GLEN GORDON: On FSCast 185, we’ll meet Dave Baker. He spent over 20 years writing scripts for key parts of JAWS, but now he’s off on his own to pursue a music career that’s been over 50 years in the making. And whether you’re making music or a podcast, Jim Snowbarger drops by to talk about Reaper, a highly accessible multitrack audio program that may be just what you’re looking for.
Hello, everybody. Glen Gordon welcoming you to the June 2020 edition of FSCast. I want to start out with a reminder. Every month on the podcast, in addition to the audio, we have transcripts, thanks to the excellent work of Elaine Farris, who has in the last year and a half learned much more about the vocabulary of JAWS than she ever thought she’d want to. But she does really good and accurate transcriptions of everything we say. And sometimes reading it is far better than hearing it, especially if it’s a link or email address or other thing you want to make sure you get the spelling right. Reading the transcript is often the best way of getting there.
And you can find those transcripts by going to blog.freedomscientific.com/fscast. Find an episode that you’re interested in, press ENTER on that link, and within the details of the episodes will be another link where you can go read the transcript.
Our training department does at least one webinar each month. We’ve been doing lots more than that in this era of COVID-19. But our regularly scheduled one is the third Thursday. The next one is Thursday, July 16th, at noon Eastern, where we’ll have a panel discussion and frequently asked questions about video magnifiers – when they turn out to be useful, the different models, decisions you can make in terms of which one to buy. All of those things discussed, plus any questions that you may have as the webinar progresses.
If you’re interested, go to freedomscientific.com/webinars. You can register and will be given a link so you can attend. If you can’t attend live and in person, that webinar, along with all the webinars we’ve done in the past, are archived at that same site location, freedomscientific.com/webinars.
GLEN: I think it’s time for a JAWS Power Tip. This month we have one from Tommaso Nonis from Italy. And rather interestingly, it’s going to be read by Daniel, with a very British Vocalizer accent.
TOMMASO NONIS: Here’s a nice power tip from a long-time user, coming to you straight from Italy. Those of us who work with Microsoft Word often experience the need to work with large documents that have been revised by our colleagues. Especially if there are many revisions in a line, it can be difficult to have a clear picture of what has been inserted and deleted by simply hearing JAWS continuously say “Inserted” and “Deleted.”
So how can we tackle this problem? Well, the Speech and Sound Scheme feature comes to the rescue. If you open your Settings Center by pressing INSERT+6, then search for “Schemes,” you will encounter a setting called “Speech and Sound Schemes.” Go down once, then SPACEBAR to activate the window. In the window that comes up, press “Create New Scheme,” and you could call it something like “Revisions.” A multipage dialog will come up, and you need to select “Attributes.”
Here you are presented with a list of text attributes, including inserted and deleted text, to which you can assign a voice or sound that JAWS will use to speak that particular attribute. You could, for example, assign a higher pitched voice or an ascending sound to the inserted text, and a lower voice / descending sound to deleted text.
Now, when you are in a revision-heavy document, press JAWS KEY+ALT+S to choose the scheme you created, and select it from the list box. JAWS will now speak revisions with your newly made changes, and you’ll immediately notice how easy it is to handle revisions in Word like a pro. Enjoy navigation by character, word, or line; and JAWS will change the voice or play a sound to alert you when new revisions are detected. Press SHIFT+F10 on any of them, and you can decide whether to accept or reject each individual one.
GLEN: Thanks, Tommaso, for that tip. And because we used it, we’ll add an additional year onto your JAWS SMA. We have a few power tips in the hopper, to be used in months to come. But if you have one you’d like to submit, highlighting a feature in JAWS that people might not otherwise know about, write to us, firstname.lastname@example.org, V I S P E R O dot com, email@example.com, and we’d love to hear from you.
GLEN: There’s one person who’s appeared on FSCast more than anybody else but the hosts, and that’s Eric Damery. Eric, welcome back.
ERIC DAMERY: Hi, Glen. Good to be here, and thrilled to be into the summer months already.
GLEN: And with the summer months comes our first update of the summer. That came out in the middle of June – June 16th, to be exact – for all three of our products. What are some of the highlights in those updates?
