The Decades SDX was recorded at Capitol Studios and comes with 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.
Meet Al Schmitt with team and get a glimpse of what happened behind the scenes at Capitol Studios during the Decades SDX recording sessions.
In retrospect, figuring out that Al would end up behind a console is somewhat of a no-brainer. He literally grew up in a studio. Already at the age of seven, he hung out with his uncle Harry, who also was an engineer, to help set out chairs for musicians, clean patch cables and whatever came with being a helper during sessions back then.
This was in the thriving days of the late 1930s New York big band and jazz scene. That scene was buzzing, with loads of work and studios scattered all over the city. From there, his path was pretty much laid out. Working his formative years under the tutelage of many of the era’s legendary engineers, he honed his craft before relocating to California. After that, the rest is music history. For real.
In fact, Al Schmitt’s footprint in the recording industry is hard to fathom or even put down in words. Just the numbers alone are mind-boggling: 727 recordings, 160 gold and platinum albums and 23 Grammy Awards.
Scrolling through his discography is even more daunting – his hands and ears have literally shaped our collective music history. From now immortal icons like Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Sam Cooke to Madonna, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Barbara Streisand and Paul McCartney – Al has worked with them all.
With a career that stretches from the 1950s and on, Al has literally engineered the soundtrack to our lives. Below are just excerpts from his mind-blowing body of work and lifetime achievement.
The Capitol Records building, towering like a beacon against the Hollywood skyline, is arguably one of the few Los Angeles landmarks as iconic as the Hollywood sign itself. In the heart of this cylinder-shaped structure is Capitol Studios, where new pieces of our music history have been written, recorded and mastered for the past 60 years and counting. Hosting two main rooms, Studio B with its 1023 square feet of floor space, impressive height and impeccably crafted acoustics was the perfect choice. In fact, many industry professionals consider Studio B as having one of the premier drum rooms in the world. This particular room has a long list of legendary albums under its belt. Green Day, Neil Young and John Mayer are just a few vivid examples of artists that have immortalized seminal works between its four walls.
With the Decades SDX, we are proud to lend some of the inherent Capitol magic to your productions.
This genuine 1930s kit combines two legendary drum brands and serves as our tribute to Al’s work with immortal crooners like Frank Sinatra and many others. The original calfskins on all instruments produce that uniquely warm and time-accurate tone. Great for any jazz context – ideal for big band arrangements.
The 1970s Soul Kit
There probably are no better suited drums than these to pay tribute to Al’s work on seminal albums by the likes of Al Jarreau, George Benson, Steely Dan and the Yellowjackets. Looking for that unmistakable 1970s dry, deep, round and in-your-face type of tone? This is it – complete with some of Al’s signature dampening, often a “must” during this very era.
The 1970s Tight Pop Kit
The same set but recorded with thin towels covering all drums. The result? A tight, snappy and muffled tone with loads of transient punch while still maintaining that heartwarmingly thick resonance. This excessively muffled way of deadening the tone was used a lot during the 1970s. Listen to Al Jarreau and Steely Dan (to name a few) and you’ll hear it.
This unique prototype set was picked as a reference to Al’s work with some of the biggest AOR and melodic rock acts of the 1980s. Looking for the “million dollar” drum tone? This is it – punchy yet silky smooth.
The rise of jazz and swing in the early 20th century wasn’t only a milestone for music on a whole, it was also epoch-making in terms of drums. This is the era when we went from an often random collection of percussive instruments to standardizing what we still refer to as a classic ‘drum kit’ setup. These original drums from the 1930s and 1940s were selected as a homage to the very beginning of Al’s career and his work with the pioneering artists that defined the genre. Problem getting the drums to cut through the horn section in your mix? This kit’s got you covered.
Al’s more recent work with award-winning vocal and small ensemble jazz artists like Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and others is represented by this kit. If there is a “studio standard” for drums, this is it. These drums have an almost eerie way of combining balance, nuance and detail.
