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Quadriplegia Can’t Stop David Jeffers

By Adam Korenman

When life throws a mountain in your path, you have to keep charging forward

Artists of every medium evolve throughout their lives, discovering new passions and pivoting into new industries. Sometimes the change comes by choice, but what happens when life forces you to choose a new path? How hard are you prepared to work to find your creative outlet?
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David Jeffers never stopped moving. He started a music production company in the early 90's, and co-founded an online record label in the early 2000s as a pioneer of digital media. After graduating with a BS in Mechanical Engineering, he worked for over ten years in the automotive industry, where the art of sound with melodies and notes took a back seat to the technical side with frequencies and formulas.
Then, just as his career was taking off, he suffered a tragic accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. After the accident, David sought to turn this life-changing event into an opportunity. He turned toward his passion for sound design, knowing full well how many obstacles remained in his path. Yet he never stopped charging forward.
David transitioned from being a full-time engineer to being a stay-at-home dad, sound designer, and digital artist as he founded Quadriphonic Studios. He is also a peer mentor for others with spinal cord injuries, and a disabilities advocate and consultant.
David's story isn't only an inspiration for overcoming hardship, but for the unyielding pursuit of your goals. We can't wait for you to share in his journey and gain some insight into your own. So grab your fanciest headphones and your hottest snack. It's time to bring the thunder with David Jeffers.

Quadriplegia Can’t Stop David Jeffers

Show Notes

Artist
Studios
Work
Resources

Transcript

Joey:
Hey everyone. This episode is an intense one. My guest today suffered an accident 10 years ago that left him quadriplegic. He had a young child and his wife was pregnant with their second baby and everything changed in one stroke of really bad luck. Take a minute and think about how you would respond to challenge that enormous. How would that shape the rest of your life? Nevermind your career. What kind of mindset do you need to overcome something like this?
David Jeffers is a sound designer in North Carolina who was introduced to me by the studio, This Is Bien, for whom he does sound design work under the name Quadraphonic. The studio sent me a spot they'd done for the Paralympics and mentioned that the sound designer on it was himself, Quadriplegic. I knew instantly I had to meet this guy and I was not disappointed. David has an infectious personality and in spite of the challenges he's faced due to his injuries, he's been able to completely switch careers and become a sound designer while juggling also being a husband and dad.
Aside from the obvious questions like how does you work, I also wanted to know what it was like for him to face this. What was going through his mind in the days and weeks after the accident, and how did he discover a talent for sound design? This conversation is going to inspire the hell out of you. And Lord knows, it inspired the hell out of me. So let's give it up for David Jeffers right after we hear from one of our amazing School of Motion alumni.
Ignacio Vega:
Hi, my name is Ignacio Vega, and I live in [inaudible 00:02:30], Costa Rica. School of Motion helped me broaden my perspective and see motion design, not only as a tool in my job, but as an art from itself. Their courses and their amazing community allowed me to gain confidence in my skills and turn my freelancing in animation from a side gig into a full-time job. I've never been happier with the direction of my career is heading. My name is Ignacio Vega, and I'm school of Motion alumni.
Joey:
David, it is an honor to have you on the School of Motion Podcast. I appreciate you coming on, man. Thank you.
David:
Oh, appreciate it. I'm happy to be here. Thanks for the invite.
Joey:
No problem, man. Well, I heard about you because Ricardo, the executive producer for This Is Bien, and by the way, I took French in high school. So I want to say Bien, like the way French people say it. So I don't know how they say it, This Is Bien, whatever. This is good. He sent me this spot that they had just completed for the Paralympics. And he mentioned that you did the sound design for it and that you were quadriplegic. And so my first thought was like, how are you doing it? How does that work? And I wanted to talk to you. We don't know each other. I just emailed you and I was like, Hey, you want to come on a podcast? And here you are. So why don't we start with that project and your involvement with This Is Bien. How did you get hooked up with them and ended up working on this?
David:
Well, it actually goes back several years. I've actually known Ricardo since 7th grade.
Joey:
Oh, wow.
David:
Yeah. We've been great friends. We've had record labels. We've had production companies. We've done all these different kinds of businesses over the years. And then he went off to do the motion design stuff. Kind of this is a short abbreviated version, but I got hurt and, he's always looking out trying to find different things that I could do for the company, because I actually started out being a disability consultant for them. And then one day he was like, man, we need some sound design help, you work on music all the time, you've done the label stuff, you've got all types of experience, why don't you just give it a shot?