ERIC: Well, we had a couple of very good features that came out. First is the Braille and Text Viewer. This is something that – we’ve had a Braille Viewer in JAWS for a long time, but we’ve added the Braille Text Viewer for JAWS and Fusion now so that someone looking at your screen as you’re running JAWS or Fusion will be able to see a window opened up at the top of the windows, and it shows the braille dot representation and the associated text with it, so that you can see both of them and how they’re linked together. And as you navigate the computer, that information, the window is constantly updating.
So this is a great tool for a vision teacher who has a student, maybe they’re doing a Zoom session, and the student shares their screen, and the teacher can actually see what the braille representation is that the student is reading and working with. It’s also nice for script writers who are trying to create some scripts for consumers to use in a jobsite. They may be a sighted script writer, not have a braille display. But now they’ll be able to see exactly what the braille representation is on the screen as they’re writing the script so that they can check that out.
GLEN: Is the Braille and Text Viewer different when a Fusion user uses it?
ERIC: Yeah. The Fusion user may not want to have the braille representation, but just wants to have the text viewer representation. And that is a great tool, something that we had in the Magic product, so that you have a window. You can determine the size of the fonts. You can determine the color of the foreground, the text, and the background colors that’ll be used within the text viewer and whatever text you’re reading on the screen, no matter what size it is on the page. Even if it’s changing, it’ll always be constant up there in that window. So it’s a really nice way of being able to have a constant access to a particular font and color as you’re navigating around, whether it be email, Internet, Word, Excel, wherever it is.
The other change that we’ve implemented is something to help folks who’ve got Bluetooth sound devices or soundcards that cause JAWS to basically clip as you start to navigate or type text, so you don’t hear the first couple of syllables, and then it picks up and starts going again. It’s kind of like your sound device has gone to sleep for a moment while JAWS isn’t talking.
And so we’ve put a feature in, and you can find this in the Settings Center by searching for the word “sound,” for instance. You’ll find it. It’ll be the first thing, and you turn that on, and it should clear that up. So that’s getting a lot of chatter out there. A lot of people are really liking that feature to be able to use their earbuds and things like that.
GLEN: Yeah, it’s been a long time coming, and glad we finally have that in this version of the update. A couple of months ago we talked about some specials that we were running for folks in the U.S. and Canada in response to COVID-19. And I think much to everyone’s dismay, COVID-19 is still amongst us. And so have we done anything to adapt our contributions to folks in response to that?
ERIC: Yeah, we have. We actually surveyed quite a few of the people who had gone online and signed up with their email and took advantage of getting the free software. It was good till June 30th. And when we surveyed them, a large majority of the people who got it said they’d be interested in any kind of a special we might offer them to continue using it beyond the June 30th date. So we’ve done several things. And as you mentioned, the free solution was available and still is available for people in the U.S. and Canada.
And outside the U.S. and Canada we encourage people, reach out to your distribution channel, the dealer in your territory or country or wherever, and ask them about opportunities that they’ve got. We’ve been working with each of them, and they have some opportunities available, other than the portal that you can take advantage of. So for the people who are in the U.S. and Canada, if they went to our home page, there’s actually a link on there for free software. And when they click that, they land on a sponsored page, where they’re asked to put in their email address. And they’ll be provided the instructions from that point to be able to log into the portal, register on the portal; and voila, they’ll find their free software that was good till June 30th.
And we’ve extended that. Because of COVID continuing and people still working from home and getting education during the summer from home, we’ve extended all of those licenses out till August 31st for free. So if you’ve already gotten the software, and you thought it was going to expire June 30, if you check now, your expiration date is actually August 31st. We automatically got that adjusted for you on your computer. So everyone who’s got it, you’re already extended. Everyone who hasn’t got it can still go and sign up, right up through August 31st, and take advantage of it.
GLEN: We are heading into what would otherwise be in-person NFB and ACB conference season, but the conferences are virtual. Does that mean the specials are virtual, too?
