Brian A. Thompson

When Dian Holton told me that a Black designer was behind the new $100 bill, I had to reach out and have him on Revision Path. I mean, how often are you able to talk to someone who’s design work is literally seen all around the world? (You might even have it in your wallet right now!)

While we couldn’t go into specifics about the whole US banknote process. Brian and I had a great conversation about his inspiration as a banknote designer, and he talked about how he got into the field right out of college. He also spoke on how having Asperger’s is a design superpower for him, and shared information on the latest project he just finished called “Colors That Heal.” Brian is true living design history, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to share his story with you all!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Brian A. Thompson:
My name is Brian Thompson. I’m a senior journeyman banknote designer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. I’ve been there 32 years. Yeah, 32 years, but now I’m the old guy. I used to be the young guy at 19. I think I was the second youngest to be employed there but now I’m the old guy.

Maurice Cherry:
How has this year been going for you so far?

Brian A. Thompson:
It’s been different because of the pandemic but the work is still intense, and it still requires the same focus.

Maurice Cherry:
How have you changed over the past year? Have there been any lessons that you’ve learned? And this can be work-wise or personal, anything like that.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yes. It’s not that I never took life seriously, but you have a better time looking at yourself in the mirror and looking at what you need to change. I think this is probably the most relaxed time I’ve ever had while working because I’m able to balance out the different stresses and things, and the anxieties that come with work of this nature. It’s very intense. I’ve said this through interviews before that doing banknote design is like putting together the most difficult puzzle you can put together in your life, and I’m finding that I had an opportunity to look at every piece for a chance while working from home, and evaluating each piece, and knowing that each piece of that puzzle was more significant than ever before.

Maurice Cherry:
And now, to that end I know that you can’t talk directly about the work you’re doing because that whole bank note design process is super top secret but can you give just a broad overview for our audience about the work that you do?

Brian A. Thompson:
Banknote design is an art form that I don’t think people pay attention to. They’re look at the Mona Lisa, they’ll look at different pieces of artwork that have been deemed as art, and say yeah that’s a piece of artwork, but when it comes down to currency they look at it as a value or something that is used for spending or commerce, a vehicle of commerce to buy and sell. It’s currency. That’s what it’s for. It’s to buy things with.

Brian A. Thompson:
But if they ever stopped, and when they get it in their pocket and look at the art form that’s on there they would be blown away. There’s so many intricate details that are put into currency design that needs to be paid attention to from the sculpture or the portrait, the line work that’s in it, the different colors, the micro text, all of those different things it takes time to do. It’s not only just for security but it’s also for aesthetic points of view.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember being a kid and I wouldn’t necessarily say be into money design, but really looking and studying a bill and seeing how it’s designed and put together, but you’re right it has so many intricate little details. Of course, you’ve got signatures and you’ve got serial numbers on there. Some larger bills have a bit of a plastic strip that goes through it, and even as banknote design has changed here in the US I’ve just always found it really fascinating how much goes into the design of a bill. That’s really interesting.

Brian A. Thompson:
Studying different currencies all over the world I see how they’ve actually approached currency as well to get the attention of the user, and it’s amazing how they place certain things in the location of the banknotes to get people’s attention, be it color, or be it texture, even being substrates. Some countries are using plastic substrate versus paper, and that’s done so that people will pay attention to it, and not only pay attention to it, and not only pay attention to it but utilize the technologies within the banknote for their own security for something that’s authentic versus what’s counterfeit, and I think that’s pretty cool to watch how banknote design has evolved in the technological aspect as well as the aesthetical aspect and how it mergers together and becomes a piece of artwork when you first see it, but it’s also a piece of artwork that is being utilized for commerce.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you mentioned being a banknote designer for 32 years. How have your responsibilities changed over the years?

Brian A. Thompson:
I would say my first seven years I was training. I was training for the job, so I served a seven year apprenticeship while also going to school at the same time. I went to the University of District of Columbia and while I was there I was also doing the apprenticeship, and the apprenticeship was designed where it was six month increments and every six months you were evaluated to move to the next stop, but when I was there, when I first started there it was actually six months whether you were going to complete the apprenticeship or be dismissed from the apprenticeship, so you had to hit the marks that you were asked to by your journeyman and I was able to hit every mark, and I did all seven years, not one day was skipped.

Brian A. Thompson:
I really am happy I did not skip any years because everything I learned was apply-able and [inaudible 00:08:33] right now. It actually gave me an opportunity to have longevity within this career because of everything I learned within that seven years. I felt like if I missed something or if I would’ve skipped a year I would’ve missed something very important and vital for the current conditions that we’re in, in dealing with the coronavirus and just this pandemic, because I’m able to work without a computer. I’m able to work with just processing and thinking about designs in my mind and doing doodles and just shaping out different things I need to shape out to problem solve, and that’s something you learn in the apprenticeship is that it’s a lot of thinking versus drawing. You have to think about the entire banknote front and back and the different layers of it, and think about the counterfeiters that are going to try to counterfeit the banknote.

Brian A. Thompson:
You have to be four to five steps ahead of them mentally while you’re designing and I think that’s a very, very important thing for people to know it’s that we’re not just throwing anything out there. We’re really calculating and thinking about every single piece and where it’s put.

Maurice Cherry:
That is both fascinating and extremely rigorous. So, you had these six month check ins over your seven year apprenticeship and at any point in time for one instance you didn’t come up to a certain point in the check in you could be dismissed, right? That could be it.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. You can be dismissed out of the apprenticeship immediately, if they didn’t think you could cut it you were gone. It was pretty simple. But you couldn’t really go into it thinking that because if you went in with fear you would pretty much fail.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Brian A. Thompson:
That’s one thing I would never allow myself to do is walk in fear. I said, you know what? I’m confident, and I gave it 110% every single day to the point where I remember my journeyman telling me, this was so funny, the first day at work I came there at 6:00am on time because I worked from 6:00 to 4:00 10 hours a day four days a week.

Brian A. Thompson:
And he would say, “It’s 6:00. You’re late.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” He says, “Well, if you show up on time you’re late. Always be here 10 minutes before schedule. You have to condition your mind to be always ahead of the curve.” That’s one thing Mr. Sharpe used to always tell me. Always be 10 minutes, or always be ahead of the curve no matter what, and he was right, and I actually live by that.

Maurice Cherry:
And the Mr. Sharpe that you’re referring to is Ronald Sharpe who’s the first black journeyman banknote designer in the history of the country.

Brian A. Thompson:
Absolutely. Yeah, Ronald C. Sharpe, and Clarence Hilbert was the second, and I’m the third.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. So, has it always had this black lineage.

Brian A. Thompson:
I don’t think the hiring was based on color. It was always based on ability, whether you could do the job or not, and Ron he was a police officer first, but his whole emphasis of becoming a police officer is so he could become a banknote designer, and one thing about being at that time when he was there, and I remember him telling me, is that hey I wanted to be a banknote designer so I started as a police officer and I waited for the apprenticeship to open.

Brian A. Thompson:
When it came open he applied, and that’s how Ron got in. That’s also how Clarence got in too. Both of them technically were police officers when they first got in. I came in right out of high school.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to ask how did you first learn about banknote design?

Brian A. Thompson:
I learned about that particular job from my father. My father actually was a cylinder maker for the actual printing presses at the bureau and I was in high school when he told me, and at Suitland Visual and Performing Arts School under Dr. Thompson at the time, and Ms. [Dodi 00:12:09], they really pushed us for four years to develop a portfolio, so our portfolios when we graduated were equal to anyone that went to any art school. It didn’t matter where, SCAD, or any Pratt institute, our portfolios pretty much were just as equal as any college portfolio, and that was their push is when we graduated from high school that we could get into any college we wanted to, or we could pretty much cut it wherever job we were going to and they were correct. My portfolio was ready to go and I applied.

Brian A. Thompson:
And clearly, at that time the bureau liked what they saw and I got hired in the apprenticeship.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. Right out of high school you went into the apprenticeship. So, when you went to the University of the District of Columbia you were doing these both at the same time.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. And I’ll tell you what’s interesting about that story is I was actually … When I went there I was under Dr. Yvonne Carter, and Dr. Yvonne Carter, she was an African-American woman and her artwork was unbelievable. She was a contemporary artist, pretty well known. From our research from her she was from the Carolinas and she actually started teaching at the University of District of Columbia and then she was the chair person of the art department, and I remember her sitting me down. She never yelled or raised her voice. Dr. Thompson had a very calm voice, but she had a way of talking to you to really line you up real quick.

Brian A. Thompson:
And I was right out of high school, just got this hot job, and I came in her office pretty cocky. And she sat me down, and she said, “Son, no matter how good you are you always have to be ready to learn, because if you go in cocky in life you’re going to miss a whole lot,” and that stung me, but she was so calm at all times, and she was the one that pretty much tightened me up, her and Dr. Smith. And they took me under their wing when I was in college and really, really made sure that the skills that I had from high school were honed for this particular job and just as an artist in general. They always taught me, yes, that’s a great job but we want to develop you as an artist that works there, not someone that’s developing the art to work there, which I thought was amazing, and very right. That was very true.

Brian A. Thompson:
They wanted me to be an outstanding artist outside of the platform of where I was working.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Outside of those two professors, what else do you really remember from your time going to the University of the District of Columbia?

Brian A. Thompson:
One thing I do remember, and I remember Ron and Clarence telling me when I first got there to learn my history. Please learn your black history because you’re going to have to be two steps ahead. In reality, you just have to be two steps ahead as an African-American because we know about the racism within our country, and they were just getting me ready. And being at an HBCU it got me ready.