And then honestly, all of a sudden they kind of threw me this. It was an internal project, which was actually another wheelchair basketball project that they were working on at the time, as like a practice thing. And I was like, all right, I'm going to figure it out and just kind of went at it head on and that's where it really started.
Joey:
Oh, that's awesome, man. So you guys have known each other, and you said that you worked on record labels together. So tell me about that.
David:
In high school, we were producers. We made beats and Ricardo actually even rapped a little bit. So we had like a production company. We did little mix tapes, nothing too serious. But then after I graduated college, we kind of linked back up and we had an online record label called Neblina Records, which it was totally online because at the time Ricardo was down in Ecuador and I was working at Ford motor company in Detroit, Michigan. So it was basically like an underground Hip Hop label that we did for a couple of years.
Joey:
That is so cool. And so now did you rap too or you were just kind of the producer?
David:
No, I did production and then a lot of it was actually the physical production of the records and just making sure everything was being promoted. You got 110 jobs when you have an indie label, so there's a lot of different stuff.
Joey:
That's super cool. So you already were sort of in the world of audio on the music production side. And I've read some stuff about you on the Internet and I know that you're into Hip Hop and all that. So that all makes sense. And that kind of seems almost like a natural entryway into sound design, because when you're producing a Hip Hop track, you kind of are sound designing. It's musical, but it's very similar. And so when you started working with Ricardo on soundtracks for motion design projects, how big of a learning curve was there for you?
David:
Honestly, it wasn't too bad. The worst part of it was finding the software and the hardware or the tools that I was going to use because when he asked me I had no clue what I was going to be able to use. I ended up finding this program called Luma Fusion that I use on my iPad Pro. So just kind of ramping up, figuring out software and all that, that was the hardest part. And then the rest of it, man, it kind of was just like sampling to me when I'm making a Hip Hop song. Going somewhere to a sound bite and finding the right sounds, placing them, layering them. So that was kind of intuitive. But getting like the transitional sounds and stuff that maybe they were used to in the motion design field, I think that's where the curve kind of came in, but honestly it went fast. It went from them looking at me as a entry-level sound designer to basically pro level, probably within six months they were [inaudible 00:07:31] that secure.
Joey:
That's awesome, man. Well, I want to get into that a little bit deeper once we get into sort of how you're actually working, but why don't we go back in time a little bit. So before your accident, what was your career like? What were you actually doing?
David:
I was a mechanical engineer. That's what I got my degree in. And I was a test engineer for a German bearing company. And basically I would set up machines or design machines to spin ball bearings until they failed. And the way we would watch that is we would record basically their vibration levels and frequencies, which it's on a more technical scale, but all of that's related to sound once again. So the last, probably seven years of my engineering career I was doing that.
Joey:
Interesting. I can see, I guess some thread there where like, there is a very technical side to sound. What you're doing now I think it kind of abstracts a lot of that away and it's really about the creativity and about setting a mood and all of that. So was that career, did you feel really fulfilled in that and was that sort of scratching an itch for you, or were you always doing the creative stuff and producing beats and stuff on the side?
David:
Yeah, I was always doing it on the side. That particular job before my accident, honestly, I was sick of it. I was ready to go. I really took that job just to get back to North Carolina to get to my fiance at the time. Michigan just wasn't the place for me, but I actually liked my job in Michigan with Ford because even though it's technical, I still got to be creative with kind of the stuff I was doing there.
Joey:
Yeah. Was it the cold that made you want to go back to North Carolina? Obviously going for your fiance's the main thing, but I was curious, what was it about Michigan that you didn't like?
David:
I didn't like the fact that once it got cold, I could deal with cold, but it turned gray.
Joey:
Oh, yeah.
David:
Gray for the whole winter and then people really just kind of hibernate it. So it was just, if you weren't in a click of people, you didn't know people already, it was kind of hard to get to know people in that scenario.
