Happily Secluded

David Dewitt might be the best local musician you'll never hear live

Dec 9, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Everything sounds better with headphones. The singular listening experience can be as robust and powerful as the best, sold-out, jam-packed live show ever seen. With headphones, the listener is in charge of the tiny world that exists between a song’s melody and the brain’s erogenous zone. You’re all alone in a sound-drenched chamber and you can be anyone: a villain, a savior, a hooker with a heart of gold or all of the above.

Many people prefer the pre-recorded musical track that is Pro-Tooled and Autotuned into an astonishing sonic gem. It’s perfect, usually, and that’s by design. The mistakes have been eviscerated in a highly calculated effort to maximize the musical experience. And it works most of the time.

One of the architects of non-traditional, subliminal sonic casseroles is local musician and producer David Dewitt, with whom you’re probably not familiar. And that’s OK. That’s the way the 22-year-old industrial design student at the University of Cincinnati prefers it. Dewitt is a diminutive, wide-eyed composer more comfortable contributing and aiding other local musicians in their desire for fame and grandeur. He’s like a diabetic who really likes to bake cake, but doesn’t want to eat it.

“I like recorded music a lot more than live music,” Dewitt says. “I like the personal listening experience versus a shared listening experience.”

Dewitt serves as a quiet, gifted muse behind local artists Ann Driscoll and Molly Sullivan. He’s produced the popular iTunes single “Trophy Fuck” with Driscoll and has collaborated with Sullivan on several sonic projects, including her track “Pink Pen.”

“Molly was my first big collaborator and still is today,” Dewitt says.

They’ve collaborated on several projects since starting their freshman year at UC. Their joint efforts have helped him galvanize his vocal production strengths.

“She’s an amazing vocalist and also an amazing harmonizer,” he says.

Additionally, Dewitt is also a music videographer, producing his own videos as well as ones for others. He’s behind Baby Alpaca’s ethereal, bucolic video for the song “Vodka Lemonade,” the soundtrack for comatosehipsters-gone-wild everywhere that recently premiered at the Contemporary Arts Center.

So far, all of his services have been gratis. “I haven’t ever made any money,” Dewitt says. “I’ve never recorded anyone for money or tried to turn it into a business.”

Contributing to the creative process is the chief reason Dewitt enjoys music production.

“I don’t really enjoy being the technician that sits there and pushes the buttons,” he says. “I like more to collaborate.”

Dewitt first tried his hand at music production and arranging when he was in fourth grade after experimenting with sound software on his family computer. He graduated to Acid Pro in seventh grade, which allowed him to create more complex arrangements, original loops and organic instrumentation from actual guitars and pianos. Now he has a complete recording studio in his garage.

“I do everything from scratch now,” he says.

Although Dewitt’s desire to create music is limitless, his zeal for performing his music live is nonexistent. After he writes a new track, rather than focus on securing a place to play it in public, he disseminates it immediately with social networking and multimedia forums, giving it new life. He regularly posts new songs on Facebook. MySpace and YouTube.

“I never try to send (songs) out too far,” Dewitt says. “I kind of like it the way it is.”

However, this is a problem. It would be one thing for local no-name band to post tracks on their Web page on MySpace in hopes that friends and well-wishers might one day stumble upon them. Dewitt actually reeks of talent and sonic acumen. And people pay attention. His most popular track, “VCR,” has nearly 2,000 plays on his MySpace page, an impressive number for a local artist. He’s been spotted in the grocery store by anonymous fans of the song.

“ ‘VCR’ is my one-hit wonder,” he says.

“VCR” quickly gained momentum, in part because, well, it’s preternaturally good. But also because Dewitt knows how to play to his strengths as a musician, which makes him a more competent — and listenable — commodity. He has a quiet voice, so he sings softly, albeit well. Soft voices rarely mesh with overbearing, cacophonic melodies, so he employs the gentle lull of acoustic instruments. He corrects pitch imperfections and adds organic arrangements. He tinkers to the brink of oblivion.

Despite the effort it takes to create a single track, he says he would find no pleasure in sharing with a mass live audience. He respects the ideal of the personal listening experience so much that he’s reticent to toy with it.

“Once you share it with other people, it really changes how you see it,” Dewitt says.

Part of his squeamishness in terms of playing in front of an audience is born of experience.

“I performed with Ann (Driscoll) once and that was terrifying,” Dewitt says. “If I’m in front of other people, it’s constant self-criticism. I’m listening to myself and thinking about how I look and how I sound. A very strong, built-in, critical voice tends to speak up when I have an audience.”

For now, Dewitt is comfortable having Internet fans and friends enjoy his music. He acknowledges that he perhaps will change his mind one day and begin performing live. But until then, he’s satisfied with having a technological buffer between himself and his listeners.

“(Making music is) kind of like a letter in a bottle, sending it off and not having to think about it,” he says.

Check out DAVID DEWITT’s work at www.myspace.com/daviddewitt.