Creating Audio Descriptions for Music Videos with YouDescribe

Over the weekend, Taylor Swift released her latest single, "ME!", alongside a colorful music video that features lots of visual information. Since I have low vision, it is difficult for me to understand everything that is going on as the video progresses, especially since there is lots of bright lighting. After I told my brother about the new video, we decided to create our own audio description for the new video with YouDescribe. Here are my tips for creating audio description for music videos from the perspective of a viewer with low vision.

What is audio description?

Audio description, sometimes referred to as descriptive audio or described video, is an additional narrator track that provides visual information for people who otherwise would not be able to see it. Audio description is provided during natural pauses in dialogue so it does not distract from the video. Occasionally, describers may pause the video themselves and add description if there are no natural pauses available.

For most online videos, open audio description is used, meaning that the audio description automatically plays and does not require a special device to be used.

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What is YouDescribe?

YouDescribe is a free website and iOS app that allows viewers to watch YouTube videos with audio description. The audio description tracks are written and recorded by sighted volunteers so that people with blindness and low vision can watch YouTube videos and receive visual information. YouDescribe is a project of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, California.

YouDescribe is available online and as a free iOS app. At this time, audio description tracks can only be created through web browsers. YouDescribe can be used with or without an account for viewing videos, but connecting to a Google account is required for requesting videos and creating descriptions.

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Considerations for describing a music video

Here are some considerations for describing a music video that we came up with:

Prioritizing description over music

Many people who are sighted watch a music video for the visuals, not necessarily for the music. They can always listen to the song by itself, but often focus on the visuals that are included in the video, with the exception of lyric videos.

Using inline descriptions for the video

When we were deciding how to add audio description to the music video, we decided to use inline descriptions that was played on top of the music video, instead of pausing the video to provide additional description. We chose to do this because none of our descriptions were very long and were not distracting from the song. We also used inline descriptions for reading subtitles at the beginning of the video.

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How we wrote the description

Before we even started taking notes, my brother and I watched the "ME!" music video in its entirety so we could see what we were getting ourselves into. We then made notes of the general themes of the video, which included pastel colors and lots of different costume changes.

After we watched the video in full, we then watched the video in one-minute increments to take notes on the various scenes and describe what was happening. We still wrote very general notes, but were able to pinpoint the different settings of the video, which included the city streets, a grand mansion, and a colorful stage.

Once we finished that, we watched the video in ten-second increments, taking more detailed notes about what was going on. I held my iPad screen close to my face so I could see the video, while he streamed the video on Chromecast to our TV.

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Things we described

Here are some examples of lines from our audio description script and details we thought were important:

  • Decorative text reads "Me directed by Dave Meyers and Taylor Swift"
  • Taylor steps out into the street wearing a yellow business suit, surrounded by dancers wearing pink and blue suits that dance with briefcases as they move down the street
  • Brendon hands her a kitten, and she happily accepts it
  • Camera zooms out over the city as a rainbow falls from the sky and they dance on platforms in a rainbow colored vortex

Things we didn't describe

Since we only had a limited amount of time to read the descriptions, we decided to omit the following information from our audio description because we did not believe it was relevant to the rest of the video:

  • Descriptions of what Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie look like
  • Detailed descriptions of clothing- we decided to stick with terms like "floral suit" and "fuschia mini dress"
  • Describing the appearance of the cats/kitten
  • Specific lyrics on the ground during the bridge of the song

Recording the description

To record the audio description for the "ME!" music video, my brother organized our notes into a script and used the YouDescribe recording features to record his descriptions. Since he chose to use inline descriptions that played alongside the video, it took a couple of tries to get the video to line up with the audio tracks, plus there were a few times we forgot to hit the record button. The recording process was quick, about twenty minutes, and it took us about an hour and a half from start to finish to create the audio description.

The finished product

I'm really proud of how the audio description for "ME!" turned out and my brother did a great job for his first ever audio description. Since he is a film student, he has a great eye for detail and understanding the visual aspects of a film or video, which makes him a natural candidate for creating audio descriptions.

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Final thoughts

I hope that in the future, more music videos will have audio description tracks available so that fans with blindness and low vision will be able to appreciate the visual elements, choreography, and other work that goes into creating a music video. Until then, fans can use YouDescribe to create their own descriptions and gain a deeper appreciation for their favorite artist's videos.