Curated over a lifetime in the studio, Al’s microphone positioning philosophy builds on nearly 70 years worth of experience. If a drum doesn’t sound right, his first instinct isn’t to reach for an effect – he moves the microphone until the instrument sounds like it’s supposed to.
In this video, Al walks you through his microphone positioning philosophy for the Decades SDX. Learn about the different mics, how he placed them and more!
Learn all about the different channels and how to utilize them in the mixer of Superior Drummer 3.
*9.0 surround mics
Name: Norman Garschke
Location: Konstanz, Germany
You are a classically trained jazz drummer. How important was the music of the early big band and swing era for your training?
I think that studying all the fantastic drummers of the early swing and big band decades is extremely important for all drummers who want to follow the professional path. Not only is there so much to learn from these legends in terms of actual playing, feel, groove and musicality – you also really get to understand the origins of the instrument itself better and establish a feel for the reason why and how the drum set has developed over the years. For me personally, studying big band drummers like Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson, Mel Lewis and of course Buddy Rich was extremely important. A big band is like a big ship, and as a drummer you more or less lead the way. Everybody is relying on your time, on your feel and also on your changes in dynamics.
During this era, a lot happened with not only the drums as an instrument but also for drummers on a whole and their role in an arrangement. What drummers would you say stand out as having changed the course of drumming the most?
It’s always hard to narrow it down to only a few names since there have been so many extremely influential players that developed the instrument with their amazing and innovative technical and musical skills. I’d say that especially early drummers like Gene Krupa, Chick Webb and Sid Catlett really changed the way the instrument way used in both a big band and general jazz context by introducing new techniques and stylistic elements that since have become to a standard. Also, drummers like Mel Lewis and Buddy Rich took a whole new approach and eventually defined the way drummers would be playing in a big band setting today.
You are also a lover of music in general – not only jazz. How has Al’s work impacted you on a personal and musical level? How did you first learn about Al’s work?
I think Al’s broad body of work has touched and influenced everybody who loves music – musician or not. For me personally, Al’s legendary work with artists like Al Jarreau, George Benson, The Yellowjackets, Steely Dan and Toto is part of my musical DNA and something that traces back to when I first discovered music. These records, their sound and the performance of the involved musicians are deeply imprinted in my musicality. They defined and shaped my taste over the years and still server as a well of inspiration that I study to this day.
If you had to name five favorite albums produced, engineered or mixed by Al, which ones would you pick?
It’s really hard to narrow it down to only five, but I’d go for these:
“Glow” by Al Jarreau
“Aja” by Steely Dan
“Yellowjackets“ by Yellowjackets
“IV” by Toto
“The Ultimate Adventure” by Chick Corea
Al’s career started already in the mid-’50s. If you had to pick one era from the wealth of music produced during the course of these 60+ years, which one would you say has impacted you the most?
I’d say that for me personally the era from the mid/late 1970s until around 1986 would be the one that had the most influence on me. I love all music regardless and there is so much beauty to discover in every era, but the albums that were produced these years have definitely had the most musical influence on me. I draw inspiration, excitement and knowledge from them still.
For this session, you had a big hand in helping to choose the different kits. What was that process like and what was your train of thought?
Al’s milestone recordings have inspired us all on our own paths of being musicians and engineers, and in our lives – these influences, songs and sounds will last forever. The idea in selecting the different drums and cymbals for this library was to try to pay our humble tribute to this outstanding career. We wanted to choose very high quality and state-of-the-art instruments that all in some way represented an era or decade in his career. Although the selection could obviously never be complete, I think it reflects the most important (drum) sounds of his work.
Listening back to the kits now compared to the feel you had when playing them in the room, what are your thoughts?
