Wednesday, April 24, 2013

David Tobin of Audiojack

Audiojack founder David Tobin at the Getty Center


At the Getty Center

1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles (Brentwood)

Waves crashing on the shore. A rooster ushering in the morning with its crow. Wind rushing through the trees. Wood crackling in a campfire. A single sound can have the capacity to evoke memories, conjure emotions and transport you to another place, even if it's all in your mind. It's the powerful ability of sound to stimulate the mind that lies at the foundation of Audiojack, a company founded by L.A. entrepreneur David Tobin.

He defines an Audiojack as: "a movie for your mind that's never the same twice. No video. No words. No music. Just your imagination…" Through segments of sound, an Audiojack sparks a listener's imagination and they begin to form a story to coincide with the aural scene. There are no rules for using an Audiojack, and they're perfect for filling your ears and flooding your brain with images while running on the treadmill at the gym or traveling on a long airplane ride or to just focus your thoughts before going to bed.

All you need is a computer and Internet connection. You go to the website and try out a sample. If you want to get the program, just send them an email for rates. Audiojacks range from five to 10 minutes in length and are available in a variety of themes, from Adventure and Sports to Historical.

"Audiojack happened one night when a buddy had given me a computer drive for a project I was working on, and he had included a folder with a bunch of sound effects he thought I might need. I went through and listened to all these basic, royalty-free sounds. They were so crisp and loud, and I literally started piecing them together. I looked at the sounds as if they were a toy, just layering them together, and they eventually turned into these five-minute scenes, which I eventually gave to friends who were traveling or going on tour. Their reaction was incredible," David recalls. "I already had my company Scrapjack, which is a word I thought of when trying to come up with band names in high school, and Audiojack just seemed like it fit."

It's no wonder that someone filled with the creativity to envision the seeds of his own business from a few snippets of sound with the aim of coaxing people to use their imaginations would select one of Los Angeles' most inspirational locations for his interview, the Getty Center. The campus for the J. Paul Getty Trust has served as the home for a museum displaying pre-20th century European paintings,  drawings and sculptures, as well as 19th and 20th century American and European photographs, since 1997. The Richard Meier-designed museum and its picturesque gardens are stunning and offer breathtaking views from their seat high above the city. The Getty Center's location is one of the aspects that David loves most about the museum.

"It's above L.A. and away from everything. The Getty Center is filled with a lot of integrity, history and passion. That's what makes this place special; it's the exception to the rule of the city," he says. "I've always felt really calm here. Obviously it's beautiful, and the views are stunning. But, on a deeper note, it's a nice, intellectual break from a lot of the more mundane, low-brow stuff in L.A."

Admission to the museum and its exhibits is always free. Parking is $15, so it's best to carpool with some friends. Then you get to tram from the parking garage up the hill to the center. Once you step out of the tramcar, you're greeted with a barrage of sensory stimuli: a grand staircase adorned with sculptures, lush trees and foliage and the campus' exquisite buildings.

"I've had so many good experiences here, from relaxing on the lawn with a friend to going inside to take in pieces of art. Being able to sit there and think about each piece gives me a chance to take a break from all the chaos going on in my life. To know that someone took a paintbrush hundreds of years ago to make this, that it has been touched by someone else's hands, it's essentially a time machine back to that point. You can sit and think about what were they doing, why they were doing this, how long it took, what the world was like then for them," David shares. "It's a good chance for introspection. When that person is gone, they're dead, and this is their legacy, what they left behind. It makes me think about what I'm going to leave behind. We have our relationships with people and our impact on them, but are we capable of leaving something more?"

Some of his favorite artists are Paul C├ęzanne, Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, while two of the paintings he loves most at the Getty are Spring by Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. Both of David's parents are into the arts. His father, a produce broker, is an avid history buff, while his mother formerly worked in fashion and the arts and is now a teacher where they live in Fresno, Calif.