Joey:
It's so funny. I lived in New England for a long time. I'm from Texas originally, but I lived in New England and it's very similar. It gets so cold, and then it's gray for six months. It was like the sun doesn't come out. This is a funny thing I tell people and I'm sure you saw this too. If you've never lived in a place like that, this will seem really weird, but you can go to the drug store, like CVS and they'll sell these lights that mimic sunlight that you're supposed to shine on yourself for a few hours a day so you don't get depressed during the winter. And that was kind of a sign like, maybe I should move to Florida.
David:
Right. Get out of here.
Joey:
That's so funny, man. Okay, cool. So you were in mechanical engineering, you're producing beats on the side. And were you doing any of that stuff professionally? You said you had this record label, were you making money with that, were you hoping maybe that would turn into your full-time thing, or was it really just a hobby?
David:
With the record label, we were bringing in some revenue and we did hope that it could be a full-time thing. But just timing wise, it was taking so much effort. And then we were getting married, kids were coming into the picture and it was kind of like, I don't know, we can't really justify the amount of time for the return that we were getting.
Joey:
Yeah, I hear you. Especially when kids come along, it does kind of change the equation a little bit. So at that point, because I think what's interesting about your story is how you, you obviously had to make a shift and figure out new ways of doing things. And now you're doing this, you're doing sound design, which is not what you were doing before. And it's like an interesting kind of journey, but what did you think, back before the accident, if you sort of projected forward, what did you think your life was going to be like? Did you think sound design, was that even on your radar, sound design or did you think maybe you keep doing mechanical engineering? What was your vision back then?
David:
I was looking into trying to flip houses, real estate. What else? I have a sister-in-law that is into events planning. I was trying to get involved with that. I was really looking for anything that would get me out of the office and get me away from the type of engineering I was doing, because that testing environment that I was in, it's totally boring. It's the same thing, day after day. There's no creativity. So I was really just looking for a way out. So I don't know where I would be 10 years now if I wasn't in this wheelchair, I really have no idea.
Joey:
Yeah. That's interesting. Well, why don't we talk about the accident? So just what happened?
David:
Basically it was really our first real family vacation. My son was two. I had been working at a real job for years now, so we decided to rent a beach house and kind of invite everybody. And it was literally the first official vacation day. We got there Sunday and it was that Monday. So, we did all this stuff during the day Monday and we go out to eat at this place that was famous for this big old pork chop, which I ended up eating. And so after dinner, my son is like, Hey, can we go back to the beach? And I'm like, of course, man, we're on vacation. We can do whatever.
So we head out to the beach and the tide is coming in and we're just out there playing. It's really just me at this point. And I see a wave coming in, and you know how you dive through a wave so it doesn't topple you over?
Joey:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
David:
Well, I dove through it, and because of the tide coming in, I guess I was near a sandbar and I just hit a sandbar and instantly I knew I was done. I was just in the water praying like, please don't let me drown. I don't know. That's really what I remember. And then my nephew was there. I yelled for him. And at first he thought I was joking. And then when I didn't move, he came over and kind of pulled me outside. And yeah, man, that's what happened, a freak accident.
Joey:
That's crazy man. I read the story. I think there was a website that someone set up in the aftermath to raise money and stuff for you. So I was kind of reading through it and thinking about it, like how quickly something like that can happen. That day, did you have any sense of the danger of diving into a wave or was it just completely out of nowhere?
David:
It was out of nowhere really because, I'm 43. And when I was growing up, 20/20 came on at Friday nights around 10:00, and my parents were like, Hey, you can stay up, but we're taking over the TV and we're watching 20/20. So I always remember this episode where they talked about not diving in your personal pool in the backyard and people breaking their necks. And it just really stuck with me, like you always dive shallow and all that stuff. So even doing that, I still hit the sandbar. So it was really just a total freak thing.
Joey:
Yeah. All right. So it happens, and then obviously you're taken to the hospital. And I'm sure that the initial period afterwards was chaos, but in those early days and weeks and stuff, what was going through your mind, because you had some vision of what your life was going to be like, and then of course you realize, okay, it's going to be different now, at least temporarily. So, what was going through your mind? How were you dealing with that?
David:
It was kind of all over the place. I think remembering back, on the beach that day, I literally told my wife I'm sorry, this is it. I really messed up our life. This is serious. And she's like, no, no, you're going to be fine. And I'm like, I just knew it, this was a life-changing event at that moment. And then in the hospital I just felt like, okay, everything's going to be all right. I'm I'm going to come out of this. I'm going to be walking. And then at one point, this nurse just tells my parents as if I'm not there like, oh yeah, you'll never walk again. That's not happening. So then I'm like, as a gut check, like, oh my God, this is it.
