Our community lost a titan when Al Schmitt passed recently. I suppose if there is any consolation, it comes from knowing that Al shared his experience through tools such as his Pro-Channel for Oram Pro Audio, Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors, and some of his best signal chains in the form of Leapwing Audio’s new plug-in.

Designed for mixing, the Al Schmitt Signature Plugin is optimized for six track types: Vocal, Piano, Bass, Brass, Strings, and Mix (bus). The interface is streamlined, displaying only essential controls depending on which of the profiles you select. For example, Vocal has six controls: one for Compression, three for EQ, and two for Echo. Mr. Schmitt called reverbs “echoes,” so his label remains. Finding good sounds is straightforward and immediate.

Like other Leapwing titles, the fidelity is superb. Should you work in a genre Al Schmitt favored – vocalists, jazz trios, big band, pianists, choirs, (the original meaning of) divas, virtuosos, or pop – you should run (don’t walk) and buy this plug-in. It’s like opening an egg with an anvil. Imagine some of Mr. Schmitt’s landmark recordings – Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones, George Benson, Ray Charles, Toto, Paul McCartney – this plug-in shapes music to sonics the way these iconic tracks sound in your mind’s ear. Horns are smooth while maintaining punch. The Piano profile includes soundboard resonance while retaining string harmonics. And don’t get me started on vocals. Goodness, this plug-in is worth it for the reverbs (ahem… echoes), alone. You know the proverb that it’s hard to make a Neve 1073 EQ sound bad? This is the plug-in version of that adage.

Even for those who don’t necessarily swim in those jazzy stylistic waters, I suggest downloading the Al Schmitt Signature Plugin demo anyway. Then do what audio engineers do: Apply a tool in a way it was never intended to be used. Try the Brass profile on guitar solos, the Bass profile on loops, the Piano profile on a drum kit. Examine what the Mix Compressor does for backing vocals. There is no need to use all of the effects in a profile. Come for the vocals/stay for the harmonic distortion. I’ll state it again: the echo from the Vocal profile should be in your shortlist when reaching for your best reverbs.

Excluding audio quality, the most significant advantage of the Al Schmitt Signature Plugin is session efficiency. Suppose you have four hours to mix a song. Going through every track to instantiate appropriate plug-ins will consume valuable minutes. Instead, supporting elements can be locked down by the Al Schmitt Signature Plugin. Load the profile, customize settings for the track at hand, and you’re on to the next instrument. Does this hurt the client? No, because I can use the time to concentrate on critical elements – vocals, guitar leads, bass lines, and whatever the specific song requires. If I need 30 minutes to audition compressors, reverbs, or spatial effects, I can. Operating under time and budget constraints, your clients will be more comfortable if you provide showcase tracks with the time and consideration they deserve.

At one time, I dismissed “signature” plug-ins as a marketing gimmick. In a more negative estimation, some of my friends think they’re aimed at lazy people who can’t mix. I’ll concede that some may be in those categories, but a well-done title, such as the Al Schmitt Signature Plugin, is an example of what is attainable within this format. This title is ideal for teaching students or helping engineers examine unfamiliar genres. Technically, it conserves processing power – one instance may draw from multiple plug-ins while using a fraction of the resources that loading all of them would drain. The streamlined ones force us to focus on the ideal sound rather than which knob to twist on the third EQ, for example.

I’m bummed out that we can’t coax more profiles out of Al Schmitt, but a teacher can’t spoon-feed every answer. It’s up to us to explore, innovate, and expand our production skills. Leapwing took a risk doing a signature collaboration, but they can be proud of this title. In our over-complicated / infinite choice era, it’s easy to drift away from our core responsibilities. Try mixing with fewer controls. Devote more attention to your ears rather than your screen. This plug-in is a perfect place to start.


Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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