How Do Deaf People Make Music Videos? | ft. Jules Dameron


Jules: We just had a whole setup, with the lights, everything. Rogan: A good 10, 15 minutes. Jules: He put up with my filmmaker requirements. Rogan: Okay! That’s our intro, that’s fine. [both laughing]

Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome. I have a special guest with me today. Her name is Jules Dameron. Tell me, what do you do?

Jules: I make films. And everything else. Writing, acting, just started to do more theater stuff.

R: Exciting! So obviously, as you see from the title of this video today, I want to talk about deaf people making music videos, how that works. If you’ve been watching my channel for a while, you will know I made one kind of recently. I thought we would want to discuss my process, how I made that, and her discuss her process. She’s made several music videos in her time. So, see and compare the differences of that, and how we came up with the process.

J: It’s really complicated. I… Basically, the point of a music video is to understand the song itself. Like, okay. How do you start to understand the song itself? You need to find everything about it. Not just the lyrics, you also have to learn about the music, and the beat, timing.

R: What I did for the music video, I watched the karaoke video, with the words. It has a moving bar that shows the beat, how long–if it’s saying one word, like meeeeee, it’ll move slowly. Then I know how long, how to sign it, that. I used that pretty much, I didn’t even rely on sound, nothing. I just watched the karaoke only. Then after I finished filming, I used in editing the same video, I used that to cut and figure out how to match signs and words.

J: Also, music has its own properties. What’s the feeling, what’s the mood? That kind of thing. So… And so to even assimilate that into the filmmaker, I’m deaf, so I’m like, okay. And actually, doing the lyric karaoke videos are a good start. That’s actually perfect, I do that sometimes. But what I find most beneficial, I can’t help myself. Every time I do a song, it’s usually a famous song, usually. They often already have ASL covers of those songs. Understand, there’s always someone who pronounces the words perfectly. Like… “Let it go, let it go.” You know, whatever, that pronouncing, then I lipread and see that’s the exact timing. Sometimes they mouth it to fit the energy. Really, I tend to look for the singer, actual singer themselves if they filmed themselves, then I can see how they emotionally deliver. Basically, a song is like a puzzle for me. I hear it every time, I actually hear a little bit, but… It’s constantly, it’s always different every time. I listen to it, watch the video, stimulate myself, then I build and build a puzzle. Every time I get a new piece of information, I add that and then by the end of it, I finally have the full picture of the song. And that is a long process in itself.

R: Yes!

J: But I don’t mind doing it, because it’s fun, but it’s like…

R: I did look for the original music video, and that was not at all what I expected from the lyrics. It was completely different. I pictured it like, almost a love song saying “don’t worry about–” a relationship song, and it is. But the original music video is in a hospital. I didn’t expect that from the lyrics. Oh, that changes the mood, how to deliver that. Jules, examples of songs you’ve translated into music videos?

J: I’ve done a lot.

R: Yes, a lot!

J: Each project is different, because… It depends on which one. For “Let It Go” specifically, Amber Zion and Jason Listman and… Me. We figured out the translation together, because we had to separate–we had to work together because there were two characters playing that song, so we had to separate it into their respective parts. Plus, I have a very specific idea myself too. I think the key, really, is to understand what that song makes people feel. Like, take a famous song. Deaf people don’t know about that song, then we ask hearing people “what does this song make you feel?” The goal is to make everything in the deaf lens to serve that feeling. Rather than literally. Because if you do it literally, everything breaks down because we have a different culture.

R: Right.

J: I’m very, very picky about HOW to translate anything, especially music because… It doesn’t make sense– For me, what makes a good translation is when the signed phrase fits perfectly with the sound, like butter. It’s like a beautiful relationship between the singing and the signing. I like to think I make sure that it makes complete sense in a deaf perspective.

R: That is one problem I’ve noticed with some music video translations. They will go too far with the ASL. It becomes abstract ASL, it loses all meaning, and you can’t understand it at all. Like… How are you supposed to understand that? Yeah. If it’s separate, like ASL poetry or something, that’s different. Translation is key in all ASL music covers. Because translation takes everything the song’s about, and translates it to another language, another culture, carrying that over. And many ASL music videos fail at that. Many will–I’m being honest, I’m being honest.

J: Unfortunately! I don’t want that to be true, but it does.

R: Unfortunately, yes. A large majority of these are made by hearing ASL students. That, I don’t consider those music videos. I don’t. I consider those… Practice…

J: I have to say that watching some of those videos are like nails on a chalkboard.

R: Visual nails. Yes. I’m fine if the ASL student makes it CLEAR that this is practice, just playing with the sign, learning sign. Clear right there, I’m fine. I have no problem with that, but if you try to call it an ASL cover or an ASL music video, no. Don’t do that. Even Spanish to English, English to Spanish, whatever, that is “easier” to translate… But would you still do that if you were a student? No. You wouldn’t. So why is it okay to do that with ASL?

J: Yeah!

R: Why? Is it because it’s “not a real language?” No, it is. It brings a lot of disappointment for us when we go, “oh!” and click on it… “Oh. Never mind.”

J: People can’t shake the fact that signing is beautiful with music.