But then carry on once I kind of got past the ICU phase of it, because all that stuff is like in and out how much I remember, how much I don't remember. But once I was really in rehab, I thought I'm going to be fine. I'm going to work through this. I'm going to get out of this wheelchair. I was getting books like mental toughness and watching the secret in the hospital every day, just thinking like, yeah, man, I'm going to get out of this and I'm going to be back to normal stuff.
Joey:
Yeah. It's funny. Because I think that there's like a certain type of person, and I find them a lot in this field because getting into motion design, really getting into any like artistic field and making a living at it, and sound design is part of this too, it's really difficult. Because there's a lot of things to learn and you're really bad at it at first. And it's hard to get your foot in the door and having that mental toughness is pretty key to persevere through that. But there are certain realities too. And I'm wondering how, so I'm assuming, and you can go into as much detail as you want, but the secret is kind of like, what is it, sort of about the power of intentional thinking or, I guess some people might even say magical thinking. And eventually it's like, yeah, you need to have that mindset, but you're also going to bump up against reality.
And so did you have any sense of like, you can push as hard as you can, but there are things that just won't change and there's some things you can't control?
David:
Right. Yeah. That's an everyday ongoing thing that you would think 10 years away from my accident I would be used to it, but you don't. For example, I basically redid my sound set up and I'm like, okay, let me just set this stuff up and I'm going, I'm trying to connect stuff. And I just realized I physically can't do it. It's totally frustrating. In the beginning there was tons of stuff like that where it's just like, man, I really thought if I just tried hard it was going to happen, but you realize trying hard doesn't always get it, which is a hard pill to swallow.
Joey:
Yeah. So maybe talk a little bit about what you have sort of regained. In those early days, what were you able to do? And after years of rehab, and I'm assuming also sort of practicing doing things differently, what are you able to do now?
David:
So in the beginning I had a halo on, do you know what that is?
Joey:
I've seen them. It's like a ring that goes around your head and it stabilizes your neck?
David:
Yeah. I had one of those on for two months, so I really couldn't do anything at all. They could get me in a wheelchair and I could kind of maneuver it a little bit, and that was really it. I couldn't feed myself. I was very weak. I lost like 60 pounds and it was mainly muscle just atrophied in that two month time trying to paint a picture. Like I said, I couldn't feed myself at all. So I guess through rehab, I started getting to the point where I could feed myself. I got the halo off, which you would think like, okay, the halo's coming off, celebration time, but when they took it off, I realized I didn't have enough strength to hold my head up all day. So that was something in the beginning that I had to overcome. Just rebuilding that strength, literally just to keep my head up for a full day.
Joey:
You don't think about that, right?
David:
Right.
Joey:
Yeah. And so where, because I don't really know much about spinal injuries, but where does the weakness begin on your body? Is it your neck down or do you have some in your chest?
David:
Basically like shoulder nipple on down. I have just a little bit of chest muscle. I have biceps. I really don't have triceps. No finger function at all. And I can lift my wrist up, if that makes sense. And when you lift your wrist up, once your tendons get a little bit shortened, you use that to kind of grip stuff. So I can pick up some things with, they call it Tenondesis grasp, which is basically your tendons are tight and you flex another muscle to bring your fingers together, but it's not real function there.
So just over time going through rehab, I really didn't gain a lot of function back, but I was able to strengthen what I have to be able to do more things. I'm in this rehab program now, which is I go two hours on Monday and Wednesday and it's like real intense. And now I've been able to actually bring back a little bit of core strength, which has been helpful. My arms and shoulders are getting a lot stronger and basically your shoulders for a quadriplegic at my level is like your main muscle. It almost does everything.
Joey:
Got it. This is really helpful kind of painting a picture because I want to hear how you work and how you do this stuff. So tell me if I kind of have it right, so the core strength that you have that allows you to sit up, and then you can move your arms, but your hands you don't have much control or any control really, although you're saying you can kind of lift your hand up. And I think I understand what you're saying. You lift your wrist and it almost wants, it makes your fingers kind of curl a little bit almost like you [inaudible 00:21:54] that way?
