“Because I have been around for so long, and have been reasonably successful, the participants ask me all kinds of questions, like how to deal with different kinds of artists, how to deal with temperamental artists, how we set things up, what recording and microphone techniques we use, and so on. I do my best to give them all the information that we have. We don’t have any secrets. We are an open book. Whatever they ask, we answer. It’s a great thing. It is worthwhile for the engineers that come to learn, and it is certainly worthwhile for the tutors. I had a fantastic time, and I would recommend it to anyone.”
Al Schmitt’s enthusiasm when talking about the two MWTM seminars that he has conducted to date, in April 2012 and May 2013, is palpable. However, his use of the word “reasonable” is, to put it mildly, an understatement. Al Schmitt is one of the great éminences grises of the American music world, a man for whom the term ‘living legend’ could have been invented. During an astonishingly-long career Schmitt has won, equally astonishingly, a whopping 23 Grammy Awards, making him the most decorated engineer/mixer in Grammy history. Schmitt has engineered, mixed and/or produced many of the great, epoch-making albums of the 20th and 21st century, and has in the process worked with all-time great producers like Tom Dowd, Phil Ramone, Tommy LiPuma, and David Foster.
Schmitt’s credits range back to the 1950s, when he worked with Leonard Feather, Marty Paich, and Henry Mancini. During the 1960s Schmitt was in action with the likes of Sam Cooke, The Go-Go’s, and Jefferson Airplane, the 1970s saw working with Earth, Wind & Fire, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand, Neil Young, Steely Dan, and George Benson, the 1980s with Al Jarreau, Toto, Dionne Warwick, Lamont Dozier, and Miles Davis, and the 1990s with Natalie Cole, Willie Nelson, Shirley Horn, Diana Ross, Diana Krall, and Frank Sinatra. In the first decade of the new millennium Schmitt worked with Robbie Williams, Toni Braxton, Michael Bublé, Elvis Costello, and Luther Vandross, and in the current decade with Josh Groban, kd lang, Liza Minelli, Brian Wilson, Norah Jones, Bob Dylan, and Paul McCartney. Schmitt’s credit list at Allmusic contains over 1100 entries, so these names only scratch the surface.
Schmitt’s extraordinary run through the recording industry began at the tender age of 7 when his uncle took the youngster under his wing at his recording studio in Manhattan, New York, called Harry Smith Recording. In the mid-1950s, at the age of 19, Schmitt went on to work at Apex Recording studios, also in Manhattan. Schmitt moved to Los Angeles a few years later, where he became staff engineer at Radio Recorders, and in the early sixties he went on to fulfil the same role at RCA Studios. Schmitt left RCA in 1966, and has since worked as an independent engineer, mixer and producer. As the amount of hit records that he worked on accumulated, eventually adding up to over 150 gold and platinum albums, so have the awards and accolades, which include his induction into the TECnology Hall Of Fame in 1997 and a Grammy Trustees Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
Throughout his long career Schmitt’s strength has been both in his grounding in the early analogue recording and production techniques of the 1950s and 1960s, and in the way he has been able to adapt and improve these techniques as new studio technologies became available. Schmitt’s roots and engineering genius show in his famous clean, unadorned sound, which allows the natural qualities of the instruments and the arrangements to breathe and to speak for themselves. This has naturally led him to work extensively with genres like orchestral, jazz, roots, soul, fusion, and easy-listening. But Schmitt’s greatness also shows in that he has been able to adapt his approach as required when working with acts leaning more towards rock, for example Toto and Steely Dan, electronic music, with Yellow Magic Orchestra, or arty, electronic pop, with Ellie Goulding. And last but not least, there’s the fact that he has managed to remain current to this day, even as the digital revolution has overtaken many of the classic analogue working methods Schmitt assimilated in his early days.
Al Schmitt’s unparalleled track record and extraordinarily wide ranging-experiences have made his MWTM seminars extremely sought-after and successful events. He recalls, “I brought session that I had done and played them to the participants, and showed them how we had recorded and mixed these sessions. During both seminars I also conducted a recording session at La Fabrique, with some fabulous musicians brought in by the MWTM organizers, to illustrate my working methods.”
“The highlight for me about the seminars is that I became friends with all the engineers who came there to learn. They’re all engineers who already make a living from engineering, so they know what they are doing. They just want to get better and learn new techniques. I am still in touch with most of them, and regularly receive e-mails, we talk on the phone, when they come to LA we meet up, and so on. We built really good relationships, because we were together all the time for seven days, in an amazing place, with the organizers bending over backwards to make everyone comfortable and happy. I had the time of my life there, and look forward to going again for my next seminar.”
Al Schmitt will conduct a new weeklong MWTM seminar from September 12 to 18, 2017.
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Q&A with Al Schmitt
Teaser – 2012 Session