January 26, 2017
David Slitzky '14 at Electric Lady Studios. (Photo by Roslyn Wertheimer '16.)
When you ask David Slitzky ‘14 how he measures his success, he shrugs and looks around the room. It’s the lounge at Electric Lady Studios—yes, that Electric Lady Studios, where he’s working on an album. There’s a lot on his plate, but he concedes, “It’s pretty cool when one of your favorite bands knows your name.”
He’s talking about the Roots, the Philadelphia-born ensemble who elevated hip hop with their ability to integrate live instruments into their music. You may know them from their day job as the house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, but Slitzky knows them as clients. He’s in the process of recording their next album—an accomplishment for any music producer, but especially for an independent one two years fresh from college.
Pleased to meet you
Slitzky is the recording engineer for the Roots' upcoming album.
(Photo by Roslyn Wertheimer '16.)
By day Slitzky is a grad student, working on his master’s in music business at NYU. By night he’s an independent recording engineer and record producer. And in his free time? He’s a drummer.
Music is the steady undercurrent to his life. He lists band names on his fingers the way others cross off items on a grocery list. He can’t single out one favorite band or genre of music, but he can list a producer’s qualifications. He gushes about the way an artist plays violin or guitar, and you better believe he knows how to place a microphone.
It’s an interesting accomplishment for someone who was not a music major. Skidmore has no music production major either, but it does offer a ton of resources.
“I knew going into Skidmore that I would probably be a self-determined major,” Slitzky says. “I didn’t want to be a music major. I wanted to have the time to make albums, the time to record.”
So he took a music major’s course of study, gutted musicology and music history, and added independent studies in recording, a physics course on acoustics, and a few computer science and arts administration courses. The academics—combined with two internships he landed through Skidmore connections, experience on-air at Skidmore’s student-run WSPN-FM, involvement in Beatlemore Skidmania, and campus jobs with Media Services and the Zankel Music Center tech crew—turned into the recipe for success.
Hear Slitzky talk about his internships with Scott Jacoby '93 and Tim Peck '04:
When you ask him if it’s always been music, he throws back a curveball: “I almost majored in psychology.” His interest in what makes people tick is one of the reasons he feels well-suited for music production. “You’re dealing with people’s personal art and helping them find their best material and their best self. Learning when to communicate and how to do it effectively is super-critical. Having a psych background has been helpful.”
The nature of the game
From left to right: Slitzky, his father, Questlove from the Roots, Slitzy's mother, and Steve Mandel.
Music producers are often unsung heroes behind the scenes of hit songs—maybe because it’s so hard to define the role. Slitzky explains, “My job is to work with artists to capture the most effective version of their best work. It’s on me to interpret what they want their music to sound like.” He picks the microphones, puts them in the best places, chooses the signal path, how the music gets captured, and ultimately how it sounds.
Listen to Slitzky explains how he captures the perfect sound:
With the Roots, they rented out all of Electric Lady Studios for one week in October to start out. Slitzky says, “It started with ‘OK, how am I going to get Questlove’s drums to sound the way I want them to?’ Every decision is a creative one. It’s a lot of problem-solving. The key is to allow for maximum flexibility to let the musical geniuses in the room make decisions.” Since then, Slitzky and the Roots have worked around their day jobs to keep up progress on the new album.
Slitzky doesn’t identify as one of the musical geniuses in the room. But he lights up when talking about someone who is often in the room, his mentor Steven Mandel, a recording engineer, producer, and songwriter who has worked with the Roots, Elvis Costello, D’Angelo, and Erykah Badu, among others. When Slitzky was doing his radio show at Skidmore, he had reached out to Mandel via social media and asked for an interview. Mandel obliged and the Skype session turned into an hour-long interview and a connection that lasted after Slitzky’s graduation. Their first in-person meeting happened—where else?—at Electric Lady.
Listen to the story of how Slitzy met Mandel:
Mandel has helped Slitzky navigate the choppy waters of the recording world, and he secured Slitzky a role as the recording engineer for the Roots album. Without Mandel, Slitzky knows he’d be scraping by. Instead, he says, “I’m in the middle of a major artist’s album. And it’s crazy that it happens to be some of my heroes. It still hasn’t sunk in.”
Sealed his fate
Slitky with his roomates, Schonfeld and Brennan, all Skidmore alumni.
When he talks about his future, Slitzky admits he thinks about a steady job somewhere like Sony Music, where he’s currently interning. He’d like to get the “independent” out from his job title, stay involved with the Roots, and work toward forming his own record label.
And, he jokes, he’d like to be able to go home and take a nap every day. Home is an apartment in Brooklyn with two other Skidmore alumni, Matt Schonfeld and Mike Brennan. They’ve lived together since their first semester at Skidmore—that’s seven years and still going strong. They share a common interest in music, but Slitzky says what holds them together is their creative passions. “We like how passionate we are about different things,” he says.
There’s no question that Slitzky is passionate about music. He’s constantly asking himself, “Do I have another project lined up after this one? Do I have something else going on? Am I busy?” He says, “Every day I’m really, really trying to make this work. As I get closer to the feeling that I’m grounded and really in this, that’s when I’ll know I’m successful.”