David Schwartz has been a major force in the pro audio and recording industry for more than 40 years. Wanting to showcase all of the technological advancements taking place in the 1970s, David cofounded Mix magazine in 1977, and served as editor-in-chief for nearly 18 years, until its acquisition. He served on the NARAS’ Board of Governors for more than two decades and co-founded the Technical Excellence and Creativity Awards (now known as the NAMM TEC Awards); the premiere awards show recognizing high achievement in professional music and audio technologies.
In addition to producing the TEC Tracks pro audio sessions at both of NAMM”s trade shows, David is the Chairman of the New Mexico Music Commission and served until recently as Board Chairman for Music in Schools Today, a California 501C3 non-profit that brings supplemental music education programs into schools that have lost their music programs due to budget cuts. In addition, David is fascinated by “green” energy and co-founded algaeindustrymagazine.com, an online industry trade publication focusing on the growth and development of the algae biofuels and co-products industry.
How did you get involved in the pro audio world?
My first job out of college was as a second engineer at Wally Heider Recording Studios in San Francisco. It was a great studio at the time, with all the major San Francisco bands of the seventies recording there, as well as international recording stars. On any particular day you could hear music coming out of the four studios that might be Santana, or Jefferson Airplane, or War, or Herbie Hancock—the day I started working, there were 15 major label projects in the works there. It was an amazing atmosphere, you knew history was being made and working there we would often hear hit songs and legendary tracks six months before they made it to the airwaves.
What inspired you to launch Mix magazine?
It came from two places. First was that after I left Wally Heider’s I became a partner in a small Bay Area studio group where we would record our own tunes and jingles. As we grew the jingle company, we often needed to go outside our studio to find other facilities that might have a Hammond B-3, or a room that would be more conducive acoustically to recording horns. But, there was no guide or directory at the time that would breakdown all of the important assets of a studio such that a producer could make a wise decision as to where to record. So the thought occurred that a directory of studio services and equipment within regional music centers would be valuable. I ran the idea by one of my studio partners, Penny Riker Jacob, and she agreed that it would be helpful out there, and she volunteered to do what we thought would be a one-month research project to come up with a studio database in the S.F. Bay Area. Instead, it became most of her next 12 years and most of my next 18!
The other place it came from was that, while working at Wally Heider’s, I became awestruck and fascinated by many of the engineers and producers who worked there, who were creating the soundtracks of our lives. It seemed like absolute magic how they worked and how some of those classic recordings came together. My respect for them resulted in many interviews and much of the content that shaped Mix magazine.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Being a lifelong music lover and hack musician, I love that my work surrounds me with great music and extraordinary music people. I have never met, in any other line of work, the amazing intensity and brilliance I have been fortunate to meet in the music world. The passion, insight, inspiration and raw talent that flows through this industry makes for much to enjoy and be inspired by.
What was your most memorable interview?
There were many memorable interviews. Among the most memorable, I had the good fortune to interview Quincy Jones just after “Thriller “was released. It was a big hit, but hadn't washed all the other boats to shore yet. He was much more gracious and down to earth than I would have expected, and made you feel like he was there just for you that day. We spent about an hour and a half and talked about everything from his childhood and early bands to his philosophy of "Kaleidoscopic" vision for problem solving—where you keep looking at a situation from many different directions until you discover what you are looking for. And hearing him describe what he wishes he had done on "Thriller," that he hadn't, was both an intimidating as well as endearing part of our conversation.
How did the TEC Awards come about?
In early1985, my Mix magazine partner Hillel Resner and I were taking one of our advertisers, John Meyer, the head of Meyer Sound, out for lunch. Now, Meyer Sound was then, as they are today, a top quality, technically superior equipment manufacturer. During our conversation, John mentioned his dilemma of how he would advertise in Mix and tell the truth about his product's performance, and then flip the page and see some hyperbole from another manufacturer that John knew wasn't even close to the level of performance that his company had achieved. His concern was that the readers were often only given the advertising pitches to make their purchase decisions. What could be done about that?
So I suggested that we could do a reader's poll of studio equipment and let the best of breed rise to the top. And in a short amount of time, Hillel, Penny and I had constructed the bones of the awards process and show. From there, we brought in marketing director Ron Neilson to help give it shape and substance. We decided to launch it at the 1985 AES Show, in New York. Our friend Howard Sherman helped us find the Puck Building in Soho for the first show, which was hosted by Howard Hessman (WKRP's Dr. Johnny Fever) with musical guests Herbie Hancock and his Headhunters. Everyone who won an award that year must have seen it as their moment to share their life history, as the show didn't wrap up till about 2 a.m.!
Do you have a favorite TEC Awards memory?
Certainly not breaking down the stage at 2 a.m.! The favorite was a series of events really. We had developed a great relationship with Les Paul, an icon whose influence has spread through culture and technology, though in the mid-eighties his contributions weren't as widely recognized. After helping to present some of our awards in the early days of the TECs, he allowed us to create an award in his name, to recognize those genius music people who set the bars in both musical creativity and technology. For many years, Les showed up at the awards to make the presentations of the award and a Les Paul guitar to the best and brightest of the music world. And he would always have us rolling in the aisles as he did it. He was one of the most naturally funny people I have ever known, in addition to being the original Les Paul himself.
Both his humor and musical prowess were in full tilt during one of the earlier TEC Awards shows where he teamed up with another childhood hero of mine, John Sebastian (Lovin' Spoonful), to perform a talking blues that John wrote for that night, about the hardships of life in the recording industry. For me, that was as good as it gets!
How did the TEC Tracks sessions come about?
A few years back it became apparent that many of the musical instrument manufacturers were beginning to incorporate studio and high-tech stage characteristics into their equipment design, at the same time that many pro audio manufacturers were looking at more music-friendly interfaces. They were both recognizing that a growing number of operators of their equipment were at a level that required the combined knowledge of pro audio and MI.
So NAMM's Ken Wilson started the HOT Zone as a way to begin a dialog between the MI folks and the pro audio guys—classes, demonstrations and panels at Winter NAMM that would stimulate the interaction between these two groups. Ken asked me to run the HOT Zone in its second year, and now, five years later, we have evolved it a step further into TEC Tracks. TEC Tracks builds on the legacy of the TEC Awards, with a policy of bringing education to the NAMM show at the highest level of studio and stage technology and techniques.
How do you think it benefits our industry to bring the MI and pro audio/recording worlds together the way the NAMM shows do now?
In that they have already grown together in so many ways, bringing them together like this gives them a common ground to work with each other, and stimulates their understanding and personal relationships to the economic benefit of both. The industry profits by having things like more reliable interfaces and standards so they aren't left out in the cold by the next generation of gear.
Unplugged: Quick Answers From David Schwartz on Life in Real-Time
Something people don’t know about me is that I have a fascination with "green" energy and edit a website called AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com
The person I learned the most from over the years is Les Paul. He had a curiosity so strong and an imagination so wide that if he could think of it, he could build it. He taught me to imagine new possibilities, beyond just what was available in front of me.
I’m most proud of having made many remarkable friends in this business. I treasure the people I've been fortunate enough to work for and work with, and they have made my life so rewarding.
When I’m not working on the magazine or TEC, you can find me enjoying the clean air and brilliant sky of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
My life motto is “Time is our most precious commodity. Use it wisely.”