What support can be put in place for musicians with disabilities to be able to promote their work to a wider audience?
On the previous page I described some of the barriers that myself and the other acts have faced in the music industry, and during the development and production of Much Taboo About Nothing. In this section, I will describe some of the support that can be put in place to help musicians with disabilities get their music heard by more audiences. This support would include more performance and recording opportunities, more rehearsal times and further promotion, and an overall identity perception of seeing ability before disability, and as musicians first.
Music and disability
Music has been shown to help people with disabilities in a number of forms including; language and communication development, behavioural, emotional and social development, sensory and cognitive development as well as physical development. For example; people with emotional and behavioural problems have benefited from music intervention as; ‘music therapy can be a valuable service to promote self-expression and self-worth in children with EBD’ (Sausser and Waller, 2006, p.6). This in turn can help people with their social skills and peer relationships within their lives.
For those with disabilities, music can be seen to help in these numerous ways leading to overall better wellbeing. This engagement and interaction in music has shown that people can gain an interest in music as a hobby and sometimes develop it into a career, as is the case with the artists in Much Taboo About Nothing, and not just as a way of helping them, and primarily, ‘cope’ with their disabilities.
Early interaction to music through either school or extra-curricular activities has shown to manifest itself as a passion for some young people, and with the participants from Ausome, this has been an example of that development into musicians. Many of Ausome began as participants at Music Spark during their final few years of school and began to develop their skills as music facilitators and performers. This would be what Lamont (2002) would describe as ‘playing musicians’. After leaving school, they continued to attend Music Spark and henceforth have developed their musicianship further, and now hold careers in the arts as performers, actors, DJ’s etc, which loosely fits with Lamont’s (2002) definition of ‘trained musicians’.
Inspiration Porn and Identity
The more disabled people perform and are recognised in society as an equal, the more normalised it should become. This would hopefully also allow less ‘inspiration porn’ to be about, allowing focus to be more so on musicianship and ability.
Inspiration porn is a term coined by Stella Young. She describes it as; ‘an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary - like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball - carrying a caption like "your excuse is invalid" or "before you quit, try”’(Young, 2012). It objectifies disabled people and ‘it's there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective’ (Young, 2012) and assume that life is not as bad as that of a disabled person. ‘It is absolutely wonderful to celebrate the accomplishments of disabled people, just as it is to celebrate the accomplishments of abled people,’ (Wynn, 2017) but when used alongside slogans such as ‘the only disability in life is a bad attitude’ or ‘what’s your excuse’, it doesn’t celebrate us for our achievements but is used ‘as a tool to guilt abled people into trying harder’ (Wynn, 2017).
Within the music sector, I believe inspiration porn comes into play in some circumstances, however, I believe there is a fine line between inclusion and inspiration porn, and no definitive answer or clear separation between the two.
‘In order to understand whether any given instance of musical performance is any good, we first need to be clear what it is intended to be good for’ (Camlin, 2018). For example, in a performance where a group for disabled people perform on stage, and the majority of the performance is sung and played - out of tune. Is this portraying their ability as musicians or just producing the ‘aww factor’, and being seen for doing their best, having the opportunity, despite their disabilities? Yet, it was inclusive because they were given the same space and chance on stage to perform and have a voice as those that have a higher level of musicianship.
I believe both are important as it gives them a sense of agency and ownership of their identity and they have the right to perform. In conversation with artist Kris Halpin around inspiration porn; ‘we’re in an awkward bit where inclusivity matters, but not necessarily quality’, and as Camlin states; ‘ developing a robust understanding of what constitutes quality in socially engaged musical performance is important for a number of reasons. Principle among these is the need to ensure the best possible experiences for participants and audiences (2018). Therefore, society’s reactions to disability in the public eye and not wanting to offend creates a tension between the performers’ rights, their appearance within society and their experiences of doing so.
Society wants to be inclusive, so they applaud the performers appearance; ‘the audience are applauding the participants’ participation as much as (or maybe more than) they are the quality of the works performed’ (Camlin, 2018) but this can override seeing disabled performers as the musicians they are before seeing them as an inspiration.
The performers I chose for Much Taboo About Nothing, were chosen to perform because of their level of musicianship, and thus, second to that, the fact that they also all had disabilities. And from this I pose the question, if you just heard some of the music that was performed during the show, without knowing the context, would you know the performers had disabilities? My guess is no, because their musicianship standard is the same as that of some musicians without disabilities, however their disabilities contribute to their musicianship. As Straus (2016) said previously, focus is on what their disability enables them to do and less on what they do in spite of their disability, and so the separation between the two is unresolvable as they both impact off each other.
Following on from my insight into identity as a barrier (previous page), the more disabled artists become visible as artists, the less taboo around disability will be present.
Kris then went on to say that ‘There also needs to be greater ‘platforming’ and visibility of disabled artists’. Therefore, as disabled artists it is imperative that our musicianship is the main focus in getting us onto stages, but having our disabilities makes us the musicians we are. While we are not disregarding it in anyway, our goal is to sell tickets, entertain and move audiences through our ability as musicians, not simply to just inspire them making able-bodied people feel good that they came to watch a performance because we are doing it despite having disabilities, but as part of who we are as ‘musicians, with disabilities.’
Inclusivity and Accessibility
Secondly, the music industry needs to become more inclusive and accessible, as my artist Kris Halpin said in an interview after the show;
‘My primary source of income is in live performance, and the reality is that most venues are not easily accessible. The music industry could do more to listen to what disabled people say’. As mentioned above, Attitude is Everything identified some of the barriers disabled artists face in the industry. They found that ‘70% of artists have withheld details of a condition or impairment due to being worried that doing so will cause problems and impact a relationship with a promoter, venue or festival’ (Attitude is Everything, 2019). Those that did share information with hosts and venues, 59% were then ignored or not taken seriously.
For example, in Kris’ case, access is the first point of call as Kris is a wheelchair user. If venues for rehearsals, recording or performing are inaccessible for wheelchair users, it outright rules out participation before it’s even begun.
If the music industry is to be more supportive of disabled artists, they need to get to know the individual and build up a conversation, thereby enabling them to accommodate a wide variety of disabilities. Each artist with a disability will have different access needs and requirements, so having the time to make that relationship will benefit both parties. Things may not be able to go at the same pace or order as that of non-disabled artists and being flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the artist will help things run smoothly. This is highlighted by the Musicians Union who looked at top tips for booking disabled artists - allowing ‘sufficient time for soundchecks, and be prepared for questions and different ways of communicating’ (Musicians Union, 2018).