How do I become an audio describer?
To become an audio describer, you need to have patience, resilience and confidence in spades.
As well as working to tight deadlines, you need to be able to think on your feet, particularly in live performance, as things can change in a nano-second. Of course, there are other skills you need as well. A pleasant speaking voice is essential as well as the ability to use your voice to reflect mood. Audio description requires you to be able to convey the important visual aspects of the story and write them effectively in interesting prose – to choose the essential pieces of information which carry the story forward for the audience member.
The first port of call for a would-be audio describer (in the case of stage audio description) is, probably, your local theatre. They may be looking for describers or looking to begin a service. Going to see a play and listening into their audio description is an excellent place to start.
The training courses run by ADA normally stem from theatres rather than individuals. But do have a look at our training pages to find out what is required.
Does ADA provide training for those living in Scotland
Audio Description Scotland (or ADA Scotland) provide training and advice on all things audio description for those living on or across the border in Scotland. All their services can be found on their website, adascotland.com
Can I make a living as an audio describer?
Very few people in the UK make a full-time living from audio description and the main message is “don’t give up the day job”. In the current economic climate, there are far fewer openings for new describers, which makes the message even more relevant. Most freelance describers include audio description as part of a portfolio of jobs. It combines well with other freelance activities such as acting, broadcasting, voiceover work, training, access work and captioning.
How does AD work in the theatre?
Theatres across the country operate audio description services using describers in a range of employment situations, from volunteers who give their services free or receive payment in kind (such as free tickets/parking) to freelance describers who are employed by contract on a show-by-show basis and usually receive a flat rate fee.
ADA and ADA (Scotland) recommend using two describers as the ideal scenario: this enhances the quality of the description as the describers will listen to each other and often come up with more appropriate decisions on what to leave in or leave out than would happen with one describer.
What does the theatre AD do?
The basic package provided by the theatre describer consists of preparation and live delivery of an introduction to the show, followed by a scene-by-scene description. Sometimes venues will request a pre-show ‘touch tour’ of the set, costumes and props for blind and partially sighted patrons. Some theatres also want to provide a pre-recorded introduction, usually a little more detailed than the pre-show introduction, to send out to their patrons before they attend the actual show.
How much can I expect to be paid?
There is a wide variation in fees across the country, with London theatres generally offering higher rates than elsewhere. Most theatres pay a ‘one off’ commissioning fee with a smaller fee for any repeat performances during the run. The average fee is currently £550, divided between the number of describers working on the show. The touch tour is usually included in the quoted fee but may be priced separately. Recording the introduction attracts an additional fee, usually from between £50 and £75.
Theatres such as the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company pay the best rates; both rely on a small pool of freelance describers. Other venues also use freelance descibers on a regular basis or buy in services from agencies .
Which agencies provide audio description?
VocalEyes offers audio description in theatre and the visual arts across the county and has a team of 21 freelance describers on its books.
Mind’s Eye, run by Anne Hornsby, also operates nationally across most genres and employs 10 accredited freelance describers.
At the time of writing, neither Mind’s Eye nor VocalEyes are taking on more describers.
Sightlines, run by a trio of describers – Jonathan Nash, Margaret Spittles and Julia Grundy – works in all theatrical genres and specialises in opera. They currently work for Welsh National Opera, the Royal Opera House and theatres in Birmingham, Nottingham and Oxford. They occasionally employ fellow describers but currently have no vacancies. However, anyone interested in working with Sightlines at a later date is welcome to contact them.
Bridge Arts and Culture is run by Amanda Wright, who is herself an accredited describer working across genres, and using other accredited describers to supplement the service offered by her company. Bridge’s books are currently full, but CV’s emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org will be filed for future reference.
Other freelance describers market themselves to theatres in their area, providing a valuable service to blind and partially sighted patrons and helping venues fulfil their obligations under the Equality Act.
See the Directory for details.
I see the advertising for audio description on TV – do they need describers?
A small number of full-time and part-time audio description opportunities are provided by broadcasters and associated agencies for more information please contact email@example.com
Most AD units use a core of staff describers supplemented by freelancers. Rates of pay vary, and most require describers to write and record descriptions.
What about film and video?
Increasing numbers of mainstream cinemas are able to screen audio described films. These are later released with an AD option on DVD. There are also occasional one-off live cinema descriptions at film festivals such as the Disability Film Festivals held previously at the National Film theatre. IMS and ITFC are the longest-established UK companies providing recorded description. Mind’s Eye specialises in live description.
Are there other arts which use AD?
There is an increasing range of description opportunities at galleries, museums and heritage sites. In conforming to the Equality Act, many such organisations are trying to improve their access facilities by providing touch tours, workshops and audio guides aimed at blind and partially sighted visitors. Encouraging such improvements was part of the RNIB’s Talking Images project.
VocalEyes has worked with the British Museum in recent years to provide descriptions of selected objects on their website. They have also provided audio guides for touring art exhibitions and for galleries such as Tate Britain. Mind’s Eye has worked with many North West galleries, including Tate Liverpool, Manchester City Art Gallery, Gallery Oldham and the Museum of Science and Industry.
Opportunities exist for describers who have a knowledge of art and the energy to initiate projects in their area. Fees vary from project to project, and from organisation to organisation. At the top end, experienced describers might expect to earn up to £300 a day. Mainstream producers such as Antenna International, the leading provider of audio guides outside the US, provide some audio guides specially tailored to visually impaired users. They generally use their own pool of freelance writers, but it may be worth getting in touch if you feel you have skills in this area.
What about festivals and outdoor events?
Increasingly, live events are introducing audio description – including the Liberty Festival in Trafalgar Square, the Greenwich and Docklands Festival and even venues such as The Carling Academy at their “Attitude is Everything” rock music nights. The description is improvised, live, using a radio system. VocalEyes provides coverage of such events. Freelance opportunities are also available. Rates vary.
I am an audio describer: how do I get myself known?
The Audio Description Association’s Directory of Describers is a way in which ADA members can advertise their skills and experience.