David:
Yeah, that's exactly it.
Joey:
Okay, cool. Got it. And I'm assuming that's how you can steer the chair and grip something lightly. And you mentioned that you use an iPad, which is really handy. So is that how you do most of the work on an iPad?
David:
Yeah. Right now I'm using an iPad pro and I have basically a stylist that goes in a little hand grip and that's how I kind of maneuver everything on the iPad.
Joey:
Got it. That's really cool. Awesome. Well, we talked a little bit about the mindset stuff and reading all those books, and I think the way, I wrote out some questions and I think I, what did I write? I said, was there anything that helps you weather the initial holy shit period right after the accident. And you mentioned some books, but was there anything else, and I'll throw you a softball here. I saw you have some pictures of your family up on the Internet. You have a beautiful family dude.
David:
Thank you.
Joey:
What helped you get through it? I assume they were part of it, but was there anything else, any other mantras or anything that helped you survive that first year?
David:
Well, definitely you're right. The family. Jackson being two, running around that hospital, talking to everybody in my face and stuff. My wife was actually pregnant at the time, like three months pregnant. Those were the main motivators. The other mantra that came out of it was David Can. And in your Google search that might've came up, but people would say like, man, if anybody can get through this, David can, and then that just kind of stuck. So that was kind of the mantra to push on through is David can, and I just didn't want to let people down, they're like rooting for me. So that kind of kept me going that first year. But really more than anything, it was honestly Jackson, just seeing him around the hospital. I was like, I know I got to push, push, push.
Joey:
Yeah. So after that, it seems like you, I'm assuming there was a lot of adjustments in terms of your career and all of that, but at some point you started making art. And actually you have an Instagram account and there're these really cool sort of image edits that you've done on there. How did you get into that and start doing that stuff?
David:
Well, in rehab they'd like therapeutic rec, and I started kind of doing art there and then, I like doing photography. That was cool for a little while. But when I was at home, a friend of mine, I ran across him on Instagram and he was like, Hey man, have you heard of this thing called Instavibes at the time, where you just use only iPhone or different programs on your phone to edit picks. And it's just kind of like for clout, just seeing who can do the craziest stuff. He was like, you should try that. And I started trying that, which was great because I had my phone with me at all times. I didn't have to ask anybody for help. Like, Hey, can you get this so I can do this. It was literally just something I could do by myself. So that's why I really loved it. And I just started doing that and then it just grew and grew and grew, and then people started liking it. And then I started getting them printed on canvases and actually being able to sell some of this stuff.
Joey:
That's really cool. And I love the fact that you can do so much on a phone or a tablet now. It makes it way more accessible. Do you do anything on a laptop or a normal computer or is that difficult to use?
David:
It's a little bit difficult. I also do a little bit of engineering consultant. I started using my laptop just so I could access Adobe and Word. It works okay, but I do prefer a touch surface like my iPad more than anything.
Joey:
Yeah. Do you use, like when you're typing out emails and stuff, are you using your voice or are you using some other input method to do that?
David:
I'm actually still typing them out. I can type pretty decent on my phone. And then if I'm on my computer, I'll use my stylist to type it out. I do use voice when I'm driving or if my phone is somewhere else, like I'm in the bed and I can't get out of bed by myself, I'll use voice activation to do text or whatever I need to do.
Joey:
Got you. I can imagine using apps on a tablet and stuff like that. It's pretty self-contained. But now if you're doing, let's say some sound design, which involves like finding the right samples you want, building tracks, multiple tracks, maybe mixing all that kind of stuff. Is there anything else that you've had to do to sort of modify your setup to be able to do all of that easily?
David:
Not really when I'm using the iPad, but now I'm starting to get projects that are really beyond the scope of what that program can do. So I'm actually switching over to Ableton and actually using my laptop more now. So that's been like a growing process and it's still not fully where I wanted to be. I've gotten a track ball now, which seems to work fairly well for me. I've gotten a new keyboard that I can kind of place in my lap better. So I'm not forced to bend into my laptop. So it's really just a work in progress.
Joey:
Yeah. I was just trying to think of like, it sounds like, because I didn't even think about that. A track ball, that makes total sense. It's a great move. And you're able to type and there's so many great things with computers now. You can control it with your voice and all that, and it's audio. So really all you need is a decent set of monitors and you're good to go.
