While Design Sound Productions keeps a fairly low profile in their hometown of Chatham, Ontario, they have the ears of one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious tech firms.
The audio publishing and production company, which was incorporated in 2014, produces audio books and full cast dramatizations of popular book titles through their “Voices in the Wind” brand.
Along with their global marketing and distribution partner Blackstone Publishing of Ashland, Oregon, the company produces and publishes full-cast dramatizations and spoken word content for the consumer and library trade. Their award-winning productions of classic children’s titles and original stories of horror, mystery, suspense, and comedy are available as digital downloads to purchase on all major online sites including, Audible, Amazon, Google Play, Downpour, Rakuten Kobo, Apple, and Walmart.
Now, their library of work is helping US-based company DTS create the next generation of home entertainment, utilizing voice stems from their extensive cast of actors to facilitate the machine learning of voice recognition and better tailor programming choices for DTS’s digital video recorder company, TiVo.
“Out of the blue I get this email from DTS and I was like, ‘What is this?’” laughs Design Sound Productions CEO David Farquhar. “You get a lot of spam in your inbox so I actually had to read it a few times to make sure it was legit. Why would they want my voice stems?”
Farquhar says he began corresponding with DTS’ Vice President of Research and Development Martin Walsh and discovered that the company, which was co-founded by Stephen Spielberg, was looking to utilize clips from Voices in the Wind’s catalogue to enhance the platform’s automated programming guide.
“What they’re doing is essentially the next generation of TiVo,” he explains. “It’s voice recognition, so they were looking at children’s voice stems. For example, a child would speak and this technology would recognize the child’s voice and know how old they are and recommend certain TV shows and programs that are age appropriate. It would also prevent them from getting into any adult oriented content.”
Farquhar says it was actually a coder from DTS who had suggested they reach out to him in the first place.
“The job can be quite tedious and a lot of them listen to audio books while they’re typing away and that’s how this whole thing came about. One of them just happened to be listening to one of our productions and thought, ‘Why don’t we just contact these guys and see if we could get some voice stems?”
The samples will be used to formulate logarithms, he shares.
“It’s totally amazing how what I’m doing in Chatham fits into all of this,” says Farquhar. “Who would ever think somebody doing audio theatre would be part of a high-tech firm that’s doing artificial intelligence and have the privilege to talk to them and get a sense of what they’re doing? I just thought it was so cool to be a part of that; they’re using voice stems to build that machine learning technology.”
The continued collaboration with DTS is further evidence of the success of Design Sound Productions, says Farquhar. The content produced by Voices in the Wind Audio Theatre is a crucial element in the cutting-edge developments in AI that DTS is currently making.
“I’m under the radar here in Chatham-Kent, but it’s amazing the contacts we’ve made in the United States,” he says. “It’s not only DTS; I was also approached by Heuer Publishing in Iowa. I received an email from them saying they were really interested in the content that I have.”
Since beginning Design Sound Productions as a hobby nearly a decade ago, Farquhar has managed to grow the company substantially; from doing radio dramas with a few local theatre friends to winning multiple international awards and working with well-known voice talent from around the globe.
“Really where the big break came was with the technology and the smart phones,” he explains. “With all the downloading, the digital world now has just exploded with audio books and audio theatre. So, with this whole digital revolution, what was old is now new again.”
Farquhar says it’s been exciting to see a younger audience getting into what he does.
“It’s the next generation that is really listening to audio books now and finding out about audio theatre and full cast dramatizations. It’s a marriage of the old storytelling and the new digital technology,” he shares. “In the states, it’s a huge market and when you get into places like California or Texas where people are always on the road, they are big consumers of audio books.”
Through Farquhar’s connection with WETechAlliance, he says he’s been able to gain valuable insights on how to further grow his business from a marketing perspective.
“Years ago, somebody at our Chatham Small Business Centre mentioned WEtech being a great incubator for entrepreneurs and tech-oriented businesses and a lot of stuff I do is available digitally, so we connected about a few things,” he shares.
During the pandemic, he continues, WEtech’s Director of Venture Services Adam Castle was able to connect him with resources which allowed him to expand the Voices in the Wind website.
“They were able to help me with some marketing connections as well,” says Farquhar. “We always kind of stay in touch on things.”
Farquhar notes the growth for audio books and digital products has been double digits for the past five years and continues to expand rapidly.
“It’s growing more all the time,” he adds. “You never know where we will end up next.”