You Made What?

Sean Forbes ’08

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Sean Forbes

Forbes, who has been deaf since he was an infant, signed with the same record label that discovered rap artist Eminem. He expects to release his first album this winter. Forbes is changing the way deaf people experience music.

Sean Forbes always loved music, but he knew turning music into a career would be difficult. When he came to RIT/NTID his freshman year, he left his instruments in his hometown of Detroit so he could concentrate on his studies.

But a month later, Forbes, who has been deaf since he was 9 months old because of spinal meningitis, got a call from his dad, who told him to wait outside his dormitory at 9:30 that night. He did and met a family friend carrying his guitar case and amplifier.

“I was like, ‘Holy smokes!’, ” Forbes says. “I was just so excited. I thanked him, grabbed my guitar and ran up to my room, plugged that baby in and just played.”

Forbes ’08 (multidisciplinary studies) learned two valuable lessons that night. If you jam on your guitar past 10 p.m. in the residence halls, you disturb other students and get in trouble. And music is his natural release. It’s what defines him and a critical piece of whatever his future would be.

As it turned out, that future included launching D-PAN, the Deaf Performing Arts Network, and writing, performing and recording his own music. In 2010, Forbes signed a record deal with Web Entertainment, the same label that discovered rap artist Eminem. In February, Forbes is scheduled to release his first album, Perfect Imperfection, which includes a DVD with music videos and behind-the-scenes clips. Jake Bass, the son of Jeff Bass, who produces music for Eminem, is producing the album.

“Stevie Wonder showed the world how blind people experience music,” he says. “I want to show the world how deaf people experience music.”

Forbes has been experiencing music since he got his first drum kit at the age of 5. His knack for music was evident during those early years when he would follow the rhythm of a song by tapping on his lap, even though he couldn’t hear high pitches.

“People always think music is something that you hear. But to me, music is something that you feel,” he says. “Whether you physically feel the music or literally feel the music from the artist’s devotion.”

At RIT, Forbes would sign lyrics to songs as a way to impress girls. He found that deaf people love music but they weren’t getting all that music has to offer.

That’s why he created the nonprofit organization D-PAN, which translates popular songs into American Sign Language music videos.

D-PAN has the backing of Eminem’s publisher, Joel Martin, whom Forbes met at the Detroit Music Awards. He won him over after making a music video of himself signing Eminem songs. Fellow RIT/NTID grad Adrean Mangiardi ’06 (film and animation) produced the video.

Mangiardi, who has his own production company called Mangiardi Films and also works for D-PAN Productions, went on to make Forbes’ debut single music video I’m Deaf as well as the music videos that accompany the new album.

Mangiardi says the album inspires both deaf and hearing people.

“Sean has shown people how to overcome obstacles of impossibilities,” Mangiardi says. “His music brings hope to everyone.”

To learn more

Go to to check out singles from Perfect Imperfection.