R: It is.

J: And, and yeah, that is good. That’s why I think the deaf community should own that, you know.

R: It takes work! It takes work.

J: Speaking from experience.

R: So what are examples of your favorite music videos that you’ve made? I know, it’s hard to pick, really I enjoy all of them.

J: I love many, I love every one like my baby. But the truth is, some of my most favorite… “The Lazy Song,” one of my favorites. “Rolling in the Deep.” “Somebody I Used to Know.” And “Different Colors.”

R: Yes!

J: I’m so proud of that one. I love that one.

R: “The Lazy Song” is impressive, it’s one take. All the way through, one take. No editing, so that’s, wow. That takes more work to actually memorize everything and not depend on editing.

J: That was fun. Oh my god, I’m so proud of that team.

R: So for music videos, you film and direct, but what about the performers? How do you work with them for their work, signing and so on.

J: Oh my god, it’s so much fun actually. Again, another challenging process. I myself as a film director– I feel like it’s different for me, because I have to memorize and study it, know it. Then when I work with the deaf actor, I literally memorize the song to the point where I memorize the timings too. Because… When I work with a deaf actor in front of the camera… We do have music, but we also have someone cueing sometimes, it depends. But if there’s nothing, just the deaf person and me, I will just watch them to make sure their translation fits the timing.

R: And the performer won’t always be able to hear the music too. They don’t know the song too. So it helps to have someone else who knows it too to support them and make sure they’re hitting all the right times.

J: Right. Right. Really, when I worked with Amber for “Rolling in the Deep“… She hears nothing. Nothing. Which means what? I basically just memorize the song with that, then I will talk with her a lot about the translation, and sometimes the translation naturally falls into natural timing. If you breathe and then sign, it matches timing. And I will watch, sing in my head while I watch her, Amber, sign. That was interesting. I will just stare. I admit, it wore me out a little bit.

R: A lot of mental work!

J: But the results! Oh my god.

J: And some can feel vibrations, so some sets, sometimes we have loud speakers to help them know the count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, you know, that kind of thing. We did that with “The Lazy Song.” The whole team for “The Lazy Song” was deaf. All of us. And we had one deaf choreographer who understands the relationship to music with deaf people, so that was cool using them for that. And really, we had that team of… Six people, six or seven, that rough number of people all in the same shot. So we had cues from all over, natural cues. They just went through it. It’s really nice how it worked out. A whole team helps! A team helps, and Spring Awakening. It’s full of timings for deaf people, and really, that’s epic! But you don’t realize that we can do it, it’s just figuring out timings, that’s it.

R: It requires little adjustments of how things are done to make it work.

J: What I find naturally interesting is that music is like a heartbeat. And we have a heartbeat. Deaf people have that, so we have that natural rhythm. And I have one friend, Amelia Hensley, an actor, and she hears nothing too. But she can sign music so beautifully. Because she literally takes a breath and signs. Like she breathes, breathing helps the beat with the music. It’s cool. Many people have asked me when’s my next music video. I’m like… *sigh* Do you realize how much work it is? It’s not like I just film it, *snaps fingers* No. I’m like yes, I mean, I want to do more. But it’s just… Money, that. I have really high expectations, and I want good quality, so it takes time. And I don’t earn enough to keep that up. I have to admit, it’s hard for me to accept hearing people doing it. I do accept it if it’s done well, right, and respects deaf culture. Let’s be real here. If you are an ASL student, you’ve probably fantasized about doing an ASL music video with your own signing, because you think signing is beautiful with music, and that’s true! That’s fine.

R: Yeah, that’s fine. If you make a music video, you have to be willing to play with the translations, play with how you sign things, how you edit too. You have to play. Don’t try to set in stone your first go. No, you have to adjust it. It’s a process.

J: It depends on what you’re willing to commit to. But you gotta commit! You have to commit to this. It’s a lot of work, and it requires a lot of thought. And bottom line, include deaf people in your process. Give them the opportunity first if possible. It’s a hard conversation, really. Do it right, do it better, do high quality, then I will stop complaining.

R: Okay, thank you for joining me today and discussing about our process for making music videos. I hope you learned something from this video. Let us know what your most interesting thing you learned from us today.

J: I want to know!

R: Or what you want to see from us, what more you want to know about this. Whatever. Leave them below.

J: Closed!

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Published by Rogan Shannon

Hello there! I'm Rogan, a queer deaf guy who has a passion for leadership and advocacy. I create YouTube videos about a lot of different topics - being deaf, queer, reading, language, and whatever else interests me!

2 thoughts on “How Do Deaf People Make Music Videos? | ft. Jules Dameron

  1. Nice collab! Jules signs *exactly* like someone I know and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out who. Easily distracted? Maybe. I wonder how many Deaf people do that…

    Did you figure out the karaoke video hack on your own? I never considered making an ASL music video (since my ASL blows) but I wouldn’t have even thought of doing that!

    1. You’re certainly not the only one! I’ve met my share of people like that.

      Kinda I guess. I mean, I just thought of what would make it the easiest for me to figure out how to follow along and karaoke was the first thing that popped into my head.

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