I am absolutely excited and blown away by the way this library sounds. I have played these great sounding kits in reality in the room at Capitol Studios and I can exactly remember how they sounded. The sound of the SDX library and the feeling when I’m playing them now on an e-kit to is exactly the same. These drum sounds are so incredibly real and authentic, and they have such beautiful musical nuances that I almost can’t believe myself that they’re actually samples! This is not only true for the kits we’ve sampled with sticks, but especially for those we’ve sampled with brushes and mallets. I am very proud of what we have achieved with this SDX and think the users will get some of the best drum sounds ever recorded!
Finally: As a drummer, a huge fan of music, recording technology and studios in general – how was it actually sitting behind these beautiful kits in one of the planet’s most iconic recording rooms with the world’s most prolific audio engineer ever behind the console?
For me, this whole project was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience and more than a dream come true. I mean this not only as being a drummer and audio engineer, but also as a music lover in general. Music is and has always been such a big and important part of my life and work. Many of the records that Al worked on have literally changed the course of my life. I’m very grateful and humble to have had the chance to work alongside a true legend.
Norman comments on one of the the very special collections of cymbals we used for this session.
A quick comment from behind one of Norman’s absolute favorite kits!
Use one of Al Schmitt’s presets as a starting point and create a massive and distinct ’80s reverb-style sound. Punchy!
Use the built in ‘Reverb’ channel and learn how to manipulate it for a variety of creative reverb sounds.
Create modern-sounding sounds using one of the included presets based on a distinct pre-delay effect.
Create a big brush backbeat sound using mix presets and stacked articulations.
Create the ultimate fat drum mix by using stacked articulations and the Superior Drummer 3 mixer effects.
Combine two presets with various room mics and mixer FX to create an al-new drum mix. Macros are added for additional control.
Start with an existing preset and create a hybrid mix using different Decades instruments, stacks, room channels and mixer effects.
Create the perfect snare stack that works with any snare selection within the Decades library.
The Big Band EZX comes with two mix-ready drum sets, both derived from the five kits featured in the Decades SDX. The EZX is best described as a slimmed down version of the SDX, both in terms of number of instruments, available articulations, microphones and mixer channel options. The EZX was produced to provide a specific type of mix-ready sound while the SDX, in addition to its large pool of presets, features raw and unprocessed drum tones covering the entire scope of Al Schmitt’s illustrious career.
Looking for an instant big band sound – go for the EZX. Looking for all the options you need to mix, match and design the kits of your wildest dreams – go for the SDX.
Superior Drummer 3
Size: approx. 99 GB | Kits: 5 (plus additional instruments)
EZdrummer 2 and Superior Drummer 3
Size: 3 GB | Kits: 2
Both considering its sheer size and to also let you, the user, decide in what capacity you ultimately want to utilize this massive sound source, the Decades SDX was configured in convenient parts designed for a specific use. At any time, you can add the parts you are missing by downloading and installing them via the Toontrack Product Manager.
These are the different download/install configurations available.
This is a basic install of the library featuring all close, primary overhead and ambience microphones. All tool options are provided.
Size: Approx. 28 GB
“Full Stereo and 5.0 Setup” (Recommended minimum install)
This is install of the library is suitable for most applications and includes all microphone channels used in the mix presets. It is also suitable for mixing in surround 5.0. All tool options as well as the “Basic Setup” are provided.
Size: Approx. 54 GB
“Height Surround Setup”
This is a specialist install of the library designed for mixing in surround 9.0. All tool options as well as the “Stereo Setup” and “Surround Setup” are provided.
Size: Approx. 76 GB
“Full Bleed Setup”
This is the full install of the library including all of the above configurations. It features all instruments, tools options and microphones (including bleed).
Size: Approx. 99 GB
64-bit Windows 7 or newer, 8 GB RAM (16 GB RAM or more recommended).
Mac OS X 10.6 or higher, 64-bit Intel-based Mac with 8 GB RAM (16 GB RAM or more recommended).
Stereo Setup: Approx. 28 GB
Surround Setup: Approx. 54 GB
Height Surround Setup: Approx. 76 GB
Full Installation (including bleed): Approx. 99 GB
Plus an additional 99 GB required for the installation process