ERIC: Yeah, they are, sort of. If you’re someone who’s using the free software, you downloaded and used the software that was good till June, it’s now extended to August 31st. We encourage you to go in, find the renew button in the portal next to your license when you log in, and renew from there. And it will look at whatever software license that you’re using. If it’s a JAWS, it’ll put you in our store and let you check out with the 20 percent discount already applied, and it will add that license, if you buy one year, three year, or five year, to the August 31st date so it won’t start running. Because these specials are only going to be good through the month of July. So you’ve got to take advantage of it.
Now, if you already have a license, a Home Annual License, go into the portal and choose the Renew button and add time to the end of your existing license. And those 20 percent discounts on the Home Annual Licenses are already applied, so you don’t have to do any discount codes or anything special. And if you’ve got an ILM license, and you’re still maintaining your SMA, and you’re one of those customers – and there are lots of you – that come to the conventions and come over to our table and sit down and talk to us, and we renew your SMA and give you a discount, you can still do that now, too.
Just go to the home page. Go to the link for SMA and Upgrades that is right on the home page, put in your home serial number, and it will check out your version, figure out the cost, and apply the 20 percent discount when you get to the store automatically. So take advantage of that and make sure you do that before July 31st in order to get the 20 percent.
GLEN: So we have an international audience, obviously, on FSCast because people use our products all around the world. What about specials for folks who are not in the U.S.?
ERIC: There are many, many places that do offer different things at different times of the year. I know that Sight and Sound in the U.K., they’ve run a program, as well for customers during the summer show times over there. And I believe the Canadian office of Optelec in Canada will be offering something, especially for the people who have been able to take advantage of that free software during this time. So we would ask that you reach out to the distributor or the office of the dealer in the country where you’re located and ask them what is currently available and what show specials they may be running over the summertime.
GLEN: Sounds good. Now, what about hardware specials?
ERIC: And I’m the software guy. But as I understand it, at the conventions each year they generally have discounts on various hardware products. And it’s my understanding that this year, during the time of the conventions, for the customers in the U.S. you’ll be able to contact your sales representative and be able to get specials on things like RUBYs and Pebbles and Focus 14 Braille Displays. And I think across the board, on all brands, there’ll be hardware specials. I can’t tell you exactly what the prices are going to be. But during the conference time, that would be your cue to make sure that you call and find out what those specials are, right from the sales representatives.
GLEN: Well, Eric, as always, thanks for being with us.
ERIC: All right, Glen. Talk to you soon.
GLEN: That’s the music of Dave Leo Baker, someone who I’ve known since the late 1990s. I didn’t know the “Leo” part, but I knew everything else because that’s when he joined Freedom Scientific, first in tech support and then, not so many years later, joined our scripting department, worked on PowerPoint, Outlook, a bit on Word, lots on PAC Mate. So when you’re using JAWS, and you’re noticing that things talk really well in certain apps, Dave is responsible for a lot of those customizations. I had no idea that his background was in music. And he has gone back to his roots. The majority of his time is being focused on music again.
I figured it’s about time to have you on FSCast, Dave, and find out a little bit about you. Welcome.
DAVE BAKER: Well, thank you for having me on the show, Glen. Wow, what an introduction. That was very nice.
GLEN: Did you want music from being really young? Or did your folks push you there? Or was there something completely different?
DAVE: A combination. So some of my earliest memories are not only really loving music, but being extremely curious as to how you did that. And the pushing part came from a very classical family. My mother had heard about braille music, and her thing about the stereotyping was blind people all what she called “played by ear,” with a sneer. She didn’t really understand that ear training is just as incredibly valuable as learning to read music. So from the get-go she didn’t want any improvisation. And I really wanted to improvise. I really wanted to build out from the beginning. And I wanted what was on the page, too. So that’s, I mean, I wanted to learn the classics.
GLEN: So how young were you when all of this was happening?
DAVE: When I was really little, around four, I think my parents wanted to see if I was going to do anything with it. They got me the – if you remember those toy pianos in the ‘70s. And I wouldn’t let go of it. They literally had to take it away, and like forever take it away because I wouldn’t eat, sleep, or anything else. I just wanted to play with that thing. Then I started taking a few lessons at age seven. And then my mother really got serious about me learning braille music at age eight.
