Just a simple analogue kind of guy
Al Schmitt: a living legend
Not everyone knows Al Schmitt. Which is ok. Engineers and producers are predominantly not on the forefront and therefore a bit unknown to the general public.
But if there is one man that literally has a legacy and you just HAVE to know, it is Al.
When an article gets written, it usually starts with a bit of name-dropping. The purpose is to make you read further and to make sure that you really understand that the person we are writing about is worth checking. But in Al’s case, we do things differently. Because this man is the living legend of audio engineering. His name on its own is already impressive enough. Just to emphasize it a bit; he is the only engineer in history that has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, which recognizes his contribution to the music industry. (video proof)
So how do we describe Al Schmitt?
For a man with a track record like his, it is a difficult question.
We could start by telling the story about the man who did his first recording session with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which was an accident. But since he was the only engineer around, he had to do it and has not been much intimidated ever since. Because, in his words: “Duke Ellington sat next to me, he looked into my eyes, and he just knew I was ready to die. And so he patted my knee, smiled at me, and said, ‘Don’t worry son, we’re gonna get through this.’”
Or maybe we talk about Al Schmitt who is an analogue man at heart, but embraced the adaptation to the times, and would do A-B sessions — recording simultaneously on his computer and on reel-to-reel tape — until finally, even he could not tell the difference between the two.
And still, recording methods aside, Schmitt’s style has remained the same over the years: “Unadorned, unpretentious and eternally attuned to the possibility of magic erupting on the other side of the glass.” (source: Variety.com)
The man, who definitely knows what he is doing, preferring live recordings (in the studio) overall, and seriously learned how to get the most out of an instrument and how to place people in the room to capture the best sound with as few microphones as possible. “So basically, what I do is acoustic; it’s microphone technique”, Schmitt explained.
And when he was asked about Roy Hargrove Quintet’s album Earfood, what kind of adjusting or refining he did during the mix of the original sounds he recorded, he replied:
“None. In fact, I don’t use any equalization. I just adjust the mics until I get the sound we’re looking for. It’s just my style. It’s the way I learned. I also use very little compression. I may put the bass through a tube limiter to get the sound of the tube, but, at most, I’ll pull down a dB. I’m pretty much a simple analogue kind of guy.” (reference: Emusician.com)
We could talk about the man who works at one of the world’s best recording studios, Capitol’s recording studio in LA. (With the famous echo chambers designed by guitarist and sound expert Les Paul). Or the one who is living in LA for over 30 years and yet he is still a New Yorker. Not just because of the accent, but also the lively energy.
The one and only Al Schmitt who stepped into the studio at the age of 85 with 73 years old Bob Dylan in 2014, where both legends did everything possible to synchronise their schedules, just to make sure they could tick another box on their ‘people I’d love to work with’ bucket lists. Where they recorded and mixed Dylan’s album of Sinatra covers, Shadows in the Night, which was so good, in fact, that it did not need mixing!
The legendary engineer – when he was asked in an interview what advice he would give young engineers who want to know how to have a career as long and successful as his – replied:
“Enjoy every day—enjoy what you’re doing. And also, try to learn something new every day.” – Al Schmitt
And besides that, Al is one of the kindest, warmest persons in the music business. Who is described as an “open book, sharing all his stories and experience with everyone who wants to hear it. It’s no wonder that he’s been as successful as he has been all these years.”
Al is coming to town
I guess you get the drift. We let you decide for yourself what your favourite Al story is. And below you will find some videos we would like to share with you, just to make sure you understand who we are talking about.
But before we do the name dropping of the people he worked with, the influential albums he worked on, including the 150 gold and platinum albums AND 22 Grammy’s (more than any other engineer or mixer in history), we want to inform you about this:
Al Schmitt is coming to Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam on the 20th of April, to give an exclusive masterclass about recording and mixing to its students. Due to the number of people and time available, this masterclass is for students only. However, we will share (some) video and photo content on the Facebook page.
And a final quote from his own website:
“We have been listening to Al Schmitt for decades.
Al Schmitt has been at the helm of countless hit songs, his hands crafted our music memories.”
So, all we can say is, let this man inspire you! And now the name dropping…
Al Schmitt’s discography:
Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Jefferson Airplane, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Steely Dan, Barbra Streisand, Natalie Cole, Madonna, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Diana Krall, Celine Dion, Paul McCartney, Michael Buble, Laura Pausini, LeAnn Rimes, Bob Dylan, Diana Krall, Bill Evans, Paul McCartney, Herb Alpert, Gregory Porter, Katharine McPhee, Duane Eddy, Toto, …full list on allmusic.com
- Photocredits: Masters of Maple and ChrisSchmitt.com
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