Santa Barbara Native Yeti Beats Receives Multiple Grammy Nominations with Protégé Doja Cat
Dave Sprecher Goes from 8th-Grade Punk to Platinum Producer for Pop Star
I first wrote about Grammy-nominated record producer and multiple-hit radio songwriter Yeti Beats in these pages in June 1999. Back then, Yeti was a 17-year-old kid called David Sprecher, who was wrapping up his junior year at Santa Barbara High School, about to come out with his band Slimer’s second record and hit the road all summer long on the Warped Tour. In the piece, I intuitively described teenage Sprecher as “a soulful man negotiating his way out of his boyish frame.”
Now, that boy has become that soulful man and then some. As producer and songwriter, Sprecher is nominated for several Grammys for his work with chart-topping pop/hip-hop/R&B artist Doja Cat, whom he discovered and developed as an unknown back in 2013. He has worked alongside Doja ever since and helped nurture her into becoming one of the defining pop stars of the Generation Z era.
Their nods at the upcoming 64th Annual Grammy Awards include the coveted trifecta of Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year, among nominations in several other categories. With eight, Doja is tied for second-most nominations with Justin Bieber and H.E.R. That’s more than Olivia Rodrigo, Ariana Grande, or Billie Eilish! The 2022 Grammys will be held Sunday, April 3, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Sprecher was born in Los Angeles, but his family moved to Santa Barbara a few years later, where he attended Montecito Union School and eventually Santa Barbara High School.
Their good friends, the Fells, also relocated to S.B. around the same time. Their son Adam Fell and Sprecher have remained close friends since preschool, and today, Fell is Sprecher’s manager. Fell says, “Back in June of 2013, Yeti brought this girl [Doja Cat] to Quincy Jones’s house and told me he believed she would be one of the biggest stars in the world. Frankly, he had that steadfast belief in her before anyone in the broader music industry did.”
After graduating from SBHS in 2000, Sprecher moved to L.A. to attend Occidental College, where the ordinarily gifted student somewhat ironically received a D+ grade in an introductory Music Business elective. There, he also began to expand his sonic horizons beyond the punk and alternative rock of his youth. A college friend and bandmate nicknamed him “Yeti” due to his signature long hair and full beard; Sprecher added “Beats” due to his newfound obsession with hip-hop, deejay culture, beat-making, sampling, etc.
In 2003, Yeti Beats started concentrating on producing records in his home studio, carving out his niche in underground hip-hop and reggae, including work with S.B.’s homegrown modern reggae stars Rebelution. As his studio work grew, he opened a complex called the Himalayas, where he fostered a communal creative environment of upstart producers, songwriters, collaborators, and artists.
Sprecher recalled discovering a young singer/dancer/rapper Doja Cat (née Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini): “An intern at my studio was playing songs off of SoundCloud, and he clicked on a really rough demo of a song called ‘So High’ with only 42 ‘views’ that then-16-year-old Amala had written and recorded by herself on her laptop in her bedroom and recently uploaded.”
Sprecher continued, “It immediately caught my ear. We looked her up on Facebook. She happened to live nearby. We messaged her and asked if she wanted to come over and make some music.”
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He spoke to the girl’s mother, Deborah Sawyer, who was very supportive, and they arranged to bring her to his makeshift studio to work on some songs together. The pair hit it off, and he started picking her up every day.
Sprecher says, “She was shy, but despite her young age, she already had a strong artistic vision, she could write great hooks, she could sing and rap — there was just something about her; she carried herself like a superstar from the start.”
Sprecher acted as her de facto manager, collaborator, band member, and executive producer. Their work began to manifest into a series of internet uploads, DIY remixes, and eventually a major-label record deal.
After a slow start with the 2014 EP Purrr!, they eventually gained momentum with their 2018 breakthrough Amala, which featured the viral YouTube hit “Mooo!” They followed it with the bona fide radio hit “Juicy.” 2019’s smash album Hot Pink delivered a #1 radio hit, “Say So,” setting an exponential trajectory up the radio and streaming charts into play. Doja’s billion-plus stream garnering current release Planet Her (2021), featuring hits “Kiss Me More” (feat. SZA), “Need to Know,” “You Right” (feat. The Weeknd), “Get Into it (Yuh),” and her latest, “Woman,” which, at press time, is her most popular song on Spotify and just reached #1 at rhythmic radio, continues to build every day. Sprecher lovingly calls it “An overnight success story … nine years in the making!”
Doja’s co-manager Gordon Dillard explained in a recent interview with Variety magazine, “Yeti fully understands Doja’s sound and executes every time, creating and being part of her biggest records. They just never miss together.”
Despite his enormous commercial success, these days, the seasoned producer eschews big fancy studios and prefers to work at home on his kitchen table with a simple MIDI controller, a pair of speakers, and his trusty old laptop.
Sprecher humbly explains his process on his winning streak with Doja Cat: “We try to keep it fun and lighthearted. Amala is such a unique talent. I just try to keep her inspired and give her a safe space to be creative.”
“With each artist that I work with, I try to catch their vibe, really listen to what they want, and make something that’s authentic. It’s about catching the moment. Parts of myself enjoy the thrashing of punk or the kick-back groove of reggae; I listen to funk, disco, house, jazz, or pretty much anything. I don’t wanna commit to making one genre of music. I aspire to be an eclectic producer.”
Sprecher recently inked an exclusive publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music and is currently in the home stretch of a still-hush-hush imprint label deal with a major record company.
For now, though, Sprecher is, as ever, working on new music, his flow temporarily interrupted this week by the distinct task of trying to figure out what to wear to the awards ceremony.
He chuckles, “Me and Doja have a pact between some friends from the early days — if she was ever to win a Grammy, then we’d all have to get tattoos of cats on our butts!”
Manager Adam Fell concludes, “To say Yeti has reached the ultimate heights would be an understatement — and yet, he remains the humble and kind friend I remember from childhood. I also know that Yeti is only just getting started.”
Either way, tune in this weekend to support another 805 music achievement and find out if fresh new cat tats are in order!
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