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Al Schmitt Condenser Microphones
Old 25th September 2007
  #1
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Al Schmitt

Is Al Schmitt the best engineer of all time? Or to put it properly, is there REALLY any other Audio Engineer besides him?


I was home the other day tidying up several big piles of almost forgotten CDs when I stumbled over this one:

Paul Anka. Rock Swings.

This is quite an interesting album where the legendary crooner presents 14 versions of very famous rock songs (Wonderwall, Smells like teen spirit, Lovecats, Black hole sun, It's my life...), with very clever and tasty orchestral arrangements to suit his style. The album was engineered and mixed by Al Schmitt at Capitol Studios, LA, in 2004.

So I decided to give it a listen (when was the last time?)

WOW. And 1,000 times WOW. I went top to bottom trhu the whole CD without ever blinking with my jaw dropped to the floor. Is this the best sounding record ever made?

Words can't truly describe the experience of listening to this aural nirvana. Used as we are to the absolute garbage, sonically speaking, of the last decade/s, this CD came as a revelation: It's still possible to make the best sounding record on this day and age. You only need a proper PROFESSIONAL Audio Engineer. Of which there may be only one left: Al Schmitt.


Every single record I can think of now pales into insignificance in comparison to this "Rock Swings", specially all the albums released in the last 15 years. Im thinking about throwing to the basket my entire and huge record collection after this.
And by the way, starting today, I've lost respect to EVERY single high profile AE and mixer out there, including all those Holy Cows that appear on the big $ projects and are so admired over here. Now I honestly think they all should be fired and sent to school or somewhere, to learn what Audio Engineering really is.

Back to Paul Anka's CD. If you're an AE, go run and buy it, play it on a good system and learn. It's out of this world.
It's just amazing how Al Schmitt is able to put all that MANY intruments together in the same space -and respect all their nuances, tonal complexities and dynamic ranges- without having them step into each other by the smallest amount, and simultaneously bring a wonderful, cohesive three dimensional image, into which you can jump and wander for ages, up and down front and rear, flying from one instrument to the other and feel you can touch every single musician.

Some of the songs start in a very intimate atmosphere, as if you were in a small club with a few players and the singer, but then they open VERY SLOWLY in spaciousness and dynamics, to finally explode soon thereafter in an orgasmic three-dimensional wall of sound. And this goes back and forth within the same song. Beyond description.
Don't you know how a piano, a guitar, bass, horns, drums, strings, percussion, solo instruments or an UNCOMPRESSED in-your-face to screaming voice should sound? Take a listen.



Im so glad Al Schmitt is still making records. From now on I'm not buying anything else but what he will produce. Funny thing is that he would be easily trashed over here in GS, because he doesn't use any flavour-of-the-month or esoteric and very expensive preamp or comp or eq, or anything in the likes.

Actually he hardly uses any Compression or EQ at all. Just one nice desk and great mics.

Maybe that's why he has FIFTEEN GRAMMYs as best engineer (ever).
Old 25th September 2007
  #2
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nosebleedaudio's Avatar
 

He is my favorite engineer, listen to some of Diana Krall's CD's, wonderful....
He was the first engineer I wanted to send the JM-130 mic pre to, if he half way likes something that's all I could ever hope for.
He has over 200 gold records, if Im not mistaken.
Old 25th September 2007
  #3
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Empire Prod's Avatar
 

Al has inspired me to excell more than any other engineer. I think at this point there is a dedicated factory somewhere that does nothing but produce Al Schmitt Grammy's year round.
Old 25th September 2007
  #4
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PlugHead's Avatar
 

Word.

The sonics he achieves is a treat to behold. Aural ecstasy.

One thing to consider is he is not a part of the "current" trends in the industry: he tends to stick towards great musicians playing non-aggressive music/instrumentation so there's no need to have 'everything louder than everything else' mentality.

That said, I wish I had an inch of the talent he has for engineering sonically, and he sets the benchmark for capturing the true essence of acoustic instruments...