GLEN: And were you in band in school?
DAVE: I was not. My mother hated band. I hung out with the band kids. She didn’t even like anything that I was doing that was not part of the whole classical thing.
GLEN: So how did you go from being classically trained to being involved with rock & roll?
DAVE: One day a switch flipped. I was actually going along with the whole classical thing and feeling bad that the previous spring I had been beat at recital by an eight-year-old girl, and here I was 15 years old. And the next day a switch flipped. And I was like, you know what, keyboards are my thing. I’ve been following Mannheim Steamroller behind my parents’ back a little bit. I’ve been following some of these great keyboard artists, secretly kind of fantasizing going there. And then one day a switch flipped, and then it’s like, I’ve got to become a keyboardist. I’ve got to learn this stuff.
GLEN: How did you break it to your mother?
DAVE: I didn’t, for a while. She discovered it and got mad, but that’s the way she usually was. Her biggest complaint about me was, “You just disappear, and then you show up, and then these other things are happening.” I was always like that.
GLEN: But how did you get the keyboard without her knowing?
DAVE: Oh, I didn’t get a keyboard initially. I was learning from friends. And eventually I saw an old analog synthesizer in a music store, and I told my parents I really wanted to have it. I really wanted to buy it. I had money saved up in my account over the summer from working. I wanted to buy it, and so they went half and half with me for my graduation present from high school.
GLEN: Did you go to college?
DAVE: I did. I went to Portland State.
GLEN: And what did you study?
DAVE: I went for International Studies because the music program was only classical and jazz. They didn’t have any electronic music programs at the time. So I was getting all my extracurricular musical education out in the field elsewhere. But I was going for International Studies. And the idea was to go for Spanish and Japanese because that was supposed to be the big thing. And I didn’t end up graduating that because I had a – I apparently had had a seizure disorder that nobody knew I had had. But I had a great big one in college, and I lost all my Japanese as a consequence.
GLEN: Yeah, that must have been really scary.
DAVE: Oh, it was terrifying. It was, well, I thought, what could I lose next? It was terrifying, but I wasn’t in the kind of environment where you let terrifying show. So, you know, people used to call me Cool Hand Dave and all that. So it was just like, I’m the cool; I can handle anything. But under the hood, man, it was absolutely scary.
GLEN: And did medication help?
DAVE: It has. I’ve been free of them for the last 15 years.
GLEN: Yeah, but that meant you had them for at least 15 years.
DAVE: That’s right. Yeah, it did. It does mean that. I’ve had them for the first whatever 49 minus 15 is. So, yeah, I had them for all that time.
GLEN: Out of college did you have a music business?
DAVE: Oh, yeah. I was performing. I was part of the new age piano scene out here in Portland.
GLEN: I have a song from you that’s playing in the background now called “Rain.” Is that the kind of thing you were doing in the early ‘90s?
DAVE: Yeah, the “Rain” song with the piano and that sort of little drums and stuff like that, the rain stick and all that. That’s definitely ‘90s. My wife always says that particular one is the iconic ‘90s piano from that time period.
GLEN: So the music business didn’t work, ultimately, at that point?
DAVE: What happened was that in the Pacific Northwest we got floods. And what I was doing at the time was a lot different than what I’m doing right now because it was the new age piano scene. It’s like we’re talking breakfasts, lunches, wine tastings, wine dinners. It was very storefront. It was very brick-and-mortar. So when all of these businesses started getting impacted by these floods, you’re not going to get any work. They’re not getting any work.
GLEN: Yeah. Not unlike what’s happening now with COVID-19.
DAVE: The irony being that that is doing the opposite for me. But yes.
GLEN: So what did you do when the floods came?
DAVE: In a personal level, I told my wife, I said, “I feel like a part of me has died.” But I had a little girl. I had a one-year-old girl. So what I did was I used some money, unexpected money that came to my family. I used it to go out and buy JAWS for Windows and a speech synthesizer. And I’ve got to tell you, I did nothing but sit and listen and practice with those training tapes for the next couple of weeks.
