia  

Rudy, that is fascinating to me. I really didn’t think about the whole recording of audiobooks as part of the voice acting as well. And I’m sure you realize that people who are visually impaired and blind, many of us also enjoy audiobooks. I have to say that sometimes when you download an audiobook, you might not, you might abandon that book because the audio or the voice acting isn’t catching you, it’s just not grabbing you. So that voice acting for audiobooks is also really, really an important thing. So very interesting. 

And today, we’re kind of picking your brain on the subject of audio description. Because yet another thing is that for people who are visually impaired and blind, for us to truly access visual content; whether it be movies or television, or sporting events, and so much more, audio description can play all the difference. And, good audio description is just really critical for the enjoyment of that process. 

So you have this new award for that. What is your nomination process for that? How do you decide who gets nominated?

Rudy  

Well, there are six judges that are assigned to each entry. So that we have a score from those judges from 1 to 10 on each of those entries. 

Each of the judges are coming from the world of audio description, they are professionals in the different categories that we are bringing forward. And they have a first and second round, where they score these entries. The first one determines the five nominees in each category. And the second round determines the winner of the five nominees.

And all of this is behind the scenes and no winner is revealed until we reach the Gala. And we announced those winners live on stage. So the process is:

  • First, you submit your work. So you’d have to set up an account at sovas.org
  • There’s a button there when you go to sovas.org that says “Enter 2021 Awards.” 
  • You set up an account, you choose the work that you want to upload and that’s for audio description, that would be a five minute up to five minutes that you can submit. 
  • And you just basically look for the piece of your work that you feel is the most compelling, the most representative of the overall quality that you provided on that particular program. 

Once that’s been uploaded, it’s in the judges’ hands.

A.I.R. In The Judging Process

Sylvia  

Audio description is a really interesting thing. And is this only in the United States? Or is it international?

Rudy  

Oh, it’s International. So for audio description, it only includes English-speaking voice actors. But the Voice Arts Awards is international, we do have a number of categories in Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic. And there’s one international category which is a body of work, where a voice actor can submit the range of work that they’ve done over a lifetime. And for that, we include the top 12 most spoken languages in the world.

Sylvia  

I asked that because I have heard that audio description, the way it’s done, it actually varies the focus from possibly country to country. Some countries are more focused on the emotional content of the audio description, others are very literal, etc. So I think it’s an interesting thing.

Rudy  

That’s why it’s really important to have judges who are coming from various backgrounds. You know, we talked about [A.I.R.] accessibility and inclusion and representation that’s so important with these awards because of just that kind of issue. And you need to make sure that someone in the room understands that this work may be stellar and even though it may not be as emotional as another work where the choice was made to keep things on more of an even keel.

Audio Description Categories

A teardrop-shaped golden statue -- an artistic rendition of a microphone and pop filter atop a round base against a black background.

Nasreen  

Rudy, I understand that there will be three audio description categories on the ballot for this year’s Voice Arts ceremonies, which will be held in December. Has audio description historically been included in these awards? Can you tell us what the categories might be?

Rudy 

Sure. So this is the first year that audio description is being included in the Voice Arts Awards, and the categories are:

  • audio description for TV and film, 
  • audio description for theater and live events, and 
  • audio description for museums and cultural sites. 

This year, the categories focus on the narrator. But production companies, directors, writers, producers, and audio engineers are all eligible if they are credited on the nominated work. That means those people would also be eligible for awards, and certificates, and plaques, if they were to choose to purchase them. But you have to be credited on the work. Next year, we will open up the same three categories individually for writers, producers, and directors.

The Benefits Of Audio Description

Nasreen  

I love that last category you’re mentioning about museums and such, I think that’s it’s good for them to include that as well, too. That’s important.

Rudy  

Yes, I agree with you. And it’s all so very new to me. I mean, I’m kind of giddy about this whole thing. Because it’s just, it’s interesting work. It takes so much talent and skill to do this work. And then it’s providing such a wonderful service for people who have low vision and blindness. 

