Doug Smiley, New York Music Marketing Exec, Dies at 42

Chris Willman
·9 min read

Doug Smiley, the marketing director for Verve Music Group, died Saturday, February 27. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer less than a month before dying at home in Maplewood, NJ, surrounded by family. He was 42.

Smiley joined Universal Music Group’s Verve division last year as its marketing director. He was the founder and CEO of Intergalactic Outreach, which he started in 2019 as a strategy and marketing firm. He previously held marketing posts at Brilliant Corners Artist Management, Cornerstone/The Fader, Songs Music Publishing, MeanRed Productions, and Downtown Music.

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Artists he worked with on marketing or digital campaigns included St. Vincent, Cold War Kids, Major Lazer, Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab For Cutie, Mos Def, Gnarls Barkley, Phantogram, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Vince Staples, Santigold, Miike Snow, Flatbush Zombies, Nelly, Justice and Cyndi Lauper.

He also released music of his own under the aliases Shakeyface and Subdisco.

“Verve Label Group was lucky to have Doug and we will miss him greatly,” said Dickon Stainer, Verve’s president and CEO for global classics and jazz. “Though he began working with us after many interactions were limited to Zoom, he made such a lasting impression. I first spoke to Doug on a Zoom call from Abbey Road Studios, and as a true music man he was beside himself with excitement. We will miss him greatly, and we are proud to have known him.”

A funeral was held Wednesday, with a public celebration of life to come at a later date.

As obituary published by the funeral home spoke to his goofier side as well as his loving nature with an anecdote about his wedding. “He married Amy Butterworth Smiley, a childhood friend turned love-of-his-life, in her parents backyard in 2001,” it read. “At their wedding, the wedding party wore FUBU Tuxedos and hot pink dresses. Boy Scouts served appetizers, guests bounced on a trampoline and the happy couple emerged to the hilarious track by Handsome Boy Modeling School in which Chris Elliot exclaims ‘Oh my G-d, they’re gorgeous’ repeatedly.”

Besides Amy, his wife of nearly 20 years, Smiley is survived by their two children, Daisy, 9, and Miles, 7, his mother, Sara Jane, and brother Dave Smiley.

Friends and colleagues from throughout the music industry provided testimonials about their appreciation of Smiley, and shock at his sudden passing, to Variety.

Said the singer/songwriter Santigold: “I had the pleasure of working with Doug on my first album at Downtown. Those days are such a whirlwind in my memory, full of excitement and adventure and too many things in too little time. There were so many new people and places and things that I don’t remember, but Doug stands out from this era of my life as a pillar of the authenticity that I strove toward, in a world where (I learned quickly) not everyone held those same values. He was a true lover of music and creativity, which I admired, and felt kinship with him for. He was also genuine and kind. I am so so sad to hear of his passing.”

“In an industry known for jaded figures, Doug was a constant bright spot and a true music fan,” said Jen Lyon of MeanRed. “Working with Doug felt like we were on the best adult playdate ever.”

Music journalist Nisha Gopalan first met Smiley when she was an editor at Nylon and needed his help getting clearance for Downtown Music artists for a branded mixtape. “We became friends from there, and it was impossible not to love his genuinely goofy sense of humor,” she said. “In fact, I can’t recall a single encounter with him that did not end up with me giggling. Over the years, I’d learn, personally, that his wit was matched by a sincere sense of empathy and loyalty. To that end, he had two great loves in his life, which we discussed often: his family and music. One of our last discussions involved Al B. Sure’s eyebrows. To be honest, I don’t hate that. And I don’t think Doug would, either.”

“Doug was a music industry gem and rapscallion of the highest order,” said independent publicist Leslie Hermelin. “When we met 18 years ago as colleagues at Studio Distribution, we were young, bright-eyed music industry newbies who couldn’t wait to share our favorite songs with the world. That passion for sharing music stayed with Doug to the end. A consummate professional, he went out of his way to break his artists, make work fun, and to lift his colleagues up as they grew in their careers. I’m pretty sure Doug was a reference for every job I’ve interviewed for since we worked together. The only thing he loved more than music was his family. I will miss him more than words can convey.”

Said David T. Viecelli, a former founding partner at Brilliant Corners: “The shock of Doug’s loss doesn’t stem solely from its suddenness. It is magnified by his very nature as the guy who was always there — reliable, even-keeled, ready to help. Sure, he did his job well, with enthusiasm and commitment, but that’s not what made him such an asset to his co-workers and friends. He was a trusted and honest teammate, never one to drop a ball or let you down.”