"We had just moved to Fresno from Chicago, I was in fourth or fifth grade and my mom was working on becoming a teacher so she substituted and was also an art docent," he remembers. "Art has been something that's always been around. I've always been creative, whether it's been music or art, it's something that's always been in my blood."

Growing up as a child in Chicago, David was always singing. After moving to Fresno, he picked up the trumpet and, after his parents gave him a guitar for his bar mitzvah at age 13, learned to play the guitar. He joined a band, and since they had three guitarists and no bass player, he eventually learned the bass, as well as drums and piano. 

"There's a picture of me with headphones on when I was 2 or 3, and I've always been around good music. My parents brought me up around everything from Chuck Mangione and Boz Scaggs, Gato Barbieri and other amazing horn players like Dizzy Gillespie all the way to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters and all sorts of stuff. I saw Tony Bennett at the park in Chicago with my grandma when I was 5. Some woman came up to me and said, 'You're so cute, how old are you?' I looked at her and said, '5. How old are you,'" he recalls with a laugh.

Some of David's fondest childhood memories were in Chicago watching Flash Gordon, which is still his favorite film, with his dad and little brother.

"I'll never forget watching Flash Gordon pretending that I was Flash, my dad was Vultan and my brother was Barin. It was one of those things that really shaped me as a person. Flash Gordon was the only superhero who didn't have superpowers. There's a line in the theme: 'Just a man, with a man's courage… King of the impossible,' and that's the motto that I've lived by my whole life," he admits. "Everyone has always told me you can't do this, you suck at that. I remember being in theater in high school, I would kill at auditions but my teacher would never cast me because he didn't like me. The Fresno Lyric Opera Theater was casting for productions, so I went and auditioned. I got the lead role, and my teacher was almost angry that I did. Every time someone tells me I can't do something, then it's just more motivation for me to prove them wrong."

It's that spunk and fiery determination that has fueled David's ambition for years. He moved to Los Angeles after college and a year of graduate school, leaving his family and friends for the unknown. He soon found a new home at the famed Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood.

"I didn't know anything about the town or the Rox, but I barbacked twice and Nic [Adler, owner/operator] gave me the keys. I was 22 and running On the Rox, a hardcore private club, and managing the Roxy. I was barely old enough to drink and telling off a record company executive who was a jerk. I always ran that place like if you were cool you could come in, whether you were a rock star or regular person, but if you were a jerk you had to get out. There was a picture of me in The National Enquirer kicking Courtney Love out, and the first time I met Christina Aguilera we got in a fight but later became friends."

After five-plus years, it was time for David to move on, and he began a career in television production. However, the Roxy is still one of his favorite places in Los Angeles

"Every time a friend visits from out of town, I take them to the Getty Center and to the Roxy. Those are my two places," he proudly states.

He frequently goes to shows there and other venues around town to indulge in one of his hobbies,  photography, and shoot concert performances by bands such as Metallica, Dave Matthews Band and Slayer. He also takes landscape, fashion and beauty portraits, which can be viewed at

 "When I was young, I used my parents' camera to take pictures of the sky and clouds. They would say, 'What are you doing? Why are you taking pictures of the sky? There are other things to take pictures of.' I replied, 'No, it's so cool,'" he chuckles. "Eventually that led to me doing photography later."

Aside from working full-time on Audiojack, producing TV shows and dabbling in photography, David is a diehard Chicago Bears fan, so I had to find out where he goes to watch games during football season.

"Tinhorn Flats. It's a Chicago Bears bar and an old cowboy roadhouse spot. I go there to watch Bears games and every Tuesday for $1 tacos and cheap beer," he responds. "I also love a restaurant called El Carmen. I go there with a buddy I used to work with every Thursday night to try different tequilas. They have over 400 different tequilas, it's amazing. The food is so good."

When I ask David what he loves most about Los Angeles, he is very quick to reply.