GLEN: You said that when you first got your tiny toy piano it was really captivating, and you wouldn’t eat or drink or sleep. Was the computer the same way, or did you feel like you had no choice?
DAVE: When I was a new age piano guy, after being in college, well, that was the dream. And then to lose it all, that was my identity. And so the computer thing was the next thing. And so it’s sort of like your next hit, you know, your next kick. And so there was some of that. It’s like, oh, I bet I can learn this, you know, the whole reinvent yourself, to roll with the punches and try to make the best of the situation. But curiosity is a powerful, as they say now, a hell of a drug. And so, yeah, I mean, I hadn’t seen any of this stuff before. So it was sort of like trying to learn music all over again, in a sense. But like how does this work?
GLEN: What got you to Henter-Joyce?
DAVE: JAWS was why I was able to use the computer. That’s bottom line. I knew that. And so when the people that made JAWS had a job opening, and my dealer told me about it, I thought I would send in an audition, or a résumé and all that, and see if I could make the grade. I didn’t know if I could.
GLEN: Well, I’m delighted to see that not only did you do well in the job that we hired you for, you excelled, and you moved into our scripting department – many, many years ago now. What were you doing with music?
DAVE: I had an on-again, off-again relationship with it. I really wanted to be – part of me really wanted to be back in it full-time because that’s really what turns my crank. That’s what gets me going. I did have a piano in my house. So when I was home, I did play. But I wasn’t doing anything with it. There was no energy in it, like you’re performing or you’re putting stuff in the studio or, you know, that kind of thing.
GLEN: When did you start experimenting with technology meets music?
DAVE: My friend dragged me into it. We were in what the kids would call now a “dad rock band.” I’m a part-time bassist, so I was the bass player. And we were doing ’80s/’90s hits from our high school/college days. And we’re on the porch, you know, we’re smoking it up after a practice, and my friend George says, “Hey, Dave. Have you tried out GarageBand?” You know, we’re passing it around the circle there, and he’s all like, holding it away from me. And he’s like, “No, man, tell me you’re going to give it a try.” He wouldn’t pass it until I said, “Yeah, all right, tell you what, George, I’ll give it a go.”
GLEN: When was this?
DAVE: This was August of 2018.
GLEN: So it’s really only been two years that you’ve been doing things digitally.
DAVE: It took off so fast. I didn’t know if I would even produce one track. And it’s something that, once it opened – when I was a kid, my dreams used to have musical soundtracks to them, and that all went away. It was all stifled for all that time. And it suddenly just came back with a vengeance, you could say. I mean, I suddenly had to quickly learn how to use Logic Pro and really quickly learn how to catch up on – because I already had the technical knowledge from a musical and a music industry standpoint. But how do I do this on a computer? But then it was sort of driven because now the door is open. And there was a lot bigger something, whatever something you want to call it back there, than I even knew. And it wanted out.
GLEN: So we’ve been playing a little of that track behind our conversation. And I notice, with this and so much of your music, that it’s sort of carefully layered. How do you even think about those things?
DAVE: I think it depends on who you talk to. When it comes to me, I think in terms of counterpoint. You’ll notice – so for those who don’t know what counterpoint is, counterpoint is where you have multiple melodies playing in the same song at the same time. The most notable examples are people like Bach and people like that. But anyone who listens to very much of my music, and in fact some of the younger bloggers complain about it, is that there’s generally more than one melodic line going at the same time.
I track it up to the fact that my mind just does that. I’m always thinking in parallel. I can’t keep a straight thought. I’ve been the person that literally had two, you know, you get an earworm in your head, some song that your kid was playing or something that stuck in your head. I’ve literally had two or three of them stuck in my head at the same time. It’s a really annoying thing to have happen. That’s just how my mind works. And so I really can think in counterpoint. So these layers come naturally to me.
GLEN: It must have been really liberating to know that, not only could you think these layers, but you could actually create them on a computer on your own.
DAVE: If you’re doing it on a computer, you’re in your house. There’s more studio in that computer than anyplace I’ve ever played. It’s an amazing thing. I’m just – I could almost weep for what we have now in terms of just so much synth in such a small box.