Hats off Al!

BTW - for any Anka fans, this is a must listen:

OT: Paul Anka - the guys get shirts... - audiotalkback.com

enjoy!
Old 25th September 2007
  #5
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blaugruen7's Avatar
where was this album recorded/mixed?
Old 26th September 2007
  #6
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jindrich's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by blaugruen7 View Post
where was this album recorded/mixed?
I wrote it in my post already, ach du lieber Gott ...

the sleeve says engineered and mixed by Al Schmitt, recorded at Capitol Studios (Al's second house). The orchestra was recorded in the legendary studio A:

Capitol Studios

it was probably mixed in either A or B at Capitol itself.


I wholeheartedly recommend this Album to anyone involved in Audio Engineering, as well as to anyone wanting to enjoy true aural ecstasy. The music is also shockingly good (hel-lo, hel-lo, hel-lo how low....?)

Full Sail, SAE and all those other Rec Schools should forget about having the students drool around Neves and SSLs or making them write stupid papers like "how to spend 100k in gear", and force them to listen to this record every single day, until they learn how a professional work must sound like.
Old 26th September 2007
  #7
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Steve G's Avatar
Wow what a post. I've spent almost every day of the past seven years sitting next to Al at the console, and it truly has been the experience of a lifetime. I will let him know how you guys all feel, and I'm sure he'll be thrilled to hear all the nice compliments. Al is very open about how he does things, so I'm sure he won't mind my giving up some of the trade secrets. For the most part there are no secrets. Find good songs, great arrangers, the best players in the world, high quality equipment, a great sounding room, and get out of the way (yes it is that easy).

As far as the "Rock Swings" album goes, it was a lot of fun, and a lot of work. Paul is very professional, and very prepared when he gets to the studio, and he expects everyone else to be also. He picked the right song to rework, and he carefully picked the arrangers he thought would do the best job for each song. Of course he has the best guys in town to choose from. The big band dates were done in just a few days, I don't remember exactly how many, but I doubt more than three six hour days. There were a couple days of overdubs, perc, etc. and then Paul did his vocals. The vocals were done almost entirely in two days. He came in ready, and sang each song a couple times and we comped from those. Very little, if any, tuning was done. I don't remember how long we mixed for, but it was nothing unusual. We usually get at least two, if not three songs a day easy, and "Rock Swings" was no exception. The mastering was done with Doug Sax in one day at the Mastering Lab in Ojai, as all of Al's records are. That's pretty much it in a nutshell, nothing fancy to speak of. I'd be happy to answer specific questions if there are any, and I can pass along any questions I don't have an answer for on to Al, and I'm sure he'll be happy answer them.

Steve

BTW - the new Paul Anka record came out a couple weeks ago, and the new Chris Botti album came out today. If you like "Rock Swings" you'll like those too.
Old 26th September 2007
  #8
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SoundEng1's Avatar
Al is a true inspiration to the Profession!
Old 26th September 2007
  #9
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Steve,

Thanks for posting, Al is indeed a inspiration to us all. I am sure the 7 years you've spent by his side are rife with experience and stories. I am envious.

Would you mind answering a question for me?

One of the many hallmarks (for me) of Al's engineering is the vocal nuances he captures, particularly on the Ray Charles duets cd a few back. Clearly he spends a lot of time matching mic and pre with performer. Would you mind sharing the vocal chain from that session?

Thank you

Panda
Old 26th September 2007
  #10
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Steve G's Avatar
Actually, we didn't do much of the recording for the Ray Charles album, but we did mix the record. There were a couple different producers on that record, and it was recorded over about a year or year and a half, at a few different studios, so if I recall, the vocal mic changed a bit from song to song, as did Ray's voice (he was pretty sick during some of the recording). Without going back to any session notes, I believe it was mainly a U47, and a Neve 1071 or 1081 pre. I know in the mix, we used a Summit TLA-100 for a dB or two of compression, and then Al's fader rides. Al depends on fader rides for the vocal presence, more than compression. If we used EQ, it would have been either the GML, or the Oram.

