The professional recording industry has lost a number of its heroes over the past 18 months, including engineers Ed Cherney, Bruce Swedien and Michael Bishop to name just a few. But none is greater than legendary engineer/producer Al Schmitt, who passed away April 27 at age 91.
Schmitt, known for the simplicity and truth of his recording methods and his uncanny ability to place the right microphone in precisely the right spot, won 23 Grammy Awards in his lifetime, the first for Henry Mancini’s Hatari in 1963. He earned 10 Grammys in the Best Engineered category, more than any other engineer.
He also recorded or mixed more than 150 Gold and Platinum records, was inducted into the TEC Awards Hall of Fame and, in a first for the recording industry, had his name engraved in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But he was so much more than the awards. He was a musician’s engineer, preferring to capture a performer live in the studio and getting the mix balance right from the very first moment of a recording project.
At the end of 2020, he finished a project with longtime collaborator Diana Krall, and he released his first plug-in through Leapwing just a few months before passing. He worked right up until the time of his death, at his home away from home, Capitol Studios.
The artists in Schmitt’s discography are many and varied, from Count Basie and Duke Ellington, to Sinatra, Dylan and George Benson On Broadway. He was behind the board for the seminal Ray Charles Genius Loves Company, as well as Steely Dan Aja and Toto’s Toto IV, among many other defining moments in music.
Schmitt first entered a studio in 1937, at age 7, and later worked at Apex Recording in New York City under his mentor, Tom Dowd. He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and began his run that helped to define the sound of music over the next five decades.
There will be much to read about Schmitt’s amazing life and career in the coming weeks from his many collaborators and admirers, and we will have much more forthcoming from Mix. He will be greatly missed.
In the meantime, to honor the great Al Schmitt, pet your cat or dog, or better yet, rescue an animal. Al would appreciate it.