Brian A. Thompson:
We had so many people that came up there to give speeches such as Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, Chancellor Welsing, even Louis Farrakhan came up there, and we would hear all these different lectures from these black intellects that were really giving us knowledge on how to survive in the world that was stacked up against us as African-Americans or minorities. And I took all of those things, and those different principles, and just honed them to the point where if I felt like I was in a racist situation I knew what to do. I didn’t just be quick to react and get all upset. I would reflect back on those particular stories and the history that I learned about African-Americans and how we evolved above it, and that’s something I always stand by. There’s no point in getting upset. The point is understand how to evolve around it and to defeat it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. There’s something about an HBCU education. They really try to drive home of course knowing about your history but then making sure that you contextualize it in your current place in the world and what that means. You know?

Brian A. Thompson:
I’m telling you. I’m so happy that I went to an HBCU to the point where I didn’t push my son, I just asked him if he will go to an HBCU. He is now at Bowie State University now.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Okay.

Brian A. Thompson:
As a senior, so he’s enjoying that. I wanted him to get that same kind of background like I said to understand how to deal with just the world as an African-American, or just a minority, and just understand how to posture himself.

Maurice Cherry:
Is he interested in art and design too?

Brian A. Thompson:
No. He’s an athlete, but he actually went the ROTC route, and he’s doing very well. He’s actually going to be going into the military as an officer when he graduates.

Maurice Cherry:
Very nice. Very nice. Bowie State also has a pretty good design program. We had on the show, I think it was, not last year, about two years ago I think, Jen White Johnson who teaches there at Bowie State, but they have a really great program that they’re doing some great stuff. I met a couple of the students there. Gosh, when was this? 2019 I think. There’s this conference that goes on at Harvard called Black in Design. They have it every other year. They started in 2015.

Maurice Cherry:
And I think it was 2019 there were a group of students and educators from Bowie State that were there, so they do a really good job in their design program.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. I’ve actually visited there, and I actually have a … I can’t think of his name right now, but he actually invited me to come over there to speak, but because of the coronavirus just really shutting down last year I didn’t have an opportunity to go up there to speak to them. But I try to keep my pulse on pretty much art programs within the HBCUs that are locally around here such as UDC I’ve not spoken at, but I have spoken at Coppin State probably three or four times mainly in their sociology department. I’ve spoken at Howard University at their sociology department as well, mainly coming from the aspect of being a person that has Asperger’s and going and speaking to their seniors about a person that’s living with it, and understanding what they’re going to come up against when they run up against somebody like me, and just understanding you can’t just throw a textbook at these individuals.

Brian A. Thompson:
There’s a certain type of love and respect you have to have for a person that flows like I do, that’s wired like I am. It was a great honor to speak to those two HBCUs and the seniors loved it. I actually enjoyed talking about my life with them and they got a lot out of it. I’ve actually gotten emails from students saying “Thank you for your lecture. It really helped me. It gave me a sense of focus and purpose. I knew I wanted to be a social worker, but thank you for doing so, for showing me a person in real life that I would come up against.” So, that was a pretty cool experience.

Maurice Cherry:
Can you just give a primer to our audience on what Asperger’s is and how it works for you as a designer?

Brian A. Thompson:
Asperger’s is a form of autism. There are two types. There’s a high functioning form which is Asperger’s and there is a lower functioning form. Where I’ve always locked in with Asperger’s is socially you have social issues. Some people have social issues where if they go in a crowd they get nervous. There’s so many layers to it, but for me personally I don’t drive. It’s very difficult for me to drive a car because of the anxiety and high anxiety with it, and my wife will tell you that. I’ll be sitting on the passenger side and she’ll make a sudden move in the car and I freak out.

Brian A. Thompson:
But I realize those are my triggers. You know? There’re certain triggers I have. I’m another person where everything has to be really in order for me. My house is immaculate. Everything has to have a place, which gives off vibes of a person that has OCD but that’s actually an Asperger’s type of thing. So, with me having Asperger’s has given me a sense of focus where if I lock into something such as being an artist I’m going to go very far with it. I’m going to search, research, draw. There isn’t a medium I haven’t tried, and I just want to master it, because it’s such a sense of focus, and that’s one thing I can say about the person that has Asperger’s. It’s actually a superpower to me. It’s not a disability, because I can really lock into a subject matter and try to master it as much as possible.

Brian A. Thompson:
Pretty much as a banknote designer it gave me an opportunity during those seven years because I was laser focused, so I had no intentions of ever messing up because of how I’m wired. But one thing when sudden changes hit me it does throw me through a loop sometimes but I have to lean on my foundation of what I know and I stick with that and just figure out what those sudden changes are where it doesn’t throw me off too much.

Maurice Cherry:
I can imagine the superpower part you mentioned. With banknote design being as meticulous as it is the fact that you can really hone down and focus on those details that is a real superpower. That’s a real benefit.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. Through high school I was totally engulfed with knowing who MC Escher was. Escher was a really, really detailed illustrator. I’m telling you, from high school even till this day I still look at Escher drawings and just blown away to the point that I was focusing so much on Escher I had to learn Georgia O’Keeffe’s stuff as well to balance myself out, because O’Keeffe works so loosely and big and broad with colors, even though her colors are very muted, and her colors also had a lot of desert thematic to it because that’s pretty much where she did a lot of her art.

Brian A. Thompson:
I work in that world, so I’m in the middle of those two particular artists, and I zero in on those things to the point where if I feel like I’m working on something too tightly I will actually do a contemporary art form just to loosen my mind up to just keep going to make sure I’m balanced, because I can become very technical and when it’s time to work loosely it’s hard for me to gauge back into that, so that’s why I’m constantly doing contemporary art as well as very tight illustrations just to keep a balance so that I can just function as an artist.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to go back to your time at the University of the District of Columbia. Once you graduated because you were doing this and your apprenticeship at the same time, what were those early days of you being a journeyman designer like? Can you give us a sense of what that was like?

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. I was actually in college as well as doing an apprenticeship and I was a father and a husband.

Maurice Cherry:
You were juggling a lot.

Brian A. Thompson:
It was a lot happening. My day would start with me leaving with a heavy portfolio headed straight to the school, and I think I would finish up on campus around maybe 3:00 or 4:00. That was the early years, because I would actually work six months, and then I would actually go to the job for six months, the apprenticeship, and my apprenticeship would freeze until I return back.

Brian A. Thompson:
Later on, what I would do was go to school at night, so I would work my day and then go to school at night, and that was just tough because I would only spend time with my kids when I got in the door, which was pretty late. I would get in maybe about 6:30, 7:00 coming in from school. I think at that time I just had maybe two kids, which was my oldest two boys, [Tayvon 00:23:52] and BJ. Those were some tough days, but I pushed through it. I pushed through it.

Brian A. Thompson:
But it was a lot on my shoulders, but like I said me being laser focused it didn’t really rock me and I came off kind of rigid at times because I was so focused in on the art that the perception was that I was arrogant, and that’s just one of those Asperger things. People would look at me, “Oh, he’s so arrogant. He doesn’t talk.” I was just focused. I was just laser focused on what I had to achieve and I had to finish that apprenticeship. I had to graduate from college.

Brian A. Thompson:
And once I achieved that goal, on to the next task.

Maurice Cherry:
What are some of the highlights of your career as a journeyman designer? You’ve had over 30 years of work in this industry designing banknotes. What are some of the highlights?

Brian A. Thompson:
I think the major highlight right now for me was designing the new $100 bill because I watched how pop culture gravitated towards it and it was embraced very quickly with pop culture. And not just pop culture, the hip hop culture. If anybody knows me they know I’m a hip hop head. I just love old school hip hop.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Brian A. Thompson:
The Tribe Called Quest. The Goodie Mob. The Wu-Tangs. That’s my era of hip hop and it always has been, and I even go further back than that to the Boogie Down Productions to the Public Enemy. I just love hip hop and I watched how hip hop embraced it and actually gave the 100 a nickname, and the nickname they’ve given it was called The Blue Face.

Brian A. Thompson:
So, I’m like, wow. And I’ve watched how it evolved in pop culture where it became clothing, where it became artwork, or pop art. And I’m like, wow, look at how this design just blew up around the world. My daughter sent me something where they had taken this design and made it a purse.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Brian A. Thompson:
I have a niece that works in a museum where she sends me stuff all the time. She says, “Look at this. They made this product out of it. They made this product.” I’m like, this is crazy. So, to see that design just go out into the world and become a part of pop culture is huge. I was designing it for a purpose and I’ve actually watched it become pretty much a very iconic piece.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s even a rapper called Blue Face.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. That’s right. That’s the part I’m talking about. It’s like it evolved. It went further. I was just doing my job. That’s the focus. I’m trying to make sure I’m creating a banknote that can be utilized in circulation and not fail. I had no idea it was going to become this artistic phenomenon, which is unbelievable, and it still blows my mind today. And you know the crazy thing, a lot of people don’t even know who I am, which is okay, which is fine.

Brian A. Thompson:
People will find out who I am and they’re like, “Oh my god. I met the guy that designed the 100,” and that thing came out 2013.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Brian A. Thompson:
And people are still finding out about me. And actually, if you look on IG I only have 1,700 friends, but I see other people that do art and they have 1.5 million. You know? And it’s cool. I just sit back like, wow. People really just don’t know what I do, and I really stay away from the lime light for that very reason.