So when you do sound design, I've interviewed lots of sound designers and they all kind of work a little bit differently, some work more like composers, some work more like sort of, almost like fully artists. So how do you kind of see yourself? It's interesting you're coming from this Hip Hop background and you're even using terms like samples, which normally I don't think I've heard a sound designer use that term before, it's a Hip Hop term. So how do you sort of see yourself as an audio creator?
David:
That's an interesting question. When I get a piece presented to me, I kind of look at it and try to really get a feel for what the overall message is first. And then typically from there, a lot of times there's something within the animation or whatever I'm doing that really attracts me, and I'll try to work on that first and go out from there. I know that sounds kind of weird, but it's like my inspiration point, I guess. And then I kind of work everything else around that, if that makes sense.
Joey:
Yeah. And I read a quote. I think you said this, "My mechanical engineering experience is also a part of how I approach sound design." And I thought that was really interesting. And this is what I love whenever I'm talking to an artist, it's like, what's the weird combination of things that only you have, mechanical engineering plus Hip Hop, right?
David:
Right.
Joey:
And that turns into your sound. So how does mechanical engineering play into that?
David:
Well, there's two pieces of it. I'm really good at understanding how things work. So if you understand how things work, you can understand what adds up to the final product. So I use that same kind of theory with sound design. I might not have the perfect sound to create whatever I'm trying to do, but if I know the individual pieces, I can layer those things together to get a full sound of what I'm trying to do, if that makes sense.
Joey:
Yeah. Can you think of an example of that?
David:
Oh man. Trying to think of something good. Something that's on my mind because I just worked on it was, I doing glasses clanking together. So for me, I'm thinking of the physics where you got the top clank where they hit, the bottom clank where they hit. So it's a multitude of sounds coming together to get that full picture. Trying to think of something a little more complicated than that, but it's more of trying to get a whole sample to cover a sound. I usually try to get peace parts and make it my own is the bottom line.
Joey:
I love that. And I remember, this is kind of a weird example and it's more for music, but I remember... So I'm a drummer. And so I was in bands for years and I remember recording the studio in time. The guy that ran the studio, he actually is now like this super famous audio guy named Steven Slate, and he makes all these amazing plug-ins. At the time he was recording drum samples and he played me some of the drum samples because he is really proud of them and they sounded amazing. And I was like, how do you get that snare to sound that way? And he's like, well, I actually have two snares and the sound of a basketball hitting like a parquet floor. And I'm like, whoa, that's genius.
That's the kind of creativity that really good sound designers have. Is that kind of what you're talking about, where it's like, I need the sound of glasses clanking, so you can record glasses clanking, but you could also maybe find like a, I don't know, like a piece of metal being hit and ringing out and that might give you what you need or something like that?
David:
Yeah. And then there's also a second part of the mechanical engineering part that comes into the sound design, not actually the sound design itself, but when working on a project. I know about deadlines. I know about the production environment. So that helps me just get in the mix and get things done. Because, at Ford I was on one of the launch teams where the line goes down, it's like $1,600 a minute. So I understand pressure of hitting these deadlines. So working with Bien on my first real project, there was real deadlines involved. I was still in a learning kind of phase, but I really understood that I had to hit these marks anyway, no matter what it took.
So it just help me function in the business side of it as well. Because a lot of times you might get a creative that's really good at what they do, but they can't get it in line with the business need of it. So I'm good at both.
Joey:
Are you also kind of being brought in early on projects over there so that, like sometimes sound is almost an afterthought, it's sort of the animation's done and then they just give it to the sound designer. But most sound designers I talk to, they really like it when they're brought in early and they can do rough music tracks and stuff and kind of be a little bit more involved. So are you doing that or are you pretty much getting finished animations to sound design?
David:
Oh yeah. They let me in from day one on most of these projects. So that's really great. I'm learning a lot about motion design as well. And I get to develop my soundtrack as their product grows. So I can make changes, plus I get to think about it so early. It's not that mad dash when you just get a project dropped and say, all right, here it is. I need X, Y, Z by X, Y, Z. So it's really nice.
Joey:
That's awesome. Let's talk some specifics here. What libraries and tools are you using these days? And I guess we could start with music. Are you creating all of these music tracks from scratch yourself? Are you using stock? How do you sort of build those things?