Steve
Old 26th September 2007
  #11
Well is there is a word for Al Schmidt I will say "Class" his mixes have such an amazing class and quality that makes the music be so real .

Steve: Thanks for sharing!

Steve, what could be the choices on a vocal chain for Al(more in to a Rock o more Pop Rock female singer?
Also any kind of constant secret o technique that he always use on a mix?

Thanks!!!
Old 26th September 2007
  #12
Gear Nut
 

Thanks a million Steve. Much appreciated.
Old 26th September 2007
  #13
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drBill's Avatar
Guys, there's a reason Steve G sits next to Al at the console everyday. Steve is an excellent engineer in his own right! Steve - thanks for all the help on the sessions I've done down there! You make life truly easy recording at Capitol. Just wish I had the opportunity to do it more.... heh

Not to diminish Al Schmitt's contribution which is enormous (beyond words really....), but hat's off to the arrangers and players as well. I think if there's any one element that's missing in todays music compared to the past its just that - the arrangements and the musicianship. It seems the days of the "studio musician" and "studio arranger" are disappearing. Sad to say, but "studio-fix-it-ing" (Pro Tooling it, multiple edits, trying a multitude of parts to find what might work, layering everything a dozen or more times, etc.) and "image" have replaced experience and talent as the two dominant forces in making music in the studio.

I'd be willing to bet a lot of cash that the reason those sessions went so quickly, musically speaking, was that the arrangers knew their $#%! and the players could PLAY IT! (When presented with a cool project like that, they STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND PLAY THEIR @$$ES OFF!!!!) Yes, LA still has the best musicians in the world.

Thanks to Al and Steve and crew for capturing it. Great thread.....

bp
Old 26th September 2007
  #14
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Steve G's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by AMIEL View Post
Well is there is a word for Al Schmidt I will say "Class" his mixes have such an amazing class and quality that makes the music be so real .

Steve: Thanks for sharing!

Steve, what could be the choices on a vocal chain for Al(more in to a Rock o more Pop Rock female singer?
Also any kind of constant secret o technique that he always use on a mix?

Thanks!!!
Al's first choice for a vocal, if he doesn't know the singer is a U67 or a U47, and a Neve pre, and always a TLA-100,never more than a couple dB of compression and he rides gain to tape (computer).

As far as a mixing technique, he's pretty consistent with what he does. Not a lot of compression or EQ, and a lot of different reverbs to mix and match. He spends most of his time with verbs and fader rides, getting the space just right.


Steve
Old 26th September 2007
  #15
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Steve G's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
Guys, there's a reason Steve G sits next to Al at the console everyday. Steve is an excellent engineer in his own right! Steve - thanks for all the help on the sessions I've done down there! You make life truly easy recording at Capitol. Just wish I had the opportunity to do it more.... heh

Not to diminish Al Schmitt's contribution which is enormous (beyond words really....), but hat's off to the arrangers and players as well. I think if there's any one element that's missing in todays music compared to the past its just that - the arrangements and the musicianship. It seems the days of the "studio musician" and "studio arranger" are disappearing. Sad to say, but "studio-fix-it-ing" (Pro Tooling it, multiple edits, trying a multitude of parts to find what might work, layering everything a dozen or more times, etc.) and "image" have replaced experience and talent as the two dominant forces in making music in the studio.

I'd be willing to bet a lot of cash that the reason those sessions went so quickly, musically speaking, was that the arrangers knew their $#%! and the players could PLAY IT! (When presented with a cool project like that, they STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND PLAY THEIR @$$ES OFF!!!!) Yes, LA still has the best musicians in the world.

Thanks to Al and Steve and crew for capturing it. Great thread.....

bp

Thanks for the kind words. And I totally agree, it's all about the arrangement, and the playing. It's amazing how at times the same room, same mics, and same setup just sounds horrible when arranged or played poorly.