Brian A. Thompson:
So, I have very good artist friends that have reached out to me that I’m really good friends with and they respect what I’ve done, and they’re like, “Dude, you made history. When you designed that 100, dude, you made not only American history you made African-American history as well.” You know? Which was unreal. It’s still an unreal experience and when I look at it I’m like, wow. I cannot believe this one thing I did, and I was just doing my job, I actually made Clarence and Ron proud, because they didn’t have an opportunity to do it.

Maurice Cherry:
I would say more than history. You have contributed to the culture. I know there’s this saying among … I’m saying millennials. I’m an elder millennial myself. But in millennials and Gen Z about how people are doing things like quote unquote for the culture. What you’ve done has been such a contributor to the culture in general. You need to be in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. That’s major.

Brian A. Thompson:
What’s a trip is that I’ve heard that so many times, and I’ve not gotten a phone call from them yet. I don’t know if they’re waiting for me to retire. I don’t know what that’s about, but it’s okay. It’s okay. I’ll wait. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it’s all good. My focus is I just want to be the best artist I can be for me, and for the general public. I just want to always be a creator where I don’t get boxed in with one job that I’ve done. I want to be known as a great artist one day, just a guy that has done multiple things with his art, and that’s really my goal is just to be a great artist and leave a legacy which I’ve already done. I’ve already achieved that.

Brian A. Thompson:
And one thing I tell students when I do go to those … I do a lot of … What do you call them? Where they call people in to do their professions. I do a lot of those kind of things where I’ll go to high schools.

Maurice Cherry:
Like career day or something like that.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. I do a lot of career days, and I tell those kids, I say when you hear about African-American history it’s always within the pages of a book, but you’ve never actually met someone that actually made African-American history that’s right here in living color that you can ask questions. And that’s one of the biggest things I will say about the 100 that has been so rewarding is that I’m able to speak to students while living, and they can talk to me and ask me any questions because I’m living history. I’m living African-American history, and just to see their eyes light up is the most rewarding thing. That’s the most rewarding thing is actually seeing a kid’s eyes light up and just like, wow, I’m speaking to history. I’m not just reading about it, or reading about this person because he’s dead. This guy’s standing right in front of me. That’s huge.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I really appreciate your humility. You and I will talk offline about seeing what we can do to get you in touch with someone at the museum because I think the work that you’re doing … Wait, actually, have you been to the museum yet?

Brian A. Thompson:
Yes. Me and my wife went there. We went from the basement all the way to the top and I was floored. I’m like, wow, this is so great, and she looked over at me and said, “Why are you not in here?” I’m like, “Look, babe, you already know my …” She knows me. I’m very humble. I’m not going to push myself. I’m not going to push it. But that is something that I would love to do is make sure that not only I’m there I want to make sure that Ron, Sharpe, and Clarence are there that are a part of my story. You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brian A. Thompson:
Because when they hear my story they’re going to hear theirs as well, because like I said these guys deserve honor big time for what they instilled in me. What they gave me … And I’ll never forget what they told me in the backroom my second day there. They said, “Come to the back room. We want to talk to you. We know you’re at an HBCU. We know you’re at UDC. We want to give you everything that we know about this job and about our art ability and put it in you,” and a key thing they said is, “We want to leave this world a gift in you,” and they weren’t wrong. They said, “You’re going to be able to achieve stuff that we never had the opportunity to do.”

Brian A. Thompson:
Now, it’s not that they weren’t able to design currency. At that time, currency wasn’t being changed. It just wasn’t being changed at that time while they were there. They were later in their careers, so a lot of times they were just doing other projects, but they knew that I would have an opportunity, and those guys worked. They made it hard for a reason because they knew it would be tough sometimes when they weren’t there. So, I want to be able to give that honor to them.

Brian A. Thompson:
And I’m still in touch with Ron Sharpe’s daughter. We’re friends on IG, as well as Facebook, and she checks in on me just to see how I’m doing and also see how she’s doing. But Ron and Clarence have both passed.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, you are the one that’s holding the torch now for this particular kind of type of design which is very specialized.

Brian A. Thompson:
It’s very specialized, and like I said it’s only been us three as African-Americans to ever do it, and their story has never been told. And I’m telling you I’m going to tell their story along with mine, because they’re a part of my story. If it wasn’t for them I would not know what I know. I just wouldn’t. So, I understand how that works.

Brian A. Thompson:
And that’s something that most artists need to be humble about as well is that it took someone to pour into you for you to pour out. For you to pour out it took someone to pour into you and to labor with you and show you how to get your craft to a certain point of expertise. Don’t forget those individuals. You just didn’t birth out great. It took somebody to make you great, and that’s something that I will never forget.

Brian A. Thompson:
I remember Dr. Thompson from high school who pushed me. I remember Dr. Smith and I remember Dr. Carter in college who pushed me, and I remember Ron and Clarence who actually trained me on my job as a journeyman who pushed me. All of them made me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. We’ve got to see what we can do to get you in the museum. We’ll talk offline about this because I think even just that part that you said right there and learning about the history of how you had other black banknote designers that helped you out that’s a story that everyone needs to know. I think that’s something everyone needs to know.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, speaking of projects. You are an artist outside of being a banknote designer, so I want to talk about that. There’s a project that you finished just recently called Colors That Heal. Can you talk about that?

Brian A. Thompson:
Man, that right there was one of the most rewarding projects. I had just started teaching at PG College last year as an adjunct professor, and I taught a class called Art as Therapy, and what it was designed to do was to get people to slow down in their life and just pick up a paintbrush or a pencil and just relax. So, I actually taught that class to teach people how to use art as a therapeutical thing for their own life because it’s always been therapy for me, and I turned it into a course.

Brian A. Thompson:
And they did so well where PG College actually called me back to actually do it again this year where I’m going to be teaching families which is going to be children and their parents on how to just connect together as parent and son or daughter where I’m going to be teaching them how to do art to just relax and actually tighten up their bond as parents and children. But my point is I flipped it again because it’s the same principle but Colors That Heal was a project that I thought about when my cousin called me, and he says, “Hey man, do you have any artwork laying around the house? I need like 25 pieces.”

Brian A. Thompson:
I’m like, “No. I don’t have 25 pieces hanging around. If I did they would probably be sold or I’m trying to sell them.” So, I said “I’ll tell you what I do, because I’ve been doing all this research on art therapy I have an idea.” I said, “I’m going to create pieces that have colors in them that help people heal and relax when they see them.” So, I created 25 pieces that when people see those pieces they immediately will relax. They will immediately calm down.

Brian A. Thompson:
And these pieces are actually in the lobby of a hospital, where this hospital was switching from one … One organization bought them out, and now … It’s called Luminous Health actually bought them out. It’s Luminous Health Doctors Hospital. And he said, “Man, can you come up with some pieces.” I said, “Sure, I got it.” So, I came up with 25 pieces for them and they literally just hung those pieces up this past week, and they look amazing. They look absolutely amazing.

Brian A. Thompson:
And like I said, they’re designed for people when they walk in that lobby to immediately just calm down and just have a sense of peace. That was the whole point of that project, is because people don’t realize how art is impactful. Art can change how you feel immediately when you see it. Colors can make you react a certain way. And I picked colors, and I did research, on what colors heal people and I used all those colors within those pieces, different shapes, different forms, where when folks see them they immediately calm down. It’s not an aggressive type of a picture.

Brian A. Thompson:
Everything’s very laid back. I used watercolor by the way because I wanted to have translucent imagery in it. I used air brush as well where you have different colors fading into another color. The project was beautiful. I’m very, very happy with that project. It is a brand new project. It’s like a month old technically, but it just got hung up. And I got a phone call from my cousin and said, “Man, thank you for this outstanding job. Thank you so much.” I’m very proud of that project, and plan to do more of that kind of stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I was just going to ask do you plan on expanding that out, maybe doing that with more hospitals, or with a health system, or something like that?

Brian A. Thompson:
I would love for it to go in that direction because I just think there needs to be more of it. My wife noticed that when she goes to the hospital, because she’s a nurse, when she goes to the hospital she notices that there are pieces like that, that look similar to mine, but they’re very generic and they just kind of throw them up there. And they pay millions of dollars for these type of exhibitions to be up on their walls.

Brian A. Thompson:
And she was like, “You did this for your cousin.” She said, “I’m blown away.” She said, “You did this because you really wanted to help people heal.” I’m like, “Yeah.” So, I just believe in giving bach, man. You know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Brian A. Thompson:
I just believe in giving back and art has been such a vehicle for me to express myself. I just want to see it become more of a tool to heal people and to make people feel good when they see it, not to be an impulsive spender where they’re like I got to buy this because it’s going to have value later on in life, but when they look at this piece that it’s a reflection of themselves and it hits them in their core, their heart, saying you know what? I like this piece because it’s a reflection of myself.

Brian A. Thompson:
I think if more artists looked at it that way instead of trying to make a dollar then I think you would probably have more artists that really were humble and would create more because when you start grinding to try to produce art just to make sales you kind of lose your edge, but if you’re creating art to help people, man, that’s a different level. It’s a totally different level.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. We’ve had a few fine artists on the show before that have said pretty much very similar things to that, like being able to create without … I forget who it was. I think it might have been Fahamu Pecou who said this, or maybe someone else we interviewed, but it was along the lines of how the art just seems to be better when it’s not tied to money, like when you don’t have to tie it to some financial goal or something the art just tends to be better.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. Yeah. I agree with that 100%, because as artists we’re always looking for inspiration and when I get inspired I start painting, or I start drawing, and I’m doing it because I want to do it. I’m not doing it for a dollar. You know? Or commerce. I’m doing it because I want to get an expression out and I want to get a reaction from people that is healing. My background is I’m also a pastor too, and I have a ministry called Easel Outreach that it’s for creatives. It’s for creatives to have a spiritual balance within their life. That’s one of the other projects I’m working on, and that’s going very well.

