Making music production more accessible with Jason Dasent

Accomplished musician, music producer, audio engineer, accessibility consultant… there are many strings to Jason Dasent’s bow.  He uses innovative production techniques, many of which he helped to develop, to create great music – working with music manufacturers and software developers to help ensure their equipment works for people like him that have accessibility needs. And he does it all with a smile and a positive attitude that is infectious. We had a great chat with Jason and got a brilliant insight into how he works.

For many years, the visually impaired community has been underserved by most music equipment manufacturers, with only a few  (ProTools/ Sibelius), Native Instruments (Komplete Kontrol) and Apple (Logic) introducing accessibility to their products within the last few years. However, things are changing, and Jason Dasent has been at the forefront of those changes.

We dropped in (virtually) to his fully equipped recording studio, which comes complete with four keyboards and “tons of hardware”. It’s a happy day for Jason, as he’s just received the news that he got a distinction for his MA.  So what led to him studying in the UK?

“I ran a studio in Trinidad for 19 years, and also worked with most of the music studios in Trinidad. Even before accessibility was a word, so I had to find work arounds. As accessibility and screen readers came into play, I became a bit of a ‘tech head’, and was fortunate enough to be able to embrace the technology as it was coming together. I then started developing some of this technology.”

It’s clear that Jason has a very ‘can-do’ attitude, which manifested itself when he came across a significant technical barrier.  A software program, Maschine (Native Instruments) was not designed in an accessible way by the manufacturer, so Jason immediately set about making it work for him. “I would not accept that it’s not accessible,” he said. He was able to create macros that worked with the interface to make the program accessible, and before he knew it the manufacturer invited him and his wife (who helped him develop the software) to the UK. Word spread, and then other manufacturers started getting in touch. He decided to stay in the UK to study a Masters in Popular Music Practice and Entrepreneurship, and continues to work with music equipment manufacturers to share his expertise.

Making accessibility the norm

Part of Jason’s mission is to make accessibility ‘the norm’. He held an online workshop this year, called  “Normalising the Conversation – The Road to Accessible Music Tech”

The title of the workshop reflects the difficulties that still exist when it comes to accessible music equipment. In a survey conducted in 2018, 63% of music retailers said they are not aware of any specialist products or adapted instruments for disabled people (Make Some Noise research, 2018), and only 25% of music educators felt that high street shops were adequate for their needs when it came to accessible music making.  The same research highlighted a lack of confidence and knowledge amongst music retailers when it comes to serving and catering to the needs of disabled customers. Jason believes that a little conversation and empathy can go a long way.

“That’s the first thing, to get over that barrier of it being too sensitive a topic. I have made some of my best friends through people not knowing anything about how I am,” he says.

Once people get over the possibility of saying the wrong thing, it’s ok, Jason says. Because there isn’t really a wrong thing. If you don’t know, that’s perfectly acceptable! You’re not expected to know everything.

“I think I have a duty, being blind- I think God made me blind for a reason – so we can do exactly what we’re doing now. My duty is to show people that hey, it’s cool! we’re a little different, we do things differently – you use a mouse, I use a keyboard… my motto is ‘inspiration, not obligation’ I want to inspire people and be inspired by them.”

Being an inspiration

Talking of being an ‘inspiration’, this is a word that’s divided opinion when used to describe disabled people – some have mentioned that they felt it was a patronising term, while others simply wish to be defined by their achievements alone, and not their disability.  Jason has his own take.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, he says. “But I like to use the term ‘differently abled’ as opposed to ‘disabled’. Because I am not disabled. I’ve had a lot of push back on that statement, but I’m going to use it anyway. Because I do certain things a little differently. ‘Disabled’ [to me] means that I don’t do it, or I can’t. Which is not the case.

“However you want to refer to it, people just need to be a little cautious. You don’t want to be someone that people walk on eggshells around. It’s ok, I make jokes about being blind, about myself. I might start a presentation by saying something like, ‘Forgive me, I don’t have my glasses today’ or something.

“For me that breaks down barriers immediately. It makes people smile, and laugh. They let their guard down.”

Jason Dasent
“I think I have a duty, being blind- I think God made me blind for a reason – so we can do exactly what we’re doing now. My duty is to show people that hey, it’s cool! we’re a little different, we do things differently – you use a mouse, I use a keyboard… my motto is ‘inspiration, not obligation’ I want to inspire people and be inspired by them.”
Jason Dasent in Studio
At the end of the day, I’m just Jay. I’m an open book, that’s the only way we will overcome challenges together. It’s perfectly ok to ask me anything, nothing is off limits.

VIDEO: Watch as Jason Dasent demonstrates the production techniques that help him navigate his studio equipment

Accessibility in retail – it’s good to talk

A strong advocate for overcoming barriers and attitudes to disabled people’s musical experience, Jason is a supporter of the Disability Awareness Training course recently developed by Creative United, the MIA and Attitude is Everything.

Although he has come across retailers who may not be used to dealing with the visually impaired, his shopping experiences have been very positive overall.

“I guess this is because I always try to engage the sales staff by striking up conversation about the equipment I am interested in, going deep into the features etc. This lets them know that I am confident and very comfortable in this environment dealing with such equipment. I also talk to them about their own experiences in the music industry. This engagement puts everyone at ease and creates a relaxed atmosphere leading to the sales staff becoming very interested in what I do and they are willing to spend time with me exploring the equipment.”

Jason has actually made lasting friendships with sales staff who he met at music stores.

“At the end of the day, I’m just Jay. I’m an open book, that’s the only way we will overcome challenges together. It’s perfectly ok to ask me anything, nothing is off limits. That’s the way I’ve always lived my life and that’s what made me successful in what I do! So yeah, ask me anything! Because I’ll ask you anything!”

More about Jason
www.jasondasentinstudio.com