GLEN: I realize every track is different. But on average, how much time do you think you spend on a given song?
DAVE: Surprisingly little. I think that I spend no more than a day on something. The rate of production on a computer is much faster. I can go in and edit. I can change the note and the velocity of the note and a few other things. Now, those are not things I could do before.
GLEN: What prompted you to finally decide, “It’s time for me to go do music full-time again”?
DAVE: I think it was more of a subconscious thing, to be honest, as it built. And then I realized this is what’s happening to me. Hit midlife, my kid is grown, we have finally finished paying off her college and stuff like that. And it’s time for Dave to sort of do something for Dave now and kind of go get it.
GLEN: People have been hearing little snippets of your music behind our conversation for the last little bit. If they want to hear more of what you have to offer, and potentially buy some, how do they find out more?
DAVE: So the easiest way to do it will be to go to DaveLeoBaker.com. I’m on all the platforms. The website has links to everything, including the feature video and all that stuff, so you can hear that. If you do have a home device that talks, I mean, that you can talk to, ask them to play, and tell them “Play Dave Leo Baker,” and see what they come up with, or list it for you.
GLEN: Well, I’m really glad we took the time to have you on FSCast. Your story is quite fascinating. And I want to leave everyone with a little bit of a track that you did for Computers for the Blind, and I’m curious if you can talk about how that came to be.
DAVE: I’m really passionate about Computers for the Blind because any of us that are of age where we didn’t have technology growing up, we fundamentally as blind people understand what it was like for people who lived around the time when they invented the printing press. I mean, for us, we had so limited access to information. And there are people now that still have limited access because they don’t have the money to get a computer, or the technology. And Computers for the Blind basically make it so people can get access to this stuff.
And so I thought and thought, what am I going to produce for this? And I finally decided on Dvorak’s New World Symphony Movement No. 2, the Largo. It’s intended to be a sort of cinematic response to what we’ve all – I assume probably every one of us have had to deal with; you know? There’s a time when you didn’t have access to any of this stuff. And, you know, there’s such a thing as, I mean, those of us who grew up kind of maybe without as much money as other people and as blind people, we a lot of times say we don’t ever want to forget where we came from. And Computers for the Blind gives people a chance to not forget where they came from and really contribute and help these people out.
GLEN: So when you become the giant overnight success that only took 40 years to become, the big hit in the music business, remember you came from Freedom Scientific.
DAVE: I’ll always remember that. I’ll always remember that.
GLEN: Dave, thanks so much for being with us.
DAVE: Well, thanks for having me.
GLEN: If you were listening really closely to my interview
Dave Baker, you picked up some clues that he’s doing his music production on a Mac. And I understand that because he’s surrounded by people in his local community that use that same software. But I figured it would be a great time to talk about the software that I have come to really love because it is so accessible for producing music or podcasts or whatever other audio you have in mind. And rather than just sing the praises of Reaper myself, I figured I’d bring in someone who’s a great audio producer in his own right. He’s also written some scripts for JAWS that make Reaper work really well. I speak of Jim Snowbarger. And Jim, welcome to FSCast.
JIM SNOWBARGER: Thank you, Glen. Pleasure to be here.
GLEN: So what was your audio journey? You started in the analog world, right, with tape?
JIM: Yes, a long time ago, when I was a kid. I just loved playing around with radio transmitters so I could put a radio station on the air. And I had one tape recorder, and I wanted to make little phony commercials for my station. And fortunately my dad talked me out of actually making a living that way. But so I could actually make a living. But it’s been since childhood, really, that audio has just been a love of mine.
GLEN: What was the impetus for you to move to the digital realm?
JIM: One of the things that I really didn’t like about the analog tape world is the loss of fidelity over time. The tape had scrapes along the magnetic coating of the tape, and builds up deposits, builds up magnetic field accumulation, and you lose treble. And so you’re always having to screw around to try to make that clean. With digital, you don’t have a problem like that at all. And with digital, I can edit with molecular accuracy. I can edit in ways that you can’t tell I did it. So that’s way better. It’s just way superior.
