University of Minnesota student David Smith creates music tracks for Latto, SZA and Jazmine Sullivan

University of Minnesota student David Smith creates music tracks for Latto, SZA and Jazmine Sullivan

University of Minnesota senior David Smith was surprised to see his work featured at the Billboard Music Awards in May as part of Latto’s top-rated performance.

The 21-year-old Woodbury resident created the 20-second ending for Latto’s live performance of “Big Energy” on the awards show.

“It’s just like, ‘Wow, this was literally just files from my computer, and now they’re up on a stage in front of thousands of people,'” Smith said last month. “It’s crazy to me, and I don’t think it’s a feeling that will ever get old.

“I don’t want it to, because I just get a lot of joy from it. And it pushes me to keep going, makes me even more grateful for the God-given gift that I have.”

As a music producer and engineer, Smith takes individual parts of a produced song — vocals, background vocals, instrumentals — and edits, reworks, rearranges and adapts them for live performance, which is often different from the recorded studio version.

Other major artists also have used his arrangements in live performances. Last year, he created music tracks for a SZA virtual concert, Jazmine Sullivan’s songs “Bust Your Windows” and “Price Tags” at the Day N Vegas Festival and Tiana Major9’s “Collide,” which was featured in the movie “Queen & Slim.”

Smith’s interest in producing and arranging began at age 14 while watching YouTube videos. Even though producing and arranging tracks is a relatively lesser known job in the music industry, Smith said the feeling of seeing his work onstage with big-name artists still is nearly indescribable.

The social media stepladder

Smith has used Instagram to post samples of his music and to network with other artists. This includes his work with Shedtracks, an online drumming community where people share drum-less play-along tracks that can be used for practice.

“He creates greatness just [in] practice,” said percussionist/educator LA Buckner, who has known Smith about 10 years. “Everybody sees his crazy work ethic, but like he was going to be [making music] regardless. Because it’s literally in him to do. That’s what he’s here to do, is to express himself through this music, through these computers.”

Described as incredibly adaptable and creative, Smith began his journey when he first learned to play drums at age 3. Since then, he has learned piano, organ, trumpet and timpani, including lessons from his parents, studying under William Duncan at Walker West Music Academy and participating in school music programs.

The biggest steppingstone in honing his skills was playing piano and keyboard at his father’s church, Christ Temple Apostolic Church in Roseville. These performances initially ignited his musical passion and helped him connect with collaborators and mentors.

“David is an amazing musician, but an even better person,” said his father, the Rev. Jeffery Smith. “I couldn’t be more pleased with his progress in his music career.”

Meeting challenges

Smith has been recovering from major corrective foot surgery for the past year. For almost three months after surgery, he had to keep his foot elevated and struggled to sit at the piano or drums for long periods. Still, he continued working on arrangements at home, practicing drums on stray books while lying in bed.

“I will never take playing for granted,” Smith said. “I’m always figuring out creative solutions to problems … and always just adapting and making adjustments regardless of what my condition is at the moment.”

On average, Smith earns about $250 per gig. A senior business and marketing major at the U, he said that while he hopes to be able to make a career combining his degree with music, he’ll be chasing whatever is stable and consistent.

People who’ve worked with Smith believe it won’t take long.

Gospel singer Jovonta Patton, who frequently collaborates with Smith, said he was struck by the young man’s passion and drive when he saw him perform at church about eight years ago.

Now, Patton describes Smith as “a gem that needs the right opportunity” and believes it’s only a matter of time before the relatively unknown music producer and musician is swept up into the industry by artists such as Beyoncé, Drake, H.E.R. or Jack Harlow.

“He’s gonna be in demand,” Patton said. “I work with the best musicians in the country, and he’s literally right there with them. His creativity is just unmatched.”