The Life and Times of Al Schmitt

The Life and Times of Al Schmitt

Leading software manufacturer Toontrack are well renowned for crafting some of the most realistic, intuitive virtual drum software available on the market. Their meticulous approach to recording and drum production, paired with their multi-genre knowledge has allowed them to keep up with the industry's demanding needs within music production.

The two primary drum software lines in Toontrack's product range, Superior Drummer 3 and EZDrummer 2, are an all time favourite amongst composers, producers, and engineers alike; this allows them to collaborate with some of the industry's biggest names and once again, their most recent announcement has caused a stir...

Decades SDX & Big Band EZX have been made in collaboration with Grammy award-winning recording engineer Al Schmitt and we saw it fitting to do a post providing some history on Schmitt’s broad career as one of the most legendary engineers of all time. If you’re not familiar with the name, you’ll soon see how much of an important role Al Schmitt has played in the music industry for the past 70 years and realise how much of an exciting collaboration this is for Toontrack!

Al Schmitt began his career in the music industry as an intern at Apex Studios in Manhattan back in the early 1950s (now currently at the age of 89, he isn’t showing any signs of stopping!). Here he was taken under the wing of engineer Tom Dowd and assisted him with various recording sessions, though it wasn’t before long that Schmitt was able to direct his own small sessions. Famously, during one session Schmitt ended up having to record jazz legend Duke Ellington and his orchestra without any assistance from senior engineers; that’s something not every 20 year old can do!

Al Schmitt

After his time at Apex, Schmitt moved around various studios in New York, building up his skill set before he moved to Los Angeles in 1958. His first 5 years in LA were spent at Radio Recorders, a popular studio based in the heart of Hollywood which saw many famous faces walk through its doors including Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Louis Armstrong.

Schmitt’s move to RCA Records in 1963 as their first in house engineer once again saw him gain momentum within the industry as he started taking on bigger jobs and within months, he was awarded his first Grammy Award for Best Engineering Contribution on Henry Mancini’s soundtrack for 1962 film “Hatari!”. During his time at RCA, he expanded his work to production which allowed him to work with a wider variety of artists such as Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Sam Cooke, the latter of which he worked with on multi-award winning “Moon River”. 

Al Schmitt

In 1966, Schmitt left RCA and became an independent producer and engineer; he was of course in very high demand by this point and since then has kept himself busy working on albums for a huge variety of artists including Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bob Dylan (just to mention a few!!).

Since 1976, Schmitt has been using Capitol Records (where the new SDX and EZX were recorded) as his second home where he completes most of his work; the building holds a special place in his heart and he is deeply connected with its exciting history. Though he has also done recording sessions at EastWest Studios and United Recording Studios, both situated within Hollywood. Over the past 57 years, he has worked on over 150 gold and platinum albums and been awarded 23 Grammy Awards which is the most amount won by any engineer. On top of this, he has been inducted into the prestigious TEC Hall of Fame and in 2015, was awarded the Hollywood Walk of Fame award for his contributions to the music industry.

Al Schmitt Hollywood Walk of Fame

Now in 2019, Toontrack have announced one of their most exciting collaborations in history on both a Superior Drummer SDX and EZDrummer EZX expansion: Decades SDX and Big Band EZX. Both were recorded at Capitol Records using the fantastic range of equipment housed there including rare microphones and even several iconic original drum kits and instruments used by legends that have passed through the studio over the years.

The Decades SDX features five drum kits, all handpicked to represent a specific sound or era in Al’s career. Expect a palette of immaculate drum sounds encapsulating not only a lifetime of experience working at the apex of the industry, but just as much a personal and reflective collection of kits that in a way represents his entire body of work. From jazz and big band to rock, fusion, pop, funk and AOR – the Decades SDX covers all the styles that can be traced back to Al’s illustrious lifetime achievement.

Decades SDX Features:

  • Produced by 23-time Grammy Award-winning engineer/mixer Al Schmitt
  • Recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, CA
  • Five (5) kits (Slingerland, Pearl, Yamaha, Ludwig, Leedy)
  • 12 snares, nine (9) kicks as well as a broad collection of hi-hats and cymbals
  • Includes several iconic original instruments, like the original snare drum used by Jeff Porcaro on Toto’s “Rosanna” as well as Steve Ferrone’s personal drum kit
  • Brushes and/or mallets available on select kits/instruments
  • Drums from the 1920s through the late 1990s
  • Recorded with an additional seven room microphones for playback in stereo up to 9.1 systems
Toontrack SDX Decades By Al Schmitt

    The Big Band EZX is a homage to jazz as a whole and, in particular, the golden big band era. This did not only produce some of the most iconic artists in recorded history but also immortalised drumming as more than part of the rhythm section – it brought it to stage center. The Big Band EZX brings you two kits from the swing era of the ’30s and ’40s, both handpicked and tailored to provide an authentic slice of what the big band sound was and, indeed, still is. Expect two fundamentally different kits covering the entire tonal range from the round, warm and intimate to the thunderous, explosive and fiercely energetic – just like the genre itself. 

    Toontrack Big Band EZX

    Big Band EZX Features:

    • Two complete kits from the 1930s-1940s era
    • Recorded at Capitol Studios by legendary producer/engineer Al Schmitt
    • Includes kit configurations recorded with sticks and brushes as well as with snare wires on and off
    • Mix-ready presets tailored for a big band-inspired sound
    • Includes a selection of big band-inspired MIDI drum grooves

    Toontrack EZX Big Band


    Both libraries are available to purchase now from our site, just click on the links below to find out more!

    Toontrack SDX Decades 

    Toontrack EZX Big Band

    See below for some great shots of the recording sessions featuring Al Schmitt, the Toontrack team, and drummer Norman Garschke. You can also find a walkthrough video of the microphones used in the recording process from Al Schmitt himself!

    Recording Room

    Al & Matthias

    Al & Norman