GLEN: I’m thinking that a lot of people may have started doing audio on the computer by using a program like GoldWave or Sound Forge or something that really is sort of a glorified stereo tape recorder. Can you talk a little bit about that as compared to something that’s multitrack?
JIM: Well, it is basically the same. The difference is that you don’t just have one pair of stereo tracks. You can have as many as you want. And you can put separate things on different tracks. So the way that presents itself in Reaper is that you arrow up and down, and you choose which track you want to work on. And then you can move along that track with the left and right or some combination thereof, position yourself to some part in the song, let’s say, for example, and push Record, and start recording on this track, but not on the rest of the tracks. And you can record stuff that can be played back at the same time as whatever is on the other tracks. So it’s just like having a bunch of those tape recorders all at once.
GLEN: Most of us, when we pick something up and master it anew, we usually have an incentive, like I want to do X, therefore I need to learn. I’m assuming maybe in your case it was Sound Forge?
JIM: No, it was Cakewalk Sonar because I was doing that Snowman radio broadcast back around 1999 or something like that. That’s when I switched. About halfway through that sequence I started using Sonar. And I was doing multitrack because I did conversations with myself, where I’m both personalities. And I wanted to jump back and forth between these tracks and hear myself and react to myself, laugh at my own jokes, which is kind of embarrassing to know that you have to do that. But anyway, I did that. And so it was to do that show that I ventured into Sonar. Plus in those days I was recording music and multitracking music to sing harmonies with myself and all of that.
GLEN: And is that where multitrack in your mind really shines, when you’re trying to do those kinds of things?
JIM: Yeah, absolutely. It’s very difficult to do it when you can’t hear. So the cool thing is with multitrack you can record one thing, and then you can listen to that while you’re recording a second thing. And then you can play the two back together, if you like, and record a third. So it’s really great for, like, if you want to sing harmony to yourself, or maybe you’re so uncoordinated that you can’t play guitar and chew gum at the same time. Well, you can just record yourself playing guitar, and then you can go chew gum on the other track.
GLEN: I remember it was, what, five or six years ago that you started using Reaper?
JIM: Well, to be honest with you, I think I was slow to start using it because it’s hard to learn. There are just lots of different ways of doing things. Some of the documentation’s a bit fragmented, maybe not written by an expert educator. So some things are hard to – they’re not defined, and maybe it’s hard to figure out what the heck they’re talking about. So I found it a little difficult to learn. And so that slowed me. But there’s an environment there, this multitrack thing, that really attracted me.
And so I started writing JAWS scripts to embellish Reaper and make it work even better, make it more convenient to use. And part of writing those scripts was that I needed to learn how the program worked. So it was sort of bootstrapping myself up little by little there, I’d say. And once I got into developing those scripts, I realized, wow, this is really very convenient. There’s a lot of power here.
And it’s not just that you’re multitracking and listening to yourself. You know, we used to buy, if you play guitar, something like that, you maybe remember buying an effects device, a piece of hardware that would add reverb or chorus or something like that to your guitar. You can make Reaper do that. You can make it into your own little effects box that plays effects in real time. You’re not recording anything. You’re just playing your guitar through the reverb.
GLEN: Without a plugin called Osara that James Teh developed, Reaper isn’t at all accessible. What are the things that Osara does, and then what are the things that your scripts add on top of it?
+JIM: Osara makes Reaper basically usable by any screen reader, really. But what I wanted to do was make it way better than usable. What I wanted to do was make it convenient.
GLEN: So give me a “for instance.”
JIM: If you have a project with a lot of tracks, and you can record on any of these, there might be some tracks where you’re not recording on there at the moment. Just to think of an example, you know, you might have a song on track one. And then you go to the end of the song, and then you go to track two, and you punch in and start talking. Okay, well, you’ve just created what they call an “item.” And then you talk for a little bit, and then you stop, and then you go back to track one, and you include a file. And maybe that’s another song.
