Dave Smith, who died suddenly on June 17, was a pretty good keyboard player in high school. I happen to know that because we went to the same high school and played in bands with a lot of the same kids. His sister, Laurel, and I performed in plays together, and his mother was the head nurse at my family doctor’s office.
But what Dave really was, from the word go, was a techie and a brilliant one. He was the one who could pull apart a Farfisa organ to fix a stuck note or rewire a noisy microphone, and his bedroom in his parents’ Long Island home was littered with tools, parts and wires. He loved every kind of music that there was, and he could hear stuff other folks couldn’t. Not too long after he got his degree in Electrical Engineering from Rensselear Polytech, he landed a gig at Phil Ramone’s legendary A&R Studios. No one who knew him was surprised.
Later on, he worked at Editel, which was the one of the first large post-production houses to put as much emphasis on audio as it did on video, and in the early ’90 s. he joined Sony Classical, eventually becoming head of engineering for Sony Music Studios, where he was at the cutting edge of many major developments in digital audio. Although Sony gave him an office, he spent as much time as he could in his personal workshop there, which, according to Laurel, resembled nothing more than a grown-up version of his childhood bedroom. Inside or outside of the company, he was the go-to guy for answers to any questions at all about audio technology, and he could always be counted on to tell you the truth, whether it was what you wanted to hear or not.
Dave was a guy who probably could have made a fortune with his equipment designs and modifications, but he really wasn’t interested in that. “He did prototypes that other people made millions on,” Laurel said, “but he didn’t care. He wasn’t into it to make a killing. He’d let it go and go on to the next project. He did his work for the sake of doing it.”
Dave never married, and he was no social butterfly. At the same time, he was an epicure of the first order, as well as a heck of a lot of fun at parties where he knew people; according to his sister, he would be the first in the room to attach a helium balloon to his tie. He didn’t like industry politics very much, preferring to just do the job he wanted to do the best he could. But he had many, many friends: Only a day after news of his death went out to the New York AES membership, his friends overwhelmed the church in his hometown where his funeral was being held. According to AES executive Jerry Bruck, someone at the funeral said he “doubted any recording was being done in the New York area that day.” He gave much, asked for little and didn’t have an enemy in the industry.
A couple of years ago, Dave got caught in the massive layoffs at Sony Music and took early retirement. He wasn’t terribly happy about it, but he stayed on at Sony as a consultant and his contract kept being renewed. This fall, he was slated to start teaching at New York University, something he had never tried before. He also had a side business renting his collection of custom-modified Neumann mics, and some of his high-profile clients wouldn’t record with any others. His family is working to make sure that those microphones “stay in the world.”
Dave Smith died at his mother’s house after the two of them had gone out for dinner. Although he had no known health problems, the cause of death was a massive heart attack. He was 56.