Maurice Cherry:
What are you obsessed with right now?

Brian A. Thompson:
I’m not really obsessed with anything. My main focus right now honestly is to evolve myself as a fine artist. That’s my push. I really want folks to know me as a creative, as a person that is extremely creative and can go in several different directions from either art or music, because I compose music too. I create music that has no lyrics so it’s pretty much in the realm of ambient music. I have two projects on pretty much any music platform, and it’s called Instrumental Witness.

Brian A. Thompson:
So, I don’t use my name particularly. I have an artist name, which is called Instrumental Witness, and I have two projects out there and both of them reflect healing. The second project was geared towards people that do yoga and meditation. It didn’t get a lot of sales, but that wasn’t the point. Just like art I want to put something out there to help people heal, or to help people feel good, and that’s what’s out there. And it sounds pretty good. I get emails sometimes saying “Thank you for creating this piece. It gets me through my day. When I’m cleaning the house, or if I want to relax and chill I put your piece on.” So, I love just that kind of background, or should I say response from the music that they’re listening to that I created.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice has stuck with you the longest? It can be personal advice, professional advice. What do you find yourself coming back to time and time again?

Brian A. Thompson:
One thing my grandmother told me as a kid, and I stick by this, she said, “If somebody can upset you they can control you.” I’ve always stuck with that. So, what I do is when some people come at me trying to get a reaction out of me of anger I just remain peaceful. There’s a scripture in the Bible that says, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” I walk with that. So, when she said that to me that’s the first scripture that came to my attention, and I actually flow like that. I’m very quick to listen to people and I’m slow to respond, because I want to make sure that they may be speaking in anger but I’m always going to speak back at love regardless of the situation, and that’s how I posture myself.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s say somebody is listening to this interview, they’ve heard about of course your work as a journeyman designer, but also as an artist that wants to help people and help heal people. What advice would you tell them if they want to follow in your footsteps?

Brian A. Thompson:
Honestly, man, just follow their heart. If you want to help people follow your heart. There’s something that I talk about where there’s a certain rhythm that everybody has within their life. You have to follow that rhythm. If that rhythm is fast then you produce fast, you create fast. If that rhythm is very, very laid back ten you produce that way because that’s what you’re going to get in response. There’s something about the rhythm, and like I said that’s why I like hip hop. Hip hop has an aggressive rhythm with it, and I technically listen to it when I’m working out, but when I want to listen to stuff that’s laid back I’ll listen to piano chill where I can reflect and meditate.

Brian A. Thompson:
Pay attention to the rhythm in your heart and that will help you produce the art or creative abilities that you’re trying to produce. You’re heart will tell you what you need to produce. Don’t go off what everybody else’s doing. Don’t go off of what’s hot and what’s not. Produce from your heart.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want this next chapter of your story to really involve?

Brian A. Thompson:
I will probably be producing different pieces, or shall I say different collaborative pieces, not even collaborative pieces. I’ll probably be producing collections of different things, pretty much like the Colors That Heal project I’m going to be doing more of those kind of things. And the way I really focus on that I look at what’s happening in the world and I’ll look for something to help heal it. If there’s chaos happening, which there’s a lot of it going on right now, I’m going to try to produce pieces that cause people to relax and heal and be at peace.

Brian A. Thompson:
So, those are the kinds of projects that I’m going to be working on just so when people see it they just have a sense of peace, and that’s very important to me. But you’ll see different collections that will come out, maybe a collection of six, maybe a collection of 20, but they’re going to be a collection of pieces that give off a certain rhythm of peace.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to wrap things up here where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything online?

Brian A. Thompson:
I’m on IG. I’m at Brian_TheArtist. I’m not saying it right. It’s Brian_The_Artist_Thompson on IG.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. And of course, people can go to any bank and get a $100 bill and see your work there also.

Brian A. Thompson:
Yeah. That’s the universal piece of artwork that’s there. Yes, it is. If they actually want to see the pieces that I did, the Colors That Heal, that’s actually at like I said Luminous Health Doctors Hospital in Lanta, Maryland or maybe Greenbelt, Maryland and they can actually see those pieces hanging up in the lobby. It’s like 25 pieces.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Nice.

Brian A. Thompson:
When I looked at the project it was like I’m going to look at it like I’m producing for a gallery, and that’s the way I’m looking at it. When you walk in there you’re going to feel like you’re in an art gallery.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Sounds good. Brian Thompson I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think the thing that probably strikes me the most aside from just the historic nature of the work that you do and the reach that it has globally is just how humble you are. You are super humble and to me that reads as someone that is really doing this for the love of the work, and the passion, and really reflecting on how it makes people feel, like the fact that you’re also an artist that does this work that wants to heal people is a good balance with the meticulous-ness of the work that you do as a banknote designer, so I think it’s good to one show that balance, but two also to illustrate to people that there’s a person behind this kind of work that does this sort of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.

Brian A. Thompson:
Thank you for having me.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

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Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

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Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills…all totally free and online this October.

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Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

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Cedric Wilson

Sometimes you cross paths with people, and you never know if or how you will reconnect in the future. I have wanted to have a sound designer on the podcast for years, and through a series of conversations, now I have one — one that I’ve worked with in the past!

Meet Cedric Wilson, lead producer at Lantigua Williams & Co. We talk about some of Cedric’s most well-known audio projects, and he shared how he got into music theory in high school, which evolved into studying sound design and becoming a producer. Cedric also gives some basics on sound design, and shares why it’s such an important part of the world now. There are a lot of avenues for getting into sound design, and I’m glad Cedric is here to help introduce some of them to the Revision Path audience!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Cedric Wilson:
Hi, I’m Cedric Wilson. I am the lead producer at Lantigua Williams & Co. What I mainly do is sound design.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going for you so far?

Cedric Wilson:
Lot of iPhone recordings. It’s been good. It’s been interesting. My current position actually was remote, and I started like a month right before the pandemic started. It’s been a wild ride for sure but a good year. Good year.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I’m curious, how has it been working in audio since the pandemic started? You mentioned those iPhone recordings, but has it changed in any other ways?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say that a lot of the projects that we work on definitely have sort of expanded in geography. A lot of the projects we work on would be, “Okay everyone, come to the studio,” or, “Hey everyone, come to this one spot where we’re going to record.” Now, because everything has to be remote anyway, it’s given us a great opportunity to be like, “All right, let’s just record this person in LA,” that we wouldn’t have access to beforehand. So a lot more just open. Yeah. Open, I’ll say open.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I would imagine when you’re recording you’re doing all this digitally. I know for some shows, for some podcasts that I’ve talked to for example, some producers, it actually has been pretty easy to kind switch to a more mobile type of a platform in terms of recording and stuff and not having to be in a physical studio. They say it’s been a lot easier because you can record over Zoom, or you can do like you mentioned, record on an iPhone or something like that. Have you found that to be the case?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah. I was really nervous at first, because a lot of the stuff we were doing in person I’d be running around, putting microphones in people’s faces. I think the biggest thing I was worried about was that people can understand, “Oh, I’m going to take a selfie video,” and understand, “Okay, I have to be in the frame, and I have to have good lighting.” But I don’t think we have, culturally, that sort of same education around sound, so I was very, very nervous being like, “All right.” So for the remote recordings, the power is in your hands completely, so like, “Ahh!”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s definitely turned around. At first, it was a bit bumpy, but it’s worked out. Quite honestly, when all of this is eventually said and done, I think a lot of it’s going to stick.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I can see that being the case. Earlier this year, I actually recorded two podcasts, I produced two podcasts, and we did it… I mean, it was completely remote, but the main producer we worked in was in Los Angeles. I was in Atlanta, and then the host of the show was in Berlin. So we were working across like a huge timezone, and the majority of the guests were in Europe, so we were working across these timezones to try to get things working. There’s no way that would’ve been able to work if we had to do it in person. You know what I mean, it would’ve been impossible.

Cedric Wilson:
Lot of transatlantic flights on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it’s been great. Like I said, I was really nervous about it at first and was trying to build a system of like, “All right, let’s have this recording. Let’s have this backup so just in case something happens, we have this.” We still had weird things happen throughout the course of all of our productions, but it’s worked out, which is great. I guess it’s the staying power of audio.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Flexible.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about sort what a typical day has been for you recently. You mentioned being at Lantigua Williams & Co. What’s a regular day for Cedric?

Cedric Wilson:
So I started that right at the beginning of the pandemic, January of 2020. And it varies, some days are pretty mix heavy, where I’m still leading all the technical, audio engineer-y type of things on certain projects. Let’s see, sometimes I do just more listening and note-giving on a technical and production level for other projects. Way more emails than what I was doing when I was a freelancer. That was definitely an adjustment.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Sort of like a lot of systems building, figuring out what tech needs we have as the year goes along and as things change. Moral support for producers on their projects, sort of workshopping and figuring out what sort of techniques they should be using or can use when they’re putting the pie together. So yeah, I would say about 50% of my day is hardcore in the Pro Tools sessions, making things sound good, and then the other 50% is just working with producers and other engineers and sound designers to make sure they have what they need to get their shows made.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is a big misconception around production like that, that you think most people just don’t know?

Cedric Wilson:
Mainly that it’s low-lift or easy. I always make the joke that making media and audio is not rocket science, but there is a certain skillset that you have to have, or should have, and I know it gets a little bit tricky because some of the tools can sort of be a barrier to creating the things we want to create, working with the people you want to with, but work goes into this kind of stuff. I usually say that as much time as people use and need in the video world probably is a comparable amount of time in the audio world too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s a good thing for people to note, sort of going back to that show, those two shows that I mentioned earlier. We would record maybe for about an hour or so, like for each episode, but then there’s so much time behind the scenes of listening back through it and editing and everything like that. Even then, the final result ended up being maybe like 10 or 15 minutes long.

Cedric Wilson:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
That can happen sometimes. It’s not as simple as just sitting down, pressing record, and then that goes right out. Hopefully, there’s something, some level of finesse that you do to the audio.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
One of the big projects that you’ve done over the past year is this audio series called Driving the Green Book. Can you talk to me about that?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, so that was one of the first big projects that I got involved with as soon as I started the job. So yeah, I would go in and record our host, Alvin Hall, at Macmillan Studios. At Macmillan, like the publishing, and they had a little studio for us to record in. He and Juleyka did all the editing for all this tape that they gathered in the field, and so then it just all got to me. Parsed it all out, made the edits they wanted, and just put it all together, just a lot of cutting in Pro Tools and picking out the music. I wrote some original music for that one too, so that was definitely like a big project to start off with, but I’m really proud with how that one came out.

Maurice Cherry:
When did that come out? That was some time last year, right?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it started publishing August, September.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
So it’s almost a year old now.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so it ran… Now that I’m thinking about what was going on at the time of year, it sort of ran concurrently with Lovecraft Country, that debuted on HBO.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh you know what, yeah I think so.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m guessing that wasn’t on purpose.

Cedric Wilson:
No. No. Oh man, it was just funny, I didn’t watch the full season. I did watch the first few episodes. It wasn’t for me. Yeah, that’s kind of… They were going on around the same time. Geez. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, if you’ve seen it or any of the listeners have seen it, it’s on HBO Max, go check it out. They did get a second season, so you can watch the whole thing. There’s an element of it that sort of deals with… I think it sort of deals either with the actual Green Book or a Green-Book-like publication that one of the main characters is writing, and that sort of ends up being sort of the vehicle that moves the plot along, at least in the early part of the season.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, now I’m thinking back on it, I remember one of the first conflicts that they got into was because they were out on the road super late in a sundown town, and I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s why the Green Book existed.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting, I mean, there’s sort of the case now where you’ll have these shows come out and then they also have a companion audio podcast or something that goes along with it. I think that’s both a blessing and a curse, in a way. I think it’s a blessing because sometimes, especially for more shall we say niche kind of shows, i.e. not for white people, but like more niche kind of shows. That sort of extra explanation that would come through a podcast can be helpful to understand the source material. But then I also feel like it’s too much. It’s too much. Let folks watch the show and gain their opinions about the show from the show. Like does the show need to also have a corresponding podcast and a syllabus and, “Oh yeah, read this before the next episode.” Then it becomes homework.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It feels like there’s a fine line to draw.

Cedric Wilson:
I think for TV, I feel similarly, where I just kind of like want to watch it and not critically think about it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Sometimes, depending on what the show is. But then I think I love sitting down and watching mix breakdowns. A lot of my music production is hip-hop-based, and it’s sort of frowned upon, but when people break down the samples that people use and how they flip them.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It’s a little bit like sample snitching. It’s just something you don’t really do, but I enjoy it because I’m like, “Oh, cool, I would’ve never thought to break up a sample like that in that way.” So yeah, I’m kind of half-and-half on them.

Maurice Cherry:
Sample snitching. I’ve never heard of that, but as you’ve articulated it, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve started seeing some videos on TikTok where people do that.

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Like they’ll have a song, then they’ll sort of break it down and show how the sample ended up becoming a part of this more popular song.

Cedric Wilson:
What was it, it was a Rihanna song… I can’t remember the song, but they broke down the… And I was like, “Oh my God, who would’ve thought of that? I would’ve never thought of that. That’s so cool.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Like just watch someone’s train of thought when they’re making music. I think it’s just so interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean, I think you have to be listening to something almost in like a multidimensional sort of way to be able to pick and isolate that part and think, “Well, what if I change the tempo, or I change the pitch in how I could possibly use it in something else.” But a lot of older music, particularly from the ’80s and before, is ripe for sampling, which of course is what a lot of people end up using it for. There’s this, I don’t know if it’s a fairly new genre, but I certainly discovered it fairly recently, but there’s this genre called future funk that is basically just re-sampled music from like the ’70s and ’80s, but they’ve maybe changed the tempo or sped it up or they added a beat to it or something like that. It’s interesting, because it has that nostalgic sound, but it’s clearly been transformed into something completely new.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I love it. I mean, I think the art of sampling is just top-tier, honestly. Just even thinking about how it started, like with scratching and someone just accidentally did that, and people were like, “Oh wait, but what if you do this instead? What if you take that recording and make new music with it?” And it’s just an infinite amount of possibilities, I think it’s so cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Speaking of taking older stuff and kind of breathing new life into it, there’s a project that you did a few years ago called The Weeksville Project. You and I actually had first… Well, we “met,” I’m using air quotes here. We “met” through one of that shows producers, TK Dutes, who is a brilliant audio producer in New York City. She and I worked together at Glitch for a good little while. How did you-

Cedric Wilson:
Keisha.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, how did you get involved with The Weeksville Project?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, well, let’s see at that point I was already doing some stuff in the podcast space and actually already had met Keisha through, I’ll call my music mentor, Willie Green, Paul “Willie Green” Womack. And we met at the Audio Engineering Society Convention. I think it was 2015. I think, it was a while ago. So I met her through all the music stuff, and then once I started doing more podcasts and radio things, I was like, “Oh wait, TK does this stuff, let’s talk.” So she’s definitely been a mentor in that space for me. She knew that I was really interested in sort of expanding the work that I was doing and wanting to do more podcasts, radio things. She’s like, “Hey, you want to sound design this project for us,” and I was like, “Sure, why not? This sounds dope.”

Maurice Cherry:
And now that was also… I mean not like Driving the Green Book, but it was sort of a similar project that’s kind of talking about history, right? Like talking about the Weeks… I forget the name of the neighborhood, but it’s like right around, or what the old neighborhood of Brooklyn used to be. Is that what it is?

Cedric Wilson:
Right. So it used to… Oh man, I can’t remember the location where it exists now. But yeah, it was the first free black community in New York, and it existed in Brooklyn. Yeah, it was like a fictionalized version, so the writer’s elements are from history. Historical fiction, oh my God, that’s what it’s called. And I actually never connected the two like that, but yeah, they both did have that historical element to it. That was kind of fun, too, because a lot of picking the music for it we’re like, “All right, what would exist during this time? What would a car sound like at this time?” But then also it wasn’t the type of project where it was like, “Oh, we’re in the past.” We wanted it to sound like it was actually happening, and it’s happening around you.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
So yeah, that was a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to say that show came out right around the time there was another show. Bronzeville, that’s the name of it. There was a podcast called Bronzeville, and I think it was based off of fictionalized… Not a fictionalized, it was a fiction-based podcast, but it was based around, I think, a neighborhood in Chicago, if I’m not mistaken.

Cedric Wilson:
I’ll have to check that out. I had not heard of it.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s called Bronzeville, and it was all celebrity actors, Larenz Tate, Tika Sumpter was in it, Laurence Fishburne. Pretty good show, I think they only had two seasons, and then they kind of faded away. But I like those kind of period piece sort of shows, because I always love how they do the sound design, especially when they sort of switch to the radio and it has that old-timey radio voice that I love how with audio you can make subtle tweaks like that, and it kind of takes you… It mentally takes you back to a certain time like that.

Cedric Wilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Now, right now you’re the lead producer, as you mentioned earlier, at Lantigua Williams & Co. But prior to that, how do you end up working on projects? Is it mostly like a word-of-mouth kind of thing?

Cedric Wilson:
Towards the end of me freelancing it was, but at first, it was just a lot of trying to figure out who needed things to get mixed and could I mix them.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
At the time, so really what started it was working on The Nod. I was freelancing for Gimlet. I actually found out about that job through Twitter. I’m only laughing because I was supposed to be working at the time that I saw this tweet, but I was at my old campus job. They had a media production company, and I was like helping out with lectures and guest speakers, and I was like, “Oh great, no one recorded this correctly, now I have to fix this audio,” so that was the job that I had over the summer. I didn’t have a lot of hours, and I kind of was like, “I need to be making more money.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I just happened to stumble upon, it was James T. Green’s tweet, and it was like “Hey, we’re looking for an engineer for this project for a podcast. Bonus points for any person that’s black and queer, this and that.” I was like, “All right, I fill a couple of those boxes, let me see. I’m an engineer. I’m black, let’s go.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
So I applied, or emailed. I emailed him and then was in touch with Gimlet’s head engineer to do a mix test, and it was very funny. I started the mix test for what would become The Nod, and then I was on a trip back… So I was taking a trip, and we were listening to For Colored Nerds. My partner was For Colored Nerds, and I was like, “Oh wait, I know these people, how do you know these people?” He was like, “Oh well, I listen to this podcast, I’m a big fan.” I was like, “Oh.” I couldn’t say, “Oh, that mix test that I’ve been talking about, this is actually their thing, so don’t tell anybody.” But that was really cool.