David:
Right now I'm just using stock. At some point I'm hoping to either use some of the tracks that I've done or actually bring in artists that I've met over the years, kind of give those guys a shot.
Joey:
That's awesome. It seems like with your background, producing and making beats for Hip Hop, it seems like that could be, it's a pretty cool niche. And most of the sound designers that you hear about, that also compose, they don't have a Hip Hop sound. I'm just thinking if I was your business manager, that was where I'd give you that niche. I'd say like, that could be your thing because that's pretty unique and cool.
So if you're not currently composing most of the music that you're using, you're using stock, how does your Hip Hop influence work its way in there? Because I assume it must. And I looked at all the work on your website and there is some sort of Hip Hoppy sounding beats that you're using in there. But do you feel it influences you in any other ways, like in terms of rhythm, things like that?
David:
I think kind of, if you look on my site, I reference J-Dilla, because the way he play drums and the way he quantities kind of give you this offbeat hit point. So I think when my sound is on, sometimes I don't look for the perfect lineup with whatever action has happened. Sometimes I might line it up off to give you like a feeling of distance. It's more like a different cadence, I think, than some people might expect in a sound design.
Joey:
That's interesting because I feel like, and you would probably know better. I don't know too much about Hip Hop. I'm more of like a metal head, but there's sort of modern Hip Hop that you hear on the radio where everything's like perfectly on the grid. And then there's older Hip Hop, tribe called Quest and stuff where they're sampling things that were actually played on drums. So it's not quite so perfect. And I actually like that stuff better, because it just sounds more analog to me. So which one is your preference? If you're saying J-Dilla I would imagine it's a little more analog.
David:
Yeah, definitely analog.
Joey:
That's really awesome. And then do you, if anyone just listens to your work, they would have no idea that you've been injured and have a spinal cord injury. Does that influence your work at all? Do you feel like, and it could even be just based on limitations of how you can work, do you find that that affects your work at all and the way things end up sounding?
David:
I think the main limitation for me is that I'm not going to be out recording my own sounds at this point, which I think would be cool and I would be interested in that, but physically it's just not really an option. So it kind of does limit me to using different sound banks. So it influences my sound in that way, but I guess really in other ways, not too much. I think it would be pretty transparent to anybody listening, I would think.
Joey:
Yeah, there wasn't anything that jumped out, but I'm always curious because it's like every creative is the sum of their experiences and sometimes you can see it or hear it in the work. And sometimes it's transparent. Let's also talk about working with, and you said Bien, which is a easier to say, so I'll say Bien. So you work with them as a disability consultant, what does that mean exactly?
David:
Basically they use me, they'll run their storyboards by me, and I'll try to look through them to see if anything stands out that would not work for somebody with a disability or different cultures or something. Because it's not just disability, I'll research different things. But kind of give you a good example, with the wheelchair basketball thing, there's different type of wheelchairs for different type of sports or for everyday use. And a lot of times companies will depict a wheelchair that looks like, what I call a transfer chair. You probably remember when your son was born and you left the hospital and your wife had to go out in that wheelchair, right?
Joey:
Yeah.
David:
Just that big clunky, the wheels are straight up and down. That's it. But that's not the typical wheelchair like a normal wheelchair user would use, excuse me. It's custom made for them. The wheels are at certain angles. The legs are at certain angles, so they can use it on a daily basis. Or like for basketball, there's more tilt because it's easier to turn. It's more stable. So I let them know like, ah, you can't do the wheelchair like that because that's not how it works in wheelchair basketball. And it seems like a small little detail, but in the wheelchair community, if your chair does not look representative, they will tear you part.
I'm on several quadriplegic Facebook groups or different spinal cord Facebook groups. And I remember this one company, it was a medical company for catheters or something. They put this lady in a transfer chair in their [inaudible 00:38:58] catheters and all you saw up and down that forum was people saying, oh my God, this isn't real. She's not really disabled, all this stuff. They were really heated up about it and they were like, I'll never purchase from them. So, misrepresentation of something that small can be a big loss for somebody and you can totally lose a group of people over it.
Joey:
Yeah. That's incredible. And it makes me think of how, we all have identities and there's overlapping things that make up our identity. And I would imagine, and you tell me, tell me if this is right, but I would imagine that being part of the quadriplegia community, do you feel like that's a big part of your identity now where you associate with that or do you often not really think about it?