Many of Smiley’s colleagues at UMG and Verve lamented the brevity of his presence after his 2020 hiring there.

“Doug was a such an important part of the team, embraced by colleagues, artists and partners alike,” said Graham Parker, president of Decca Records US. “I will especially miss his straight face on a Zoom call, accompanied by a wickedly funny private chat conversation that would leave me struggling to not laugh. We are sorry we didn’t have longer with him.”

Agreed Jamie Krents, EVP of Verve/Impulse! Records, “Doug made a huge impression on all of us during his time at VLG. His quick wit and passion for music will be so missed and we were lucky to have him as a friend and colleague.”

Colleagues from further back were glad to have a larger trove of memories.

“The two things that always stood out to me about Doug as a person was his great sense of humor, and his love of his family and community,” said Eric Chen, a manager at Salty Artist Management, who worked under Smiley’s tutelage at Brilliant Corners. “Doug was someone you could always trust to brighten the mood of a room. And with that charm, he made it very easy to seek out guidance and reassurance when dealing with the many workplace and life stresses. You could always count on Doug to keep the ship intact and going.”

Said publicist Aleix Martinez, “Doug and I worked on the first Santigold album together, which defied genre categorization and was a radical proposition. Doug understood everything that was exciting and different about it immediately and was a passionate champion that could articulate that to others. His intelligence, kindness, and his enthusiasm were contagious and deeply inspiring. He was the kind of person an artist dreams about having on their team.”

“Clearing the samples on the first Gnarls Barkley was a wonderful discovery of obscure (to me, at least) track after track,” recalled Leslie Melincoff of Ogilvy & Mather. “British psych-folk, Keith Mansfield’s prolific library… Doug and I shared a real joy in exploring all the references.”

“Doug always brought positivity and a fresh perspective to our artists’ campaigns and careers,” said Red Light Management’s Alex Kadvan. “He brought innovative ideas to the table while making sure all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed. He was a great colleague.”

Giant Step president Ester Yoon met Smiley when she was an agent for a number of artists he also worked with. “He was hilarious and always cracked me up; at the same time, he was reliable and steadfast, and a real source of light. Doug’s love and devotion for Amy was so inspiring! And although we weren’t in touch as much recently, I got a lot of joy seeing photos of his family as they grew. My heart goes out to Amy, Daisy, Miles and the vast community grieving his loss.”

“He was thoughtful, organized and always passionate about the music he worked with,” said Pamela Nashel of Sirens Call PR.What stood out to me most was that he approached everything with kindness. This past April when I started my new business, Doug was the first industry friend to reach out to congratulate me. Such a devastating loss to the music industry.”

Erich Mönius, founder/CEO of Studio Distribution. remembered Smiley “not only as the great colleague or terrific artist he was, but as the loving and caring husband to his wife Amy and father of two lovely Kids. We shared wonderful moments on/off work and I feel truly blessed to have known him.”

David Read was Smiley’s boss at the New York City drum-n-bass label Jungle Sky in the late ’90s, which was the young exec’s first music business job after moving to New York. “Never was there a more positive person than Doug — funny, witty, charming, loving and totally cool, said Read, who also recalled him as “an awesome electronic musician” in his guise as Shakeyface.

Biz3’s Dana Meyerson remembered him as “a friendly face in the many roles he held over the years in music, with reliably great taste about cool artists and funny anecdotes to share. Doug was a true music fan and he brought that energy to everything he worked on. He was more than just a co-worker to many that knew him and above all else, he was most proud about being a dad and husband and never missed a chance to say how much he loved his family.”

Jon Cohen of Fader/Cornerstone said that Smiley “ran a lot of our bigger accounts on the Cornerstone side of our business and always did great work. Doug was an amazing person and a pleasure to work with.”

Girlie Action’s Felice Ecker said, “We were always so grateful to have him in our corner. Doug even freelanced for us right before he was hired at Verve last year. We will miss collaborating with him and his no-nonsense approach to getting the job done, a rare commodity these days in the music industry. Most of all we will miss his warmth and humor.”

Smiley attended the Berklee College of Music in the late ’90s and graduated from New School University with a degree in politics in 2002.

To send condolences or for more information, visit jacobhollefuneralhome.com.

A GoFundMe for Smiley’s family has been set up here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-support-amy-and-doug.

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