Cedric Wilson:
And yeah, I think once after doing that show for two-and-a-half years, then I just started to meet people and gigs would… Not like role in, like I wasn’t turning people away. I was still pretty new to the industry, but that’s when I got to meet really great people and got to work on other really cool projects, like that’s how I met CC Paschal and I did a project with them in Endeavor, and Mass Appeal. Let’s see, I’m trying to think of what other… There was a lot of just small things I did for Gimlet while I was still freelancing for them. And yeah, it just was a lot of just getting out there and meeting people, different On Air Fests, podcast meets, people’s houses. Yeah, it just was a lot of just doing really good work and figuring out where the people were to be like, “Hey, do you need me to mix something?”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. As you go from project to project in that way, do you find that they tend to be wholly different as you go to each one?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say so. I think people’s techniques sort of vary and sort of like where the engineer or sound designer or composer would sort of fit into the equation. So for a lot of projects, I was like the last person to touch the things, like the last line of defense to a really great sounding show. There were also certain instances of Nod or Weeksville where I was super involved a lot sooner, so that way I had a really good idea of what needed to be done and what direction I wanted to go into as the thing was being put together. So it was not, I don’t want to say projects that have the engineer come in at the end as an afterthought, but it is definitely a much different experience to be involved mid-production as opposed to like at the end.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to kind of switch gears here a little bit. We talked about, now, the work that you’re doing, but I’m curious to kind of learn about sort of like your origin story, like how you first got into all of this now. So you’re originally from New York City, right?

Cedric Wilson:
No, I’m from Long Island, so close enough.

Maurice Cherry:
Is Long Island not?

Cedric Wilson:
I wouldn’t.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, look. Okay, I’m from the south. I’m from Alabama, so forgive my geography faux pas, because I was just fixing to be like, “Is Long Island not New York?” But that’s Staten Island, my bad. Sorry.

Cedric Wilson:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
Sorry, don’t kill me New York folks, don’t kill me.

Cedric Wilson:
Queens and Brooklyn do exist on the tip of the other end of Long Island, but it’s different and I grew up in Long Island proper. I do not ever claim that I was born in or grew up in the city. I just want to put that.

Maurice Cherry:
Got you, got you. My bad. Sorry, sorry. So you grew up in Long Island?

Cedric Wilson:
Grew up on Long Island.

Maurice Cherry:
Grew up on Long Island.

Cedric Wilson:
Based here in New York, and what really got me into the sound stuff was music. I’m a saxophonist.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
It was my first instrument. I started in fourth grade and stuck with it all the way up until college.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
And started learning music production through music theory in high school, so that was a new program that the school was piloting. Based on the zip code I was in, I had got afforded a really good education, and a really good music education with really great music educators, which I know is not the norm. Looking back at all that stuff now, it’s like something that I’m immensely lucky to have experienced and grateful for.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But yeah, so like when they were piloting music theory in my high school, my teacher, Ed Schaefer shout-out, taught it through composition. That’s when I started learning how to use a DAW and this is how a microphone gets plugged in and all that stuff, so like we were producing music but then learning the terms of the music as we were making it. That’s probably what definitely got me started into all this. So I did that a lot of times in the lab after school, it was great. It was like my second home.

Cedric Wilson:
And then that led to me going to Fredonia for their Sound Recording Technology program. It’s actually kind of funny, I was going to do music education for a very long time. I made the decision, I think it was senior year. Yeah, like before I stared applying, I was like, “You know what, actually I think I just want to do music production.” Not that I don’t like teaching. I love to teach, and it’s something that I still do. But I was like, “You know what, I want to make some music.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
So Fredonia was the school that I ended up going to for undergrad, and it was on the list because my high school teacher went there and was like, “Hey, you should go. They have a really great program for education.” And then when I swapped, it stayed on the list, because they had really good sound recording program, which actually I didn’t get in at first. Their program was like a music/science recording hybrid. You had to get into school academically, which was fine. You also had to get into the music program, and my audition was okay. I was a good musician in high school, but it’s like when you leave… Big fish, small pond kind of thing. You leave the pond, you’re like, “Oh wow, these people are GOOD good.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I remember, so the first day… Oh, I went to still try to get into an ensemble, because I was like, “All right, I’m not going to be able to start the sound recording program or the music program, I’ll try again in the spring, but I still want to play in an ensemble.” So I went through that process, and it was also a mess because I didn’t realize that you had to get material weeks ahead. That’s neither here nor there, that audition was terrible. But the saxophone professor knew who I was, and apparently a seat opened up in the studio on the very first day. So I get this email from him, he’s like, “Hey, so I remember you from the blah, blah, blah. Here’s the thing. We had a seat open up, do you still want to do the sound recording thing?” Because I learned later that I got into the sound recording program fine, it was that my music audition wasn’t good enough to get in.

Cedric Wilson:
I was like, “Oh, well, yes.” He’s like, “Go email this person and run around and do all these things and figure it out, because I’m not going to help you do that.” I was like, “That’s fine.” So yeah, it was a hectic first day of class.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like it.

Cedric Wilson:
Ten hours away from home. But yeah, so I did that for four years. It was a really cool program. Got to work on musicianship skills and learned how to record, mix and edit, all that kind of stuff. And then I left spring of 2015.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
Went back home and was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” At that point, I already had met my music mentor and was coming in and assisting on sessions, just watching him work, but it just was hard. It was just going back-and-forth from his place in Brooklyn to my place in Long Island. And then I was like, “Well, I kind of want to get down to the city. How am I going to do it?” I still don’t know if this was the right choice, but I was like, “All right, I guess it’s time for grad school.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I decided, I was like, “Well, I could go continue and do more of what I’ve been doing in music,” and I was like, “Nah.” Not that I was like, “Oh, I’m great at what I do. I’m the best,” but I just was like, “I kind of want to learn a couple of different other applications for sound or get into something new.” So then I stumbled on the New School’s Media Studies program. It was like, “Cool, I can work on sound, and they have like a really cool film program.” I was really interested, at the time, in making documentary stuff.

Cedric Wilson:
So I started that program, and I remember there was a media design course where they walked you through all the different things that you could do in the program, so it was like video, sound, graphic design, all of that kind of stuff. It was like a sample course, and at the end of the semester, we had to make an EPK for an artist. We had the artist in, and all the video people are hovering over a camera talking about apertures and lighting and this, that and the third. I’m sitting here like, “Oh man, no.” I was like, “But I can put that microphone in the right spot and make sure that this guy’s going to sound real crispy.” At that point, I was like, “Oh, there’s so many other things I could do with sound instead.”

Cedric Wilson:
So for a long time, it was a lot of video work, helping on friends’ films, doing stuff like that for the school, and just took more classes in that vein instead of doing video stuff, and that’s how I started really learning about, “Okay, this is what sound design is, and this is what sound designers do. This is how music gets incorporated into things like this.” I took a very beginner radio course, too, and learned a bit about that world specifically. But yeah, so it was a lot of just being like, “Look, I need to work, and I want to get out of my house.” So I had to figure it out, what other things are people doing in sound, and it worked out I guess. But you know, that’s how I got to here.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it sounds like you just sort of had this momentum that just kept going, and you just kept along with it. I mean, that’s what I’m sort of getting from your story here is that it was sort of one thing. You went to SUNY Fredonia, and then you… Did you have some audio jobs between there and going to grad school?

Cedric Wilson:
Just with my mentor. I would come home from breaks, or be home for the summer, and just help out with either sessions, like recording sessions, or building mix sessions for him, watching him work. That was really the main thing. I got really plugged into the indie, pop scene down in Brooklyn for a while. I mean, just doing music has sort of always been the connective tissue between everything that I’ve done. Yeah, it actually wasn’t all audio either. I mean, in that six to nine months that I was home, I was also working at Forever 21 for a little bit.

Cedric Wilson:
And then I got an internship through a friend of mine from the same Fredonia program that was a manager at a post house in Manhattan, Big Yellow Duck. Interned there for a while, and then it eventually turned into a job that I started… It turned into a job that eventually conflicted with school, so I ended up… That post house was the first place I was like, “Okay, this is what sound designers do.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
They were doing a lot of stuff for animated projects, and I was like, “Okay.” When I was doing that job, it was like a lot of studio management, but then it was like, “Hey, we’re working on this show, can you put all the footsteps in for this cartoon?” So yeah, someone has to like-

Maurice Cherry:
So kind of like some Foley work, too, it sounds like.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, a lot of Foley work. It was really cool. One of the shows that, while I was there, they were working on was Doc McStuffins, so the lead engineer over there would just have a three, four, five crates of toys to add the sounds in. It was really cool to watch him work. It was dope.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice. Why is sound design important? And I’m asking this because I’m assuming that we have, for people that are listening to this show, a large amount of visual designers, probably coders or technologists, et cetera. Why is sound design an important thing to know?

Cedric Wilson:
It’s important because when the sound is off, you know it. You might not know why, or you might even watch something and be like, “Wow, something’s off,” and might not even realize that it is the sound. But it just carries the whole… I don’t want to say carries everything. That’s a little grandiose. But if you have this amazing film, and it’s shot so beautifully and the actors are doing their thing and everything’s great, but it sounds like garbage, you’re going to know. You’re going to be like, “Oh wow, something was not great about that.” And I think that permeates so much of what we interact with, be it like film, video games, YouTube videos, all kinds of stuff. It’s literally everywhere.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I tell people that will tell me or they’ll tell other people how they’re not creative, for example, or they don’t have any sort of design language or whatever. I tell folks that everything that we’ve been using since birth has passed through some lens of design, and so because of that we may have intrinsic knowledge about what good design and bad design is. We may not always be able to articulate it, and I feel like sound design kind of fills that gap a little bit, because we tend to associate sounds with memories, sounds with objects, sounds with other types of things, so being able to design something with sound to elicit that response. I feel like that’s a powerful bit of sorcery to be able to do something like that.

