News & Politics

The Boogie Doctor


David Seitz (physician;
record producer; recording engineer; record label founder)

Income: $80,000 (1998)

Health Insurance: covered by employer
Rent: $1500 Utilities: $50/mo.

Phone: $35/mo. Food: $300/mo.

Transportation: $250/mo.

Listening to Dr. David Seitz, who can not think of the late Dr. Albert Schweitzer? So much in common: a love of medicine, music (Schweitzer played the organ; Seitz produces records), and a life devoted to helping others.

Now, lots of people learn the importance of doing good deeds. Somehow Seitz, who learned this at Hebrew school at the Forest Hills Jewish Center, got carried away. At 36, he spends his mornings going over liver function charts and treating the medical needs of the schizophrenic, the homeless, and the poor, in two community-based drug and alcohol abuse centers, one of which, Enter, in East Harlem, he directs. The rest of the day he invests half his $80,000 yearly doctor’s salary producing and promoting albums for Susan McKeown, Annie Gallup, 5 Chinese Brothers, and other musical artists who may not fit into the marketing plans of the billion-dollar recording business.

Even when Seitz wakes up in his room in the Flatiron co-op that he bought economically for $189,000 in 1992 in a bank foreclosure—”I share it with a Wall Street guy who’s more bon vivant than I”—there is a poster with singer-songwriter Harry Chapin looking down on him, “the most charitable guy ever.”

Recently Seitz had to turn down the request of an HIV-positive patient that he take her children when she died. “Though for a half-minute I thought I would.” But then he thought, how would he care for them responsibly?

How he got so responsible was probably a combination of being the son of a social worker father and a psychologist mother. Not to mention all those Peter, Paul and Mary records he listened to about what you could do if you had a hammer.

In college, Seitz, an only child, set up his first recording studio in his parents’ house. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania—premed, though he took a lot of folklore courses—he went to work at RCA, but he left after he saw “a fellow working there get fired. I didn’t understand why if a person does a good job, makes money for a company, they get pushed out. I was 21. I guess I was naive. So I went to medical school.” Stony Brook. Did he find a purer world? “No, managed care was just beginning to happen. Now it’s unbearable.”

Seitz has another problem. He cannot bring himself to spend $300 on curtains even though “I know they would make my apartment look better.” He could not pop for a $50 massage recently. “I have a chronic back problem and a massage would make it feel better.” Seitz cannot spend money on himself. But he loves pouring money into his record company, 1-800-Prime CD. What gives him the greatest pleasure is to have the music he loves “get more respect” and to “get respect for what I do.” So he sits in his 26th Street office with seven or so interns producing records for $10,000 instead of $200,000 with that “no sushi budget,” narrowing-of-the-forehead approach to creative production. “Last year, we spent $270,000 doing about l0 releases. We made $239,000, lost about $31,000. Down the road, we hope to break even.”

In the evenings he teaches his course on “How To Start a Record Label” at Baruch or bicycles to the Lower East Side, to another venture, this one self-sustaining. It is an old Yiddish theater, the Clinton Star, with wine-colored walls and gilded bas-reliefs. He and three other partners have spent two years taking the dust out of the 7000-square-foot building. Seitz wants to provide smaller artists with not just an affordable space but a large one. He wants them to have the big sound that comes from the space and not from digital effects, “that ultra analogue, no canned majestic sound, like the Moody Blues had when they recorded Days of Future Past.”

Then, after all that, Seitz gets up the next morning and goes back to being a doctor.

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