"The culture, the art, the fact that there is culture here. I've traveled all over this country, and L.A.'s really special that way. When it's good it's amazing, when it's shitty it's the worst place on the planet. Los Angeles' Skid Row has the highest concentration of homeless people in the United States. My dad says that 'Los Angeles is the poor person's hell,' and it really is," he says. "The reason I've stayed in L.A. this long was because of work. When I was in a serious relationship I got to thinking that I wouldn't want to raise a family here, I want to be somewhere else but if I keep producing TV I'm going to be stuck here. That's what really motivated me to make Audiojack into something. I just wanted to make something on my own, that would allow me to live anywhere on the planet and give something back to people as well, their imagination. I ran On the Rox and helped turn it into what it was, but it was never mine. These TV shows and photography have been cool, but I wanted something that was totally mine. When Audiojack came about, I thought, 'OK, this is David's.' As I saw all of these pieces of the puzzle come together, I knew that I had to do this."

Over the past few years, David has built Audiojack into an international brand with users from all over America to countries such as Australia, Israel and Serbia among others, but some of the users who are closest to his heart have proven to be the numerous schools who have opted to use Audiojack as part of their curriculum.

"I've interviewed kids after demonstrating Audiojack, and they're just blown away. Some say, 'I don't normally learn this way, and now I can' or 'I feel uninhibited.' Teachers have said that some students who normally just write a paragraph were writing pages upon pages while doing the Audiojack exercise," he says. "Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts sent over their commitment to do their first purchase order to use the Audiojack lesson plans. This school is the gold standard in education for those who are blind. Working with these kids when I went out there was amazing, and to have the superintendent of the school say that I 'cracked the code for the blind community. This changes everything' – it still hasn't sunk in yet."

David is visibly emotional when he recalls his experiences presenting Audiojack to those at the prestigious school.

"The first day I was in Boston I gave a two-hour lecture for members from the blind community, and there were people calling others at Brown University, Carnegie Mellon and MIT saying, 'Get over here, this is groundbreaking stuff.' I brought my action-packed Audiojacks, and kids were cheering like they were at a concert. They couldn't get enough of it," he remembers. "The second day, I did individual classes and worked with them on how to create their own. We were doing that together, and one girl stopped us and said, 'I feel like I can see for the first time in my life.' Wow, that's what makes it all worth it for me, to have someone say something like that." 

Children are so responsive to the Audiojacks because there is never a wrong answer as to what the intended meaning of the sound story could be.

"I never tell anyone what the story is behind them. There is a story, but I won't tell you because it will affect your interpretation of it. These kids know going into it that there is no wrong answer. They're happy to use their imagination. Even adults are, too," he informs. "I was in Israel presenting Audiojack at a blind center, and there's no language barrier, there's no age gap. It's all across the board because we all have an imagination – it's just whether we want to use it or not."

David just cemented a deal with a second sound effect company so their enormous library will soon be available to Audiojack creators. He's developing a smartphone app and a new version of the website with a player built into it so you can create your own Audiojack, upload it to the site and earn money when others download it. If you're interested making your own but need help, you can always e-mail for assistance.

There will be a scholarship competition for students and other contests for those who create their own Audiojacks, too. David has also reached out to celebrity DJs such as Just Blaze and Incubus' Chris Kilmore to contribute Audiojacks, with all proceeds going to charity. Companies like Skullcandy have donated products for students and are eager to be a part of the company's future, and don't be surprised if you see an interactive Audiojack at a future Coachella festival.

As we sit in a courtyard on the Getty Center's grounds, David looks out at the view and contemplates. After a few minutes, he decides to amend his earlier answer on what he loves most about the City of Angels.

"My favorite thing about Los Angeles is the opportunity, to be anything you want and do anything you want. Whatever you put into it, you're going to get out of it. If you want to be the biggest movie star or band on the planet, you can do that here. It can happen, if you keep hitting it. The more you hit it, the harder it's going to hit back, but you can't let up. You have to fight, to beat the shit out of this town to get it to do what you want it to do. It's not going to just give it to you. It's the toughest city I've been to in my life. Sure Chicago is cold, and New York has its rough side. But L.A. is a lonely place, and you have to want it to make it work for you. That's what it's about: making L.A. work for you."

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