Wednesday, September 11, 2013

VPA Graduate Spotlight: David Nichols

David Nichols is a Tech Graduate in Sound Design and makes his living dreaming up car sounds for video games.
He will be visiting campus in October to speak with current sound students.
1.  Tell me about your work since graduating from Tech.
I graduated in December of 2010, but couldn't find meaningful work. So I started my website,, where I could write about car sounds, and interview with people who work with car sounds, both because it was an outlet for my passion and also because I hoped it would find me a job. Luckily, in early August of 2012, it worked! Nicholas Wiswell, audio director at Turn 10 studios (the video game studio that makes the Forza Motorsport franchise) contacted me and asked if I wanted to help with their next project. I excitedly said yes and moved out to Seattle. My job consists of studying and recording car sounds and then reproducing them within the confines of the game, which sounds a lot easier than it is! But the hard work is very fun and seeing a product I've worked so hard on make it to the public has been the most rewarding part.
2.  Why did you choose to major in Sound Design at Tech?
I knew from a very early onset that I wanted to do something related to audio, because I was fascinated with sound and with recording. I played a number of instruments but never had the "knack" for composition or performance, but I really enjoyed playing drums because of all the fun and weird sounds I could make. I initially looked at Tech for the Audio Engineering degree, but after researching what sound design was (I had never heard of it at the time) I felt it was more in-line with what I enjoy. I'm very glad I did, too -- sound design is the perfect blend (for me) of technical know-how with artistic freedom that works well with my personality.

3.  What is the most important thing you learned while at Tech?
There are a great many important things I learned at Tech, and my apologies to the faculty but very few of them came directly from the classroom. I learned the importance of self-sufficienty and working interdependently; I learned that networking is the key to success (particularly in this industry), and I learned that following the things you are truly passionate about, while quite difficult and frustrating at times, is ultimately more satisfying. I've also learned that living minimally and being flexible is of great benefit in the long term, and to treat each day as a small adventure because you never know what you're going to learn by the end of it.

4.  What inspires you?
The beauty of inspiration is that you can't ever know in advance what will be inspiring as long as you're willing to allow things to be. That said, for me there's nothing quite as invigorating as the sound of an engine at full throttle - there are so many intricate details to the sound of a vehicle and all of them are unique, much like human voices. I also draw a lot of strength from my wife and my son who are always supportive of me.

5.  How have your experiences at Tech influenced your current work?
One of the things I've appreciated most about Mr. Plummer's philosophy is that he embraces not being a technical school in that he does not just teach techniques; he encourages creative thinking and problem solving and self-discovery as opposed to just showing how to do things in given software. That ability to approach sound as wanting a certain change and using creative thinking with the tools in front of me has proved infinitely valuable, and for that I am very grateful.
6.  What is the most amazing thing you have done since graduating?
I think the most amazing thing related to my major is a recording project I started that was funded via Kickstarter. I wanted to learn how to record a car in the way that video games often do so that I was prepared for work in that industry, but I knew I didn't have the money for equipment or for shop time to accomplish it. So, with some motivation from some of the wonderful people on the Twitter #gameaudio tag, I came up with the idea of a Kickstarter campaign. Once I had committed to the idea, I started talking to everyone I knew about it. After just a month I had raised all the money I needed, and enough extra to hire a film crew to document the process! The recording session came out pretty well and I learned infinitely more than I expected to from the process. 

(See David's Kickstarter campaign by clicking here.)
7. What would be your advice to students choosing to major in Sound Design at Michigan Tech?

Make sure you're coming into sound design because you live and breathe sound. The job market is, let's be honest, tough to get into because there's more people coming in than there are positions. That might mean you're going to have to make your own position, or be very patient, and either of those options will be rough if you're not doing this because you love it. Also, do your homework but don't forget to explore the many sights and sounds of the Keweenaw and the surrounding area. You can learn quite a bit bringing a handheld recorder with some friends on a road trip to Copper Harbor and back. Also remember that inspiration is everywhere, but you have to allow it to be.