Cedric Wilson:
It is. I’m only laughing because you said the word sorcery. I get called a magician all the time. But yeah, I mean doing a little bit of like even studying sound art or just those certain projects that just hit you. You’re just like, “Wow.” Sound is a really powerful medium, almost taps into a base part of the human brain, or something, to me. It’s just like when something gives you goosebumps, but you don’t know why, it’s because it just is.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It’s so cool. It’s really cool.

Maurice Cherry:
What specifically do you enjoy about sound design? Like I know you’re kind of working as a producer now, but you still do sound design on the side.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I would say I like the challenge of sort of figuring out how to really immerse someone in something. Because sometimes it’s like not apparent or easy to figure that out, and it can be a real challenge to be like, “Wait, something is off, but what is it?” I remember for The Nod, they did an episode for a homegoing for Madea, so we made it sound like it was in a church the whole time. I mixed it, and we did a first pass, and I was like, “There’s something off, and I can’t figure it out.” People were like, “Yeah, everyone kind of sounds almost empty or they’re speaking ghost-ish.” I put all this reverb and things like that to make it sound like they’re in this big church space, but something was just off.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
And so I finally sat down with the head engineer, I’m like, “I don’t know, I can’t figure this one out.” And so we’re going back-and-forth, and he just… We had like this church room tone recording just playing underneath the whole thing, and he turns it up, like way up. And I was like, “Oh, that’s it.” That’s it, it just needed more of that room tone recording.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It was just like, “Oh yeah, duh.” I don’t make that mistake anymore, but I couldn’t figure it out at first, I was like, “Oh.” So I like that, I like that sort of like, “Here’s this weird thing we’re going to do,” or, “Here’s just this thing we’re going to do, how do we best convey it in sound?” Just the challenge of figuring that kind of stuff out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I was thinking of a show… What’s a show that I heard recently that had really good sound design? Two shows, actually, one is a bit of a shameless plug, because I… I didn’t help work on it, but I did greenlight the idea initially when we worked at Glitch, but there was this speculative fiction podcast called Open World that has really great, phenomenal sound design. And there’s another show, it’s actually a historical kind of a documentary series, but it’s called In Vogue, like the magazine, I-N-V-O-G-U-E, the 1990s. It’s talking about basically fashion in the ’90s and all that sort of stuff. They get the ’90s so right. I would imagine it’s because they have access to the licenses for music and stuff, but they’ve got the music down and the sounds, and it’s so immersive.

Maurice Cherry:
And also, I think part of it, when we talk about sound design, we talk about the created sound, but the other part of it is the authenticity of the host. So like, for this particular podcast, they have this sort of like haggard British guy named Hamish Bowles, who’s a well-known fashion stylist. And so his sort of kind of posh British accent kind of lends credence to that time. It all sort of flows together very well. I have to actually give it to a lot of limited edition… Not limited edition, but limited series podcasts. They do such a great job with sound design.

Cedric Wilson:
They really do.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s some others. There’s Anime in America from Crunchyroll, did a great job with it. There’s a series on Freaknik that did a really great job with sound design and just like encapsulating that time period or that moment with sound. That’s a really sort of powerful thing, because sound is… We talk about, or I’ve heard the notion about how things can’t be created or destroyed, but sound is literally something that we can make ourselves, and to be able to manipulate that sound and use that sound to bring about memories or immerse someone in a particular time period. I don’t know, it’s really powerful. That sort of is what interests me about sound design, is how you’re able to kind of do that sort of stuff.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it’s great. If I had to guess why I love it so much, I could’ve just stayed in music, but I think there’s just something about just getting the right waves to come out of the right speaker at the right time that just does something. I don’t know, it’s just endlessly fascinating and cool to work with.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m curious were you in marching band in high school?

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
I hated marching band.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Why did you hate it?

Cedric Wilson:
I was the type of music kid to like… I wanted to be in the ensemble room, air-conditioned.

Maurice Cherry:
Ah, okay.

Cedric Wilson:
Making music that way. I had a lot of fun in marching band, don’t get me wrong. I just never really… It just wasn’t for me.

Maurice Cherry:
I was bringing up marching band largely because of talking about sort of timing and everything. Like I was in marching band in high school too, and I played trombone. I had the opportunity through my… And I have to give it to my band director in high school, shout-out to Mr. McDonald, who like really introduced me to a lot of ’70s music that I didn’t know about, that I might’ve heard, like I might’ve heard my parents playing it or something like that, or heard my grandmother playing it or something.

Maurice Cherry:
But once I joined the marching band, he was a big Earth, Wind and Fire fan. And so I got immersed, really, in like a lot of their discography, because we would arrange that music and end up playing it on the field. That’s sort of how I sort of taught myself piano, at least I know my way around a piano. I’m not a virtuoso by any means, but I know my way around a piano to listen to something and arrange it for different instruments. I learned that in marching band, that we take that out and take it onto the field.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, would they always be perfect, one-to-one, note-for-note transpositions? Not in the slightest, especially when we tried to remix popular music. God. If I never hear Montell Jordan’s This is How We Do It ever again in life, I will be perfectly fine, because we played that song to death in marching band. It wasn’t even a great transposition either, or a great arrangement I should say. But then we’d get some of those… And I think the reason that we used Earth, Wind and Fire was because they had their band kind of mapped over to what you would have in a marching band. It has a strong brass section, and you could take the vocals and use that with woodwinds, or something like that, so it made sense in that way.

Cedric Wilson:
I loved Earth, Wind and Fire. Oh my God. I remember, my dad… When I was young, I was big on taking the CDs and getting them on the computer or the iPod and burning them. I’d be like, “All right, I have to burn them. I have to burn them with these settings and this is the best.” And I remember it was like this huge three-CD collection of all of Earth, Wind and Fire.

Maurice Cherry:
I had that. It was like this tall, brown like with Egyptian.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I got that for my 16th birthday. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh, man. So I used to listen to that all the time. Oh, man. Whew. Yeah no, that kind of stuff, my dad loves Earth, Wind and Fire. He was like the Motown, that kind of stuff, the funk, the soul, R&B. And then my mom was like the Anita Baker, Rachelle Ferrell, India Arie person.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Actually, no, it’s funny. They definitely instilled a love of music, and I remember it was… I actually don’t remember which song it was, but it was off India Arie’s, I think, second… One of hers, the second album?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I don’t remember, but I remember like that deciding to be like, “Oh, okay, I think I want to make music with my life.” In making that decision, I remember she was just playing one of her CDs in the car, and I was listening to one of the songs and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to make some music.”

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh yeah, it was always stuff playing in the house. Not on Sundays, when it was time to clean, it was always music playing in the house.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so funny. This was years ago, but I had her graphic designer on the show, India Arie’s graphic designer.

Cedric Wilson:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
Denise Francis. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
That’s dope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The one that I remember distinctly that we would play from Earth, Wind and Fire is Star, because it had a solo at the beginning, and it would be a trombone solo that I would write in for myself, naturally. But it would have a solo in the beginning, and then like once it broke out into the verse, it was very easy for marching, because it was like, “Dun dun, dun dun, dun dun dun-dun-dun!”

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so we would play like a mix… I’ll say it like this, on the field, we would play a mix of like oldies and then stuff that’s on the radio. So like we would play My Boo, this is ’96, I’m old. We would play that on the field and get people hype, but then like when you were in stands and you were in your sections, your sections could do whatever you wanted to, as long as you were the section leader. And so I was the section leader for the trombones, and my nerdy, video game-playing ass had taught my section how to play the winning battle fanfare from Final Fantasy.

Maurice Cherry:
So when the team would score a touchdown, you’d hear, “Bum-bum-bum-bum, bum bum, bum-bum-bum! Dun dun dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun!” And people thought it was just like some John Philip Sousa, all-American kind of fanfare thing. I’m like, “No, no.” Listen, because I played Final Fantasy Two to death, Final Fantasy Four in Japan, but I recorded that and then I had a keyboard at home, and I would translate… Yeah, that’s what I would do. I would do dirty shit like that. I can’t imagine songs now, like modern songs, being done… I mean, not to say that it’s not done, because marching bands do it, but I don’t know if today’s music lends to that level of instrumentality.

Cedric Wilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
I think the latest song that I heard that actually think would do really good in a marching band is Silk Sonic’s Leave the Door Open.

Cedric Wilson:
Actually, Anderson .Paak is where my mind first went.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Just generally, but yeah, ooh that’s a good… What are the kids playing in marching band these days? That’s a good question.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know, because I can’t imagine any of this mumble rap stuff going over well on the field. “Nana, nana, nanananananana.” I can’t, I don’t know what that would sound like, probably would sound like a swarm of bees or something. I don’t know.

Cedric Wilson:
Some of that stuff hits, I’m sure the drummers really enjoy that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s honestly probably the stuff that has old school samples in it.

Cedric Wilson:
Probably. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I’m curious.

Maurice Cherry:
So like, what’s the difference between a sound designer and an audio engineer, like in your eyes? Is there a difference between those two?