And I enjoy watching programs. Now I’m a sighted viewer and I use audio description now only because it’s been brought to my attention, and I’m learning about it. And so sometimes I watch programs using it. And there’s a benefit because you hear a lot about what the writer is thinking that you wouldn’t otherwise understand, even from the performances. 

So I’m one who has written screenplays, and a lot of the description I write is for the producer for the director to think about. But there’s the expectation that all of that will be fulfilled visually. But as I’ve watched programs with audio description, I realized that a lot goes on. In that description, that’s valuable information that doesn’t necessarily come through what you’re watching.

Embracing Inclusion

Nasreen  

Absolutely. And you know, what that helps us really appreciate what we’re looking at, when we’re watching what, what is being presented to us. We love being included. We love that feeling of inclusivity. So great job, great work.

Rudy  

And I and I love including you and I love inclusion in that we all should be including people like that. I’ve been meeting new friends, and just exploring points of view about things about life, about sight versus, you know, non-sightedness and blindness. And all these questions are just really opening up a new world for me. And I know, it will do that for other people as they learn about this inclusivity and start to ask, what does it all mean?

Steph  

You are such an ally for us. And I really appreciate the work that you’re doing to help unify people who are sighted and blind by including us. So thank you so much for the work that you’re doing. It’s also very exciting that this is going to be the first year that audio description is going to be part of the Voice Arts Awards ceremony in December. Along with that, this year another big thing that happened was that at this year’s Oscars, we made history with the first African American woman to take on the role of a live announcer.

Rudy  

That’s right, that was Afi Ekulona. And not only was she the first woman, but she’s the first African American ever to take on the Oscars.

Taking A Stand To Increase Diversity

Studio shot of a young woman using a megaphone against a gray background.

Steph  

That is so wonderful. And it brings to mind the question, how can diversity be increased among voice artists? Not only as it relates to race and gender, but also to include people who are blind or have low vision? How can we increase diversity in this area?

Rudy  

Yeah, I think it is happening. But for everyone that’s involved or who’s on any level in the process of making these choices you have to push back wherever you see a situation that is lacking in awareness of diversity and inclusion. And stand up to it by pointing to the opportunity for positive change, for inclusion. And it’s not to beat people back because they did something wrong as to hope and to open people up to the opportunity to do something that’s actually more fulfilling for everyone. 

So push back, don’t be afraid. Audio description is now part of the Voice Arts Awards because Roy Samuelson [Hollywood Voice Artist] made a phone call and asked that we consider it. So it wasn’t a big battle. We hadn’t been thinking about it. We were in the dark until he made that phone call. There’s no longer any reason to fear calling injustice out at any level, from the top down in any company or organization. We have to keep calling it out until there’s no need to call it out. Just don’t be afraid.

Steph  

Exactly. And to your point, Rudy, unless a specific injustice affects us individually in some way, many of us are unaware of what we don’t know. So up until that point when Roy made that call you didn’t know but now that you do, to your credit, you are taking a stand, and you’re doing the right thing. So once again, thank you so much. 

Rudy

You’re welcome. 

Steph

So Rudy, in conclusion, what would be your advice for someone who is blind or has low vision as to how they might choose voice art as a career path?

Advice For Future Voice Artists

Rudy  

Right? Well, there are people who are doing it and doing it wonderfully; Satauna Howery and Pete Gustin, are extraordinary examples. And they aren’t just doing it, you know, they’re not just doing work that somehow caters to their disability. They’re showing that they can do the same top-level high-quality work for Fortune 500 companies with the same level of skill as sighted people. And both of them have taken home Voice Arts Awards in categories competing with sighted voice actors. 

So I would say, look to those who are doing it as proof that it can be done. Then start on your path, however, that might go for you, whatever shape it might take, knowing that there are solutions to all the potential impediments that would seem to hold you back. You’ll find your way.

Steph  

That’s excellent advice, Rudy. So how might our listeners get in touch with you?

Rudy  

If they want to reach me directly? My email is Rudy (R-U-D-Y) rudy@sovas.org.