David:
I think it's still a big part of my identity. I go through different phases where it's like, should I have stuff that has quad in my name? Should I just let that go? But in reality, it's something I deal with every day. It's not like it just goes away or you just kind of forget about it. No, every day it's some sort of hurdle you go through. So I would say it's a big part of my identity.
Joey:
Yeah. Well, your website, Quadraphonic Sound, but you spell quadraphonic, the quadra part, the way you spell quadriplegic, not actually quadraphonic. And I think it's great, honestly, because you're taking something that, obviously a big challenge, but you're owning it. And maybe not everybody wants to do that, but I think it's great when you do that.
I talked with someone recently on the podcast and she runs a studio in New England. She's a friend of mine. And she was explaining that a lot of times they've had to use, I think they're called diversity consultants, or something like that. And so if you're making a commercial and it's primarily for, I don't know, it's for a service or something that's going to be, let's say in like a Hispanic community, but you're not Hispanic and all the people in your studio working on it aren't, you're going to miss those little details that you wouldn't even know are wrong and it's offensive. So that makes a ton of sense.
I think that the example you used of the wheelchair basketball, that's a really obvious example. Are there other examples where in your capacity as a disability consultant, you point things out that might be completely invisible to people who are able bodied, but you would notice and it would sort of piss you off or be like, ah, that's not right. Are there other things like that that you've helped them with?
David:
Like interfaces and stuff? This isn't necessarily in motion design, but a lot of times there'll be a selector button on a website that's really small, like up in the right or left hand corner, and people with limited motor function, it's often hard to get to those things. So I might see stuff like that, but I can't think of a major stuff. A lot of it is just little, small, subtle things. And the fact that they have a third party to discuss it with just helps.
And then on the other end of it, they're really good about it on their own. I don't know if you've heard their term that they often say, [IMD 00:42:21], which is inclusive motion design, they didn't come up with inclusive design, but they really spearheaded that stuff in motion design, where it's more involving people in the process. The team at Bien is so diverse. You've got me as diversibility consultant and sound design, and then their animators, you've got people from Ireland, Brazil, the States, just a whole rack of different people who have different thoughts, different ideas, different cultures that are putting into the process. So it's kind of it comes organic at Bien, but then I'm there. It's kind of like, Hey, let me kind of look at the overall picture. Did we miss anything? So it's a real cool work environment when you're talking about being inclusive.
Joey:
I love it, man. Your work is great. And so, the fact that you're in a wheelchair doesn't matter as far as that goes. And it's really cool to hear your story. Whenever I talk to people who have had to overcome something like this, I always feel like it's cliche to say, it's inspirational to hear your story, but it really is and I know that you didn't set out to be an inspiration, but you are.
David:
Right.
Joey:
The last thing I wanted to ask you, you're also a peer mentor for other people that have had spinal cord injuries. And I'm sure you're really inspiring to them as well. And so what do you, having a spinal cord injury, that's a very significant challenge to overcome. But there're other challenges that people have that are some smaller, some larger, but you've overcome something pretty significant. What do you say to people who are facing something like that and feel like this is going to hold me back?
David:
I'd say there's always an alternative, and you can look at the bad alternative or you can look for a good alternative, which gives you another way around to what you thought you were going to do. Or you can look at an alternative that is just totally different. I don't know. It is real tough. When I peer mentor, I try to be really honest about how tough it can be and how bad it can be, and just acknowledge and connect, but then also help them realize that there's a whole lot in life that you don't even know about or even expect. This sound design was not on my radar at all. And just out of the blue, it really just happened. And I think it was my thing and it just snowballed from there. The connections really just started happening. So just realize there're possibilities out there that you can't even imagine is like the main thing to remember.
Joey:
Check out quadraphonicsound.com to hear David's work and to hire him. This man has talent. And check out the show notes at schoolofmotion.com for links to everything we talked about. I really want to thank David for coming and to Ricardo at This Is Bien for telling me about David.
As I said in the interview, guys like David do not set out to be inspiring or to be role models, but sometimes life makes plans for you. And no matter, what it is incredible to see people like David step up to the play. I really hope you enjoyed this conversation and I hope you now have a new sound design resource in addition to all of the other amazing ones out there. And that is it for this episode, I will catch you next time.