Producer. Director. Musician. Writer. Poet. Actor. // Mark Levin is louder than ever.
Two pivotal moments in Mark Levin’s life lead him to where he is today – receiving his first guitar at age 12, and a friend loaning him ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac in high school. From that moment on, the world became his playground.
Losing his hearing at the age of two never slowed Mark down. Graduating from Columbia College Chicago in 2008 with a B.A. in Arts, Entertainment & Media Management, concentrating in Music Business, he has an all around passion for the music and entertainment industry. In 2015 Mark helped co-found DPAN.tv, amongst his many roles in helping build the network, he worked as an Associate Producer and Director of DTV News. He was also a producer for Real People, Tru Biz, Between the Lines, and his own show that he wrote and directed, Facts of Life with Rex Turner. He also has worked closely with internationally renowned Deaf Hip-Hop performer Sean Forbes as his guitarist, and previously his Tour & Event Manager. Prior to his current role at DPAN.tv, he joined D-PAN: Deaf Professional Arts Network in 2008 and held many roles including, Assistant Director of Film, Website Content Manager, Social Media Manager, Merchandise manager, and more. In addition to being part of a creative team that has filmed over 25 music videos with millions of views worldwide, he DJ’s various events and parties, has worked multiple major music festivals across the country for 12 years, been involved with TV production, and has acted in both Film & Theatre. He has a passion for inspiring others, and changing the worlds perception of the ever-growing talents of the Deaf community.
Photo by Sampi Ghandi
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Chicago, IL. I'm pretty well rounded as a “Chicagoan”, growing up in the NW Burbs, as well as the Southside of the city, and then spending a good 5 years living up on the Northside as I attended Columbia College Chicago. I moved to Detroit in 2008 after I graduated to work with my buddy at his entertainment based non-profit called, D-PAN (now DPAN.tv). I stayed in Detroit for 2 years before going back to Chicago for a bit and then I came back a second time in 2012 and have been here since.
Tell us about your vision, or mission. What’s ahead for you and/or your career?
My mission is to continue changing the world’s perception of the ever growing potential and talents of the Deaf community. I do this through my work in music, film production, poetry, producing live events and more. The majority of these things (with the exception of poetry) take a team to do. I’m fortunate to work and be surrounded by a talented group of individuals with varying degrees of hearing loss that are movers and shakers that really push the barriers of accessibility.
I have a good handful of events and projects in the work for 2020 and beyond. I will be performing several of my spoken word/signed ASL poems at an event called the, “All Access Cafe,” on Feb. 21st at Third Man Records. In addition to releasing some new poems and music this year I have several film productions and events in the works that I’m looking forward to sharing with the world. The biggest thing I’m aiming to tackle is pushing for more accessibility for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing at concerts and live events at venues.
We love people who break the boundaries and relentlessly push toward their goals. That said, what drives you? Was there an event, or personal moment that triggered it all?
There’s several drivers in my life. The first has been, and always will be, the people that tell me I can’t do something because of my hearing loss. The biggest trigger for me was a career counselor who told me I was “setting myself up for failure” by trying to pursue a degree in the field of music as someone with severe hearing loss. It served as a springboard and ultimately my driver. I never knew I wasn’t supposed to do something because of my lack of hearing, the discouragement was always a confusing message because my initial response was always, “Why? I’m already doing it.” Passion, drive, dedication, and hard-work can overcome any obstacle.
My other driver is educating people about hearing loss and accessibility. There’s an estimated 38 million Americans with varying degrees of hearing loss...and that number is continuing to grow.
When I was growing up I was told I couldn’t be a firefighter, serve in the military, become a musician, do this or do that...my job prospects felt very limited and steered towards a certain path. There weren’t a lot of various role models in “non-traditional” jobs to point to and say, “hey look, they’ve had great success.” It’s important to me to be able to share with parents, educators, HS/college counselors, individuals with hearing loss, and students of all walks of life that there is NO job that someone with hearing loss can’t do, and they shouldn’t be persuaded away from something because of the fear of failure, or rejection. Fortunately now there are so many talented Deaf and hard-of-hearing people all over the world with such a variety of kick-ass jobs. It’s amazing to see so many barriers being broken down and I hope to help continue paving the way for those who want careers in the music and film industry.
Have you been rejected along the way? How did you feel? How did you overcome it?
I’ve been rejected a lot. I knew from an early age that I was always gonna have to be prepared for a battle against automatic judgements. It comes with the hearing loss territory. I’ve been rejected by numerous jobs, people, educators, classmates, other musicians...rejection sucks. I knew what I could offer, I knew that I had to work twice as hard, I just needed to be given a chance. I’ll never forget the moment I tried to use past rejection as an excuse; I was told that wasn’t a good enough excuse, and to figure it out. From then on I tried to use rejection as a learning experience; to grow from it rather than to be constantly pushed down by it.
For all the rejection I experienced, I was always more blown away by the acceptance. I was constantly ready for rejection, that when I experienced acceptance it took me a bit to let my guard down.
I remember my first guitar teacher; walking into the room and being scared at how they were going to react and how I was going to be able to learn, and when they were informed of my hearing loss, they paused for a brief moment and just said, “Ok...that’s alright, we’re gonna work through this together.” It was a major confidence booster. It gave me the confidence to realize that I gotta face my hearing loss head-on, and that people were willing to work with me to figure out this bit of the obstacle. As long as I was up front about it and showed them I’m willing to put in the work, they saw it as a learning experience for themselves as well. And everyone came out a better, more educated and open person because of it.
I’m fortunate that by the time I got to college I had professors that were so open and willing to work with me to figure out how we can achieve the objectives we needed to, my audio engineering teachers, record label professors, bands that I’ve worked with, so many of ‘em were so open to figuring out new techniques, or try new things to see what may work.
Rejection is inevitable at various points of your life. You’re gonna experience it. It’s what you do with it that counts. We’re all human and it hurts, but we can learn from it and grow from it, and most importantly make something from it.
If you could offer a piece of wisdom/advice to someone who is ready to break their own boundaries, what would you tell them?
It’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to have failed before, but when it’s time, it’s all about your mindset. It’s up to you. No one else is gonna do whatever it is you need to do for yourself. If you don’t believe in what you’re about to do, why should anyone else? Psych yourself up, but don’t psych yourself out.
What mantra do you would want the world to remember you by?
You can forget what you hear, but you never forget how something makes you feel. The world puts so much weight on hearing - whether it be music, something someone said, how loud or soft a noise is, our brain can always re-construct what it hears in many various ways. Hearing is way more psychological than people realize. With feeling, your body doesn’t forget that. We can always remember how something makes us feel. When your body feels something, it attaches emotions to those feelings. We’re gonna remember the feelings of pleasure, pain, the rumble of a train…it encompasses us.
The simplest way to put it - good music doesn’t just sound good...it feels good. It’s those good vibrations that makes us want to move our bodies and dance.
What does it mean to you to be fueled by choice?
Fueled by choice means you’re taking control of your destiny and steering your own ship. To me, it means stepping outside of your comfort zone and building your own path.
Connect with Mark Levin: