David Newman grew up in a musical family in Los Angeles, Californina. His father Alfred Newman was the music director at 20th Century Fox Studios and employed two of his younger brothers (David's uncles), Emil Newman and Lionel Newman. David studied violin and piano and played in community orchestras before attending the University of Southern California, Los Angeles where he received a BA in violin performance and a MA in conducting. After graduation, David wanted to pursue a career as a classical conductor. He worked with several prestigious orchestras including the New Japan Philharmonic, the National Orchestra of Belgium, the Royal Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
David wrote the song You'll End Up Eating Worms for a film The Worm Eaters in 1977, and by the mid-1980s was working regularly with low-budget films. He eventually ended up working with actor/director Danny DeVito on the film Throw Momma from the Train (1987). This led to several other high-profile films with DeVito and he was now working on the big-name Hollywood films. He worked as music director of the Sundance Institute from 1987 to 1991, running workshops for aspiring film composers and conducted concerts of film music in an effort to raise awareness and funds for preservation. As part of this job, Newman oversaw the reconstruction of a number of classic scores, including The Wizard of Oz and also composed a new accompaniment for F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent classic Sunrise in 1989. He earned his first Academy Award nomination in 1997 for his original music for the animated film Anastasia.
In addition to his film work, David wrote a symphonic work Concerto for Winds that was premiered by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra on June 9, 2007. He was also elected president of The Film Music Society in February of 2007. His brother and cousin, Thomas Newman and Randy Newman are also established and accomplished film composers.