Steve
Old 26th September 2007
  #16
Steve, thanks for your reply!

Please can you tell me which Neve pres Al uses for Vocals?
What about Oram's Al Schmidt Series??? when did he uses?

So U67/47 mainly for vocals? thanks so much!!!
Old 26th September 2007
  #17
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dillweed's Avatar
Thanks Steve!!
very cool of you.
Any insight on Al's bass micing and mixing?
I am always in awe of how great his bass tones are and how perfect they sit in his mixes.
Old 26th September 2007
  #18
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nosebleedaudio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dillweed View Post
Thanks Steve!!
very cool of you.
Any insight on Al's bass micing and mixing?
I am always in awe of how great his bass tones are and how perfect they sit in his mixes.
YES YES YES...
I love the bass on Diana Krall's "Love scene", just wonderful...
Old 26th September 2007
  #19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve G View Post
For the most part there are no secrets. Find good songs, great arrangers, the best players in the world, high quality equipment, a great sounding room, and get out of the way (yes it is that easy).
Absolutely. It's amazing how easy it is to make great sounding records when you have the right ingredients to work with. That's what is getting harder and harder to come by. But when it all comes together, it's a joy. I was reminded of that just last month on some orch sessions I did.
Old 26th September 2007
  #20
I asked Al several years ago at AES what he thought of all the bad sounding records coming out and if he was concerned about the future of engineering. His answer? (Paraphrased, not verbatim.)

"There's always been bad sounding records. It's no different today. People just forget about the bad stuff. It was the same way in the 60s and 70s. But worry about it? No. The cream rises to the top. The worse the other stuff sounds, the better it makes my stuff sound."
Old 26th September 2007
  #21
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Yes it's true that good arrangements and great players are the most important thing, and that everything else is accessory (including the studio and engineers).

Im fond of many hundreds of albums like surely many of you do, but when looking for absolute excellence in audio/sonics there's NOTHING like Al Schmitt's records. They're on another planet altogether. I just had wished Al had engineered many many records that, while brilliant artitstically, are less than stellar in the sonic department. What could have been if only...



Thanks STEVE for posting. It really must be an enticing experience and a privilege to be able to work with the best engineer of all time. Would you mind if I ask you a few things?


-I believe he favours Neve desks more than SSLs, right? any Neve series in particular?
-Does he use much outboard when tracking? I think his approach consists more in carefully positon great mics going thru a desk, then to tape. Not much else in the path (TLA-100 aside). Am I right?
-Does he prefer analog to digital? any converter in particular?
-What's his approach when mixing? I bet all tracks sound already "done". Much outboard patched in -besides the TC6000 for verbs?



Please do transfer Al my absolute gratitude and admiration for his work (coming from a younger guy, not the typical target for many of his records).
Old 26th September 2007
  #22
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frank lyon's Avatar
 

Thanks a lot, Steve.
Old 26th September 2007
  #23
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PlugHead's Avatar
 

Yes, thx Steve for the informative posts.

Personally, I'd be tickled pink to be a fly on the wall of a session with you guys...

Much respect,
Old 26th September 2007
  #24
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Steve G's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by AMIEL View Post
Steve, thanks for your reply!

Please can you tell me which Neve pres Al uses for Vocals?
What about Oram's Al Schmidt Series??? when did he uses?

So U67/47 mainly for vocals? thanks so much!!!

We have a rack of 1081's here at Capitol, and Al has a pair of 1081's also. We usually use one of those. We do use the Al Schmitt series Oram, mostly for compression and EQ in the mix.

Steve

It's OK to keep the questions comming, but I am working, so the answers may come a bit slow.
Old 26th September 2007
  #25
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Steve G's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by nosebleedaudio View Post
YES YES YES...
I love the bass on Diana Krall's "Love scene", just wonderful...