Steph  

And do you have any socials where they can follow SOVAS?

Rudy  

Yeah, we’re all over social media. So, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, you will find Society of Voice Arts and Sciences. And they may change a little bit I think on Instagram, for example, it may be called Society Voice Arts. But if you put in Society of Voice Arts, it’s going to come up on any of those social media accounts, as will my name. 

Steph  

Wonderful, thank you so much for spending time with us this afternoon, Rudy, and helping us to gain an understanding of the voice arts and about audio description. And specifically, as it relates to the award ceremony that’s going to happen in December. Are there any final words that you have for our listeners? 

Rudy  

Well, just, I’m happy to be speaking with all of you. I’m really thrilled to be learning about and becoming a part of this community. And there’s so much more that we can do. And I want to be right on the front line, making those things happen.

Supporting Our Mission

Steph   

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When you shop our online store, you support our mission and projects such as this podcast. The “Blind Chicks With Attitude” Racerback Tank is soft, lightweight, and form-fitting with a flattering cut and raw edge seams for an edgy touch. An Abby trio is front and center. Directly under the trio is the slogan with the word “Attitude” in non-tactile braille. For full product details please visit boldblindbeauty.com. 

Next up Sylvia, Nasreen, and I reflect on our conversation with Rudy.

Reflections On The Importance Of Audio Description

Pair of women having a conversation at a cafe.

Sylvia  

Well, Steph, and Nasreen, that was really interesting. I am so excited that a mainstream company that gives out awards is interested in audio description, and the impact that voice arts makes on people with blindness and low vision. I just think that’s so exciting. 

And Rudy’s dedication to people who are blind and giving us that accessibility is just powerful. I think people often wonder, do people who are blind watch TV, read books? How do we do that? But many of us enjoy movies, television shows, going to museums, sporting events, going to the theater, and we can only truly enjoy those if there’s high-quality audio description associated with it. For many years we just had to depend on our spouse or friend to provide audio description.

Nasreen   

Yeah, I love going to the museum, Sylvia and Steph. And so when I go to the artifacts and things that are sort of further away that you can’t feel and touch, then it’s kind of, Selena read me the placard. What’s going on? 

So every time we walk around, she’s always reading like a tour guide. Sometimes she gets them, sometimes she misses them, and you don’t absorb everything. I’d love to be able to absorb it myself and just take in that experience like I once used to. So I totally get you, where that’s concerned when you mentioned that Sylvia because I absolutely love doing that.

I love going to cultural shows and museums. There are some TV shows that I do watch and now when I can get them in audio description mode it’s so much more enjoyable, knowing what’s happening. The facial features or someone’s slithering out of the room or a half-cocked smile or turn of their head. It’s so great to see what the actual scene is now totally like with the audio description. I think that really helps take TV watching to a new level and I absolutely love that it makes it more enjoyable.

Steph  

I remember watching a favorite TV series, I found out that the first season was audio-described. So I got all excited like oh, yeah, I can watch this. And I started listening to this and it was done with a synthetic voice. I tried so hard to watch it and I kept telling myself Steph, this is your favorite show, you like this show, I could not take it. I couldn’t, I just could not do it.

Personally, I prefer a human voice any day of the week in comparison with a synthetic voice. Especially if you have to listen to a synthetic voice all day. And especially when you’re making phone calls to companies and it has that voice, don’t even get me started with that. I just want to hear a human.

Sylvia  

And as you know Steph, the quality like you guys were both saying is so important too. On Audio Description Day, I convinced my husband to watch a show with me. And I’m gonna be honest, I’m not a TV viewer. I’m not a movie-goer. I am a book reader. 

So I convinced my husband on Audio Description Awareness Day let’s watch this show. And I told him, I want you to not look. Well, we picked the show and it was one of those Home and Garden TV shows. We lasted five minutes, he had no idea what was going on. Because the description was really, really sad. It was so sad.

I had a little bit more idea of what was going on than him because I’m just used to not having, you know, having to figure it out. But still, it didn’t describe what needed to be described, those important elements. And I think that’s so important. And when Rudy talks about the awards, is that there are things that are important. And that’s what we need to know when we hear this audio description.