So now you’ve got three “items,” they call them. And as you up-and-down arrow through the various tracks, sometimes it’s not always obvious. Is there an item at my current location on this track? Well, with the JAWS scripts you know that. You actually know, oh, there’s an item here.
Here’s another cool one. You take your braille display and look at the routing buttons. And you can think of the length of your braille display as a ruler that represents the entire length of your project. So you can have it playing and just move around with the routing buttons and instantly jump to other positions in the project, hunting around for something that you know you want to focus on.
GLEN: Have you done other things specially for braille?
JIM: The braille display is formatted for compact and efficient display of what track you’re on. Is it armed for recording? Is it muted? The time, the cursor time is on there, so I know I’m three minutes and 12 seconds into the project, and that advances as you move through. You can display the audio level, how loud your signal is, and what the file name is of the item that’s at the current position on this track. Another thing is, if you select a portion of the project, where is that selection? Starting here, going to there, how long is it? That’s on the braille display.
GLEN: This sounds good. Now, for those who are looking for freebies, this is not Audacity.
JIM: But Reaper’s not expensive. I’m not trying to sell it to you. But it’s, you know, compared to Sonar or Cakewalk, it’s way less expensive. And my scripts – my scripts are free, mainly because I wanted to show off what JAWS can do in this environment. And it really can make this shine.
GLEN: Even their professional selling price is in the low 200s. If you’re an amateur or sort of using it at home, it’s in the 70 to $75 range. And that’s really inexpensive for all you get. It is such a value-packed piece of software.
JIM: You know, people have used Sound Forge for a long time. And really, if there’s something that you can do in Sound Forge that you can’t do in Reaper, I don’t know what it is.
GLEN: I, like you, found Reaper a little daunting at first. And the thing that got me over the hump was some podcast episodes done by a person named Lars. I don’t know his last name. But they were really great because they explained Reaper to the complete novice, defining terms and concepts and really making it seem quite easy to get started. And that’s what got me started. If you want to listen to those, it’s at a website called ReaProducer.com. Now, that’s R E A Producer. It could be “Re-a” Producer, but JAWS says “Ray” Producer. So it’s always that way in my mind, ReaProducer.com. And after you’re comfortable with that material, I think the next place to go is ReaperAccessibility.com.
JIM: That is a site that’s basically a wiki where people who are screen reader users have figured out how to operate this thing. And they, you know, some of the writing is informal, but it’s informative and tells you, from a screen reader perspective, how do you do this stuff? You know, a lot of documentation is click here and drag there, and it’s just so intuitive. And you’re trying to figure out how the heck to do it. But these guys write it from our perspective. And so, while you really should learn the terms before you go there, I think it’s a great resource.
GLEN: And of course there is the Reapers Without Peepers mailing list. I think it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
JIM: I think that’s right. But if you google “reapers without peepers,” you’ll find it. And remember, Reaper is R E A P E R, and Peeper is P E E P E R. Reapers Without Peepers. And there’s a bunch of people who use the program on various platforms.
GLEN: And it just proves that you should use braille because, if you used braille, you would know that Reaper and Peeper did not have the same vowels.
JIM: That’s right.
GLEN: Then there are your scripts. And I suppose they should probably go to SnowmanRadio.com for those.
JIM: I think that’s the best place. There are references scattered throughout the Reaper ecosphere that we’ve talked about there. But maybe not everywhere yet. But it will be. But you can always get them from my SnowmanRadio.com site. SnowmanRadio.com.
GLEN: Can people listen to your old episodes, the ones where you sang with yourself and laughed at yourself?
JIM: That and my new show that I do once a week. So all of that is linked there. You can spy on 20 years of Snowman, if you feel like it.
GLEN: And you also have some other scripts that we probably won’t discuss today. But you have HotSpotClicker. A lot of people have used that over the years. And you continue to contribute to this community. So thank you very much for some of your explanations, and for all you do to really make JAWS shine.
JIM: You’re welcome. And thanks for having me on FSCast.
GLEN: And that pretty much does it for FSCast 185. As always, if you’d like to get in touch with us, you can write to email@example.com, or call our listener line. That’s (727) 803-8000, extension 1010. I’m Glen Gordon. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next month.