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VIBE – an edited extract of Peter Bosher’s talk given at the Visually Impaired Musicians’ Lives Conference, Institute of Education, London, on 11 March 2015
Blind leading the blind
So what, can, we, do? That was the question and those were the issues which sparked off the idea for VIBE, so, finally, what is it? Well clearly it is a work in progress: the idea, the vision, if you will, is this:
If you are a musician who would welcome help and support in getting your music more widely heard, by having it professionally recorded, or by promotion through online platforms such as iTunes, Amazon and Youtube, soundcloud, audioboom, or via social networking like FaceBook, and twitter …
Or, if you are a sound engineer or producer who would welcome more work and enjoy collaborating with others, both visually impaired and sighted,
Or, if you are interested in supporting, and helping to shape, the development of this work, then you may be interested in the VIBE project.
VIBE will be a platform, or springboard, or launchpad. Keep those words in mind, because above all, it is about support: supporting each other, and arranging support from whoever else is willing to collaborate. It may even be a showcase in its own right, a little like a record label, but that may not be such a good idea as actually supporting people into using existing mainstream showcases. Either way, it will promote, demonstrate and share excellence among blind and visually impaired musicians, sound engineers and producers. The vision of VIBE is a recognisable and identifiable resource: a place that collects together examples of excellent musicians in all genres, and I can’t emphasise too much that it is about good musicians, whether that be hip-hop, dance-music, kowali, jazz or opera. It will help us overcome the real difficulties we face in promotion, marketing and accessibility.
VIBE will also be an online and offline peer support network, using face-to-face meetings as well as social networking and online resources such as an email group, Facebook and Twitter. At the heart of the project is excellence in performance and production, driven by visually impaired and blind people with the right skills, in collaboration with others wherever needed.
We held our first meeting of potential supporters and participants, with around twenty people, in November last year. The meeting had two purposes: to flesh out just what people need in the way of support, and to brainstorm how that might be achieved. We identified two strands of work.
The first, is to set up a peer-support network, in other words, a group with common purpose, knowledge and interests. Thomas Armitage, the blind gentleman who founded what became RNIB said that there were some situations where the blind leading the blind was the best solution. We might follow the model of the British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB), which works through real-world, face-to-face events, usually based around concrete, useful content such as seminars or training courses, combined with a social element, meals, get togethers in pubs for example, where people get the chance to swap tips. This is combined with online networking through a website, twitter, and importantly an email group.
The second strand is about concrete practical support: what actually is it that is missing, that VIBE could provide? The suggestion to emerge from our meeting of interested musicians and supporters was for some sort of resource base, which would act as an intermediate, a go-between, a springboard. What I think we should do is help bridge the gap between musicians and sound people on the one hand, and the music industry which generally doesn’t know about the issues. It’s almost never that they don’t care – they simply do not know.
This is still a very tall order, but we have started by talking to some people who know the industry, and we are making headway in finding the right people to give us the connections we need. We have also started working with some of those musicians to find out exactly what each one needs in the way of support, for example getting their portfolios online to attract new audiences, draw them to the attention of commercial promoters and agencies, and help build social media profiles.
Other examples of things we plan to do: are to find people who are able to act as guides, support workers, helpers, call them what you will, but people who can “be your eyes” maybe even use some social haptics, in some of those situations I’ve mentioned. These might be volunteers, or paid through the “Access to Work” scheme. Make recordings involving blind engineers and producers, to build musicians’ portfolios. Our website, www.vibeworks.net, will serve as a focus, somewhere you can go to find out the latest developments. And, we need your help with this: There is no high command, and it could just fizzle out if not for your support. We need your views, and your ideas for other solutions, and for how to help get funding to make this work sustainable.
Please, join us. Start by joining the email list, talk to me over lunch or later on. Email me privately if you prefer: email@example.com. VIBE depends fundamentally on your getting involved. If you have been, thank you for listening.
Click here to read part 1 of this article.