Nasreen  

Yeah, Sylvia, I totally agree with you. I think voice matters. And we all hear differently. And therefore I agree with Steph too that human voices are very necessary. The synthetic voices, no, they don’t do anything and they displease us. They turn us away from having to experience those things, whether it’s a book, whether it’s a movie, you know, or whatever it is, it has to be human voices, because that’s what we appreciate. That’s what we enjoy listening to when we talk to each other. I mean, I’m sorry, guys, but neither of you sounds like a synthetic voice to me right now. So why would I want to have one in my ear all the time reading certain things? I would like to have a human voice just like the ones I’m speaking to right now.

Steph  

Right. And when they work, it’s fabulous. But when they don’t, it’s horrible. I remember I went to NASA last year. And I was all excited because they had an app. So I had my headphones with me and the app had audio description to describe the different, you know, areas within the facility, the displays. And I thought, oh, this is so cool. 

My friend was with me. She’s like, oh, this is really nice. I won’t have to describe it to you. But unfortunately, I don’t know if it was a glitch or what was going on that day, but the technology wasn’t working. And she ended up having to do the descriptions for me anyway.

But the nice thing about it when it does work is that it does give us that independence so that we can enjoy entertainment fully on our own without having to rely on a friend or family member or you know, maybe some random person. You know, telling us what’s happening. 

And I don’t know if people understand but when you go to the movies because people will look our way when I go to movies with my friends, (which I haven’t done since COVID). But, pre-COVID, I would always walk in, of course, with my white cane, and I know that you know, I would get the stares like, how’s she gonna watch the movies? 

Well, I would get my little device that has a headset, and it would describe for me the audio track in between the lines of dialogue, those visual elements. So that I could understand what was happening in the movie, along with my friends that I was with. So that’s how a blind person can enjoy a movie or really anything for that matter that has it .

Sylvia  

So Steph, I want to just share with anyone out there who’s listening, who maybe needs to provide some audio description for someone who’s visually impaired where it’s not available, some tips. And I think the first and foremost important tip is to ask the person who’s asking you to describe for them, what is important to them. 

What do they want to know? Because as I mentioned, some of us pick up different things better than other things and we also have information we prefer to get. Some people prefer to get the really nonverbal emotional type information like facial expressions. Others want to know all of the things about what people are wearing. 

So ask the person, what kind of information do you want? And then the key is to provide that when there is a pause in the audio because we can get information from the audio. So you talk between that and sometimes that’s hard to do. But that’s any other tips you ladies have about if someone’s going to provide you with an audio description, whether that be in a museum, an art gallery or sporting event, or theater.

Steph  

I think that’s really good advice. Audio description is really just a form of adaptation. And when we think about, you know, the misconceptions where blind, blindness and the capabilities of blind people were able to fully enjoy nearly anything and everything that everybody else can, we just do it a little bit differently.

Nasreen  

Yeah, and I’d also add that when you’re helping them make sure that you know you are directing it to them, not the entire room to enjoy the audio description with you. 

So please share this and ask your friends to subscribe and follow us and join us for our next podcast on Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Thanks for listening.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Connecting With Rudy Gaskins

Image Descriptions:

  • A slightly cropped header image is identical to the second image (description in the second bullet).
  • A genderless bust wearing gold and dark gray headphones faces a teardrop-shaped golden statue — an artistic rendition of a microphone and pop filter atop a round base. Below, the text “New Categories Open For Entries. WE HEAR YOU”
  • Closeup of a large-diaphragm condenser studio recording voice microphone to record professional voiceovers.
  • A female voice artist in her 20s inside a recording studio in front of a professional microphone.
  • 3 judges in a row each holding up a scorecard showing a perfect 10.
  • A teardrop-shaped golden statue — an artistic rendition of a microphone and pop filter atop a round base against a black background.
  • Studio shot of a young woman using a megaphone against a gray background.
  • Pair of women having a conversation at a coffee shop.

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