The bass sound usually comes from the amazing players we get to work with. On "Love Scenes" I believe it was Christian McBride, who has a sound as big as a house. Al usually puts up a pair of M149's or U47's with a bit of compression (TLA-100's again) to taste. Usually a Studer mic pre.


Steve
Old 26th September 2007
  #26
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Steve G's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by jindrich View Post
Yes it's true that good arrangements and great players are the most important thing, and that everything else is accessory (including the studio and engineers).

Im fond of many hundreds of albums like surely many of you do, but when looking for absolute excellence in audio/sonics there's NOTHING like Al Schmitt's records. They're on another planet altogether. I just had wished Al had engineered many many records that, while brilliant artitstically, are less than stellar in the sonic department. What could have been if only...



Thanks STEVE for posting. It really must be an enticing experience and a privilege to be able to work with the best engineer of all time. Would you mind if I ask you a few things?


-I believe he favours Neve desks more than SSLs, right? any Neve series in particular?
-Does he use much outboard when tracking? I think his approach consists more in carefully positon great mics going thru a desk, then to tape. Not much else in the path (TLA-100 aside). Am I right?
-Does he prefer analog to digital? any converter in particular?
-What's his approach when mixing? I bet all tracks sound already "done". Much outboard patched in -besides the TC6000 for verbs?



Please do transfer Al my absolute gratitude and admiration for his work (coming from a younger guy, not the typical target for many of his records).
First off, Yes it has been an amazing experience working so closely with Al, and yes I do know how lucky I am.

Now to your questions. We use both the Neve VR's in studio A & C, and the 8068 in B. It usually depends on what we're doing as to which room we use for tracking, Studio B is a bit smaller.

Al doesn't use a lot of outboard gear when tracking. He's got a rack full of pre amps (Studer, Neve, Mastering Lab, Great River) that we use if were not on the 8068, and some TLA-100's. That's about it. Oh, And a lot of great mics.

I think if you ask him, he'll tell you that analog absolutely sounds better, but we do almost everything to Pro Tools, through the 192 converters at 96KHz. We need to have the options that Pro Tools gives us. But we always mix to 1/2" analog.

His approach to mixing is pretty simple, as I said before, he spends most of his time choosing the right verbs ( we patch up about 10 different verbs), and doing fader rides. If it's something we've recorded, you can pretty much put the faders in a straight line and you're done. Most of his rides are done while recording.

Steve
Old 26th September 2007
  #27
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SoundEng1's Avatar
Thanks Steve for all the great information!

What are Al's Favorite Reverbs? what do you see him use more of?

Thanks!
Old 26th September 2007
  #28
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drBill's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve G View Post
we do almost everything to Pro Tools, through the 192 converters at 96KHz. We need to have the options that Pro Tools gives us. But we always mix to 1/2" analog.
Ha! So much for the 192 haters..... thumbsup
Old 26th September 2007
  #29
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Empty Planet's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jindrich View Post
I was home the other day tidying up several big piles of almost forgotten CDs when I stumbled over this one:

Paul Anka. Rock Swings.


Wow, thanks for the pointer. Stunning production.

Reminded me right away of this recording of Ella doing The Very Thought Of You, Nelson Riddle arrangement, available free on the Nelson Riddle website....

Nelson Riddle - The Official Website

Al's recording is more hifi and has more punch, but they both have great air, if you know what I mean, and the vibe of both is big and lush. These kinds of recordings make me happy in a way that music rarely does these days. Great work.

Thanks and cheers.

Old 26th September 2007
  #30
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Steve G's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoundEng1 View Post
Thanks Steve for all the great information!

What are Al's Favorite Reverbs? what do you see him use more of?

Thanks!
He uses quite a few different verbs all the time. He leans pretty heavy on the Chambers here at Capitol, and the TC M6000, but we also use the EMT 250, 480L, and AMS verbs as well. A lot of elements in a mix get a combination of different things.

Steve
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