Cedric Wilson:
There is. I think you’ll probably get a different answer from different people, but for me, I would say an audio engineer is someone who is just doing the technical stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Like record this well, clean this up, put this thing here. Even to like a certain extent, editing, for quality not necessarily for content. And I would say a sound designer is someone who may or may not have those technical skills. I always try to say that you don’t have to get into sound design through engineering. There are a lot of great people who came in as “producers,” quote-unquote, and just do really great sound design. But I would say a sound designer is someone who is able to make those creative choices and say, “Okay, we want this to sound like it’s in a church or in a cave or in space or wherever,” and then has the tools at their disposal to make that happen.

Maurice Cherry:
So one kind of is more creative, and the other’s more technical, I guess, just kind of broadly saying.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, super broadly, because I’ve definitely seen some engineers, especially in the music world, who can just mix their butts off and do things that I’m just like, “Why in God’s name would you ever think to do something like that?” But it sounds amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
It’s like that thing where at any job, when you’re at a really high level, is creative. But yeah, I would say the distinction there is I would say more technical to like more production-y.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I’d imagine there’s probably even… Well, I know for a fact that there’s business/branding elements that go to it, because you did some sound design work back when both TK and I worked at Glitch, you came on and worked as a sound designer for a project that we had, where you sort of made an audio jingle, or like an audio brand, for the company.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I think they’re called audio identities.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, audio identity. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, that was really cool. That was the first time I did something like that, because TK was like, “Hey, we have this thing, can you do this?” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” So I did some research, and then listened to all the episodes of Twenty Thousand Hertz that dealt with the specific topic, and I was like, “All right, let’s go make some audio IDs.” Yeah, that was super fun. That was cool. I mean, that one was cool because the way that I just had to do it was I came at the group with three very different ideas for it. I sat down with everyone and was like, “This is what I think you all want, here’s what I think my interpretation would be, like if I were to personally do it, this is how I would do it.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
And then I did one that was really abstract and just weird, because you’ve got to have one like that just to be like, “Maybe there’s something there, I don’t know.” And yeah, that was a really cool process, just kind of like going back and forth and figuring out, “Okay, this is the sound that we want, and how do we get to work?” There was like a visual element that it needed to sync up with too. Yeah, that was a lot of fun, and definitely was the first time I ever did it. I think it worked out well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I would say for people that probably… I think a lot of folks have heard audio identities but may not necessarily really know what it is, but like just to kind of give a broad example. For when you watch a new movie on Netflix, and you hear that sort of opening, “Dun dun!” Or Intel has “Bum bum, bum bum!”

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Or something like that. Those little types of, I don’t know what they’re called, like zingers or whatever. I’m just making up words, but those little audio blurbs can often be indicative of an entire brand, and what I think we’re starting to see now is a lot more companies are leaning into that, with the advent of smart speakers and things of that nature, you’re starting to hear a lot more audio identities. One that surprised me recently was YouTube.

Cedric Wilson:
They have one now?

Maurice Cherry:
YouTube is completely visual, but YouTube has an audio identity if you’re watching… If I cast YouTube to television, or like if I watch YouTube on Apple TV or Chromecast TV or something, there’s like an opening whoosh sound or something with YouTube, like it goes, “Shhhhwuummm, shwum!” Like it’s new, and I just recently started paying attention to it. I would imagine it’s probably to get people’s attention if they’re not looking at the screen, but it also is to just sort of signify like, “Hey, if you’re across the room and you hear this, you already know exactly what it is.” Like when you hear the Netflix sound, you know that’s Netflix. Or like if you hear a certain app or something chime or chirp, you know that’s that app, because the app has a specific sound to it or something like that.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s a lot more tech companies and design companies, or at least design-focused tech companies, that are leaning into audio identities as ways to kind of brand themselves, which I think is pretty cool.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I mean, it’s a powerful, powerful tool. I get it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, as I sort of alluded to earlier, I’m pretty sure most of our audience are probably visual designers in practice, or they’re software designers or something like that. What would you tell someone that wants to know about sound design, like what should they know when it comes to sound design?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say it’s bigger than you think it is. So like when I was doing a lot of the indie film stuff in school, and would work with filmmakers, people just didn’t fully know how much goes into it. If you’re making something that’s like a huge budget, I don’t think people realize the actors don’t just say their lines on set, or in front of a green screen. They go back into a studio afterwards and dub everything afterwards.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But you know, depending on the budget, not everyone can do that. But it just is to say that the work that goes into the sound is about the same that you’ll have to put into a visual thing, so like if you have the means, a really good friend, or the budget, get you a sound person. Get you someone who can really do that work.

Maurice Cherry:
Are there certain resources or tools that you would recommend for someone that wants to get into sound design, like they’ve listened to this episode, they think this is cool, this is something that I want to maybe pick up as a skill or something like that. What resources would you recommend?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say YouTube is your best friend. I learned probably too many things on that site, which is a little annoying to say to someone that also went to grad school. There are so many people just doing the work of just being like, “Hey, this is what we do, and this is how it works.” It’s always been a great resource. A lot of plugin companies are now also really into the content creation game. So like usually like with waves… If you find the good tools, usually there’s good videos and things like that to go along with it. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What haven’t you done yet that you want to do?

Cedric Wilson:
I would love to start getting into the more experimental stuff. I would love to do more fiction stuff. I think for a while I was afraid of fiction, just because I knew how much work needs to go into it, just like time-wise. And maybe some of the first sound design experiences I had… Not scared me off from it, but I just was like, “Uh, how do people actually do this all the time for work?” But I would love to do that kind of stuff more. I guess get less into the literal space and more in the metaphoric stuff and how does this weird sound or experience or whatever represent something, as opposed to this quote-unquote “interview.” I’m not trying to place a value judgment on narrative audio and things like that, but I would love to start getting into making more weirder things and just figuring out what, I guess, being an artist might look like more in the sound design realm. I know who I am as an artist from music, but for sound design it’s just like, “Oh, what do I really want to be making here?”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I’m just like sort of figuring that kind of stuff out.

Maurice Cherry:
So I’d say to that end, where do you see yourself in the next five years or so? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Cedric Wilson:
I would love to be doing more things in collaboration with musicians and things like that. Song Exploder is a huge inspiration for me. I absolutely love that podcast, like listening to shows like Twenty Thousand Hertz is amazing, and even podcasts that are narrative but use music in really interesting ways.

Maurice Cherry:
Like Dissect?

Cedric Wilson:
Like Dissect. I need to listen to the new season of Mogul. They’re doing a season on chopped and screwed.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Cedric Wilson:
I mean, there’s so much really, really cool storytelling that can happen just around the realm of sound, and not just because you can use sound in cool ways, but just because it’s also just genuinely interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But yeah, it’s just like more immersion, more risk-taking, that kind of stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, just to wrap things up here, Cedric, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Cedric Wilson:
You can find out more about me on my website is probably the best spot, cedricwilsonmedia.com. I am also on Twitter, @cedricwilson64, but I will give the warning that I don’t tweet very often. But like, if anyone ever had a question, you can feel free to hit up the DMs, but I’m not a big social media person. I’m sorry for that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, no. Hey look, you’re in the studio, you’re mixing audio and stuff. That makes sense, I get it. I get it.

Cedric Wilson:
I host a gaming podcast. I really love video games. We should talk more about video games after this, but I do that. It’s called Gamer Friends. You can find that on any podcast platform.

Maurice Cherry:
I was about to say, you work a podcast and you’re like, “I have a podcast, it’s on… Oh man, I can’t think of the name.”

Cedric Wilson:
I just can’t remember the… I think the phrase that I like is whatever platform you’re listening to this on, you can find it there as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
But you know, I’m not behind the mic that often.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s all good. It’s all good. Cedric Wilson, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really kind of demystifying sound design, not just for me, but I think for the audience as well. Being able to hear is one of our five vital senses. And as designers, of course, we look at visual things, we touch things, so the work that we do is mostly around those two senses. But sound is something I think, for those of us that have hearing, we sort of take it for granted in terms of how important it is and how useful it is. And so, it’s good to have someone on the show to talk about how they got into sound design, how it’s important, and you’ve been able to use it to be a creative person. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This was great. I had a very good time.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

napoleon-wright-ii-300

When I asked Napoleon Wright II to describe what he does, he gave me a list of titles — animator, videographer, filmmaker, musician, designer, etc. Needless to say, he’s brimming with creative ability, and that always makes for a great interview.

We started off talking about the Raleigh creative scene, and from there went into how Napoleon first got into design, the creation of his design company Pan II Creative, as well as his forays into music. This industry moves fast, and a creative like Napoleon has just what it takes to adapt and thrive. Enjoy the interview!


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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
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mario-moorhead-300

Happy new year! We’re kicking off our 2016 interviews by chatting with Mario Moorhead. While Mario is a full-stack developer and architect, a lot of our conversation didn’t even focus on technology!

We talked about how Mario got into programming, his life as a musician, some projects he’s working on right now (including a political mashup site), and the people who inspire him. You can tell Mario’s a real deep thinker with a unique outlook on life. Hope you enjoy!


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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
Hover logo
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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300-allan-cole

Allan Cole is a true polymath. Whether it’s graphic design, web development, or music, he brings a wealth of knowledge to the table and produces mind-blowing results. You may know him as one of the co-authors of Build Your Own Wicked WordPress Themes, but he’s also done websites and designs for big names like Nike, Okayplayer, Kanye West, Jay Electronica, and Janelle Monáe’s Wondaland Arts Society!

(And speaking of music, he’s one half of the music duo The Stuyvesants. Highly, highly recommended!)

We talked about his current path to success through WordPress, creative collaboration, and of course…the music. According to Allan, there are ways to do what you love and make a living, and he’s a prime example of that!

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