Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Al Schmitt, June 8, 1999

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Working with Jefferson Airplane

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Partial Transcript: -----(??) Records.

Segment Synopsis: Interviewer Schmidt Horning asks about Jefferson Airplane's early discography, and Schmitt clarifies the exact order of the releases. The interviewer then uses this to ask him about the amount of time it takes for an album to be released after the artists have finished recording. Schmitt explains that when he first started producing that it would only be a month or two at the longest, but in the modern music industry it can be more than half a year due to the promotion that labels do.

Keywords: Advertising; After Bathing at Baxter's (Album); Album covers; Crown of Creation (Album); Fisher, Eddie (Artist); Games That Lovers Play (Album); Games That Lovers Play (Film); Jefferson Airplane (Artist); Krall, Diana (Artist); Peter Gunn (TV Show); Promotion; Recording; Releases; San Francisco (Calif.); Surrealistic Pillow (Album); Takes Off (Album); Television; Television themes

Subjects: Advertising; Crime on television; Fisher, Eddie; Jefferson Airplane (Musical group); Krall, Diana; Peter Gunn (Television program); San Francisco (Calif.); Television

GPS: San Francisco (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.783333, -122.416667
00:05:39 - Working as an independent engineer

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Partial Transcript: Now, w, when you were working as an independent, how, how did that--how did it work?

Segment Synopsis: Schmitt explains that the process of recording working as an independent engineer was almost always subjective, depending on the band itself (how new they are, where they want to record, their budget, etc.) and the willingness of the record company to work with him. He explains that many bands would want to pick studios based on the studio's history (a certain band recorded there or a certain album, etc.). He also explains that many studios also respected regular clients and often allowed engineers to have a couple of free days. Schmitt also explains that RCA artists never had to pay for studio time in RCA Studios.

Keywords: Bands; Consoles (mixing); Consoles (recording); Contracts; Doors, the (Artist); Finances; Heider, Wally; Hendrix, Jimi (Artist); Jefferson Airplane (Artist); Mercury Records; RCA Victor; Radio Recorders; Record companies; Recording; Recording studios; Snyder, Bill; Sunset Sound; Wally Heider Studio

Subjects: Doors (Musical group); Hendrix, Jimi; Jefferson Airplane (Musical group); RCA Corporation; Snyder, Bill; Sound recording industry; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Sound--Recording and reproducing--Equipment and supplies

00:11:00 - Studio time

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Partial Transcript: Now, did you think that--I mean you, you were coming--when you started with the Airplane--and tell me if there were other groups that you worked with before that...

Segment Synopsis: Schmitt explains that when he began working with Jefferson Airplane that the amount of studio time required increased exponentially because of the fact that studio time was as much of a social event as it was a time to actually work. It involved drugs, discussing current events, and visits from other artists, including Janis Joplin and The Mamas & the Papas. He also explains that a lot of the extra time came from the fact that many of their artists were not formally trained musicians, so it took more time in part due to the fact that they didn't have as much technical skill as studio musicians and because they worked a lot "looser" than formal musicians. He talks about the amount of times that they would record, sometimes doing more than hundred takes for a single track.

Keywords: Birds, the (Artist); Crosby, David; Drugs; Joplin, Janis (Artist); Mamas & the Papas, the (Artist); Overdubbing; Quality; Recorders tape; Socializing; Songs: Wooden Ships; Songwriting

Subjects: Birds (Musical group); Crosby, David, 1941-; Drugs; Joplin, Janis; Mamas and the Papas (Musical group)

00:15:10 - RCA Los Angeles

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Partial Transcript: So does RCA L.A. still exist?

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer asks if RCA still owns a studio in L.A., and Schmitt explains that the studio itself is still there but RCA doesn't own it. He explains that it was bought first by Wally Heider, then José Feliciano, then the government took it over.

Keywords: Capitol Records; Columbia Recording Corporation; Dion, Celine (Artist); Doors, the (Artist); Feliciano, José (Artist); Heider, Wally; Jefferson Airplane (Artist); Los Angeles (Calif.); RCA Los Angeles; RCA Victor; Radio Recorders; Recording studios; Sunset Boulevard; Sunset Sound

Subjects: Capitol Records, Inc.; Columbia Recording Corporation; Dion, Céline; Doors (musical group); Feliciano, José; Jefferson Airplane (musical group); Los Angeles (Calif.); RCA Corporation; Recording industry

GPS: Los Angeles (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
00:16:21 - Sunset Sound

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Partial Transcript: Sunset Sound, that's one I haven't come across.

Segment Synopsis: Schmitt explains where Sunset Sound was located and names some of the acts that recorded there.

Keywords: Camarata, Tutti; Doors, the (Artist); Jefferson Airplane (Artist); Musicians' guide; The Music Of Eric Satie: The Velvet Gentleman (Album)

Subjects: Camarata, Salvadore, 1913-2005; Doors (musical group); Jefferson Airplane (artist); Satie, Erik, 1866-1925

00:18:15 - Studios in Los Angeles

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Partial Transcript: So, I mean wh--there must have been, gosh, so many studios.

Segment Synopsis: Schmitt talks about the studios and labels he remembers being active during his time in Los Angeles, including where some of them recorded. Schmitt then directs the interviewer to a couple of studios she might be able to get in contact with as well as an individual.

Keywords: Advance Sound and Recording Co.; Air checks; American Legion Hall; Annex, the; Audio engineering; C.P. MacGregor Studios; Capitol Records; Columbia Recording Corporation; Dimension Records; Film; Film recording; Film studios; Glen Glenn Sound; Gold Star Studios; Heider, Wally; Independent recording engineers; Movies; Musicians' guide; Paramount; Perry, Richard; RCA Victor; Radio Recorders; Record Plant, the; Recording; Schnee, Bill; Studio 54; Studio 55; Sunset Sound; Wally Heider Studio

Subjects: Columbia Recording Corporation; Glen Glenn Sound Co.; Gold Star Studios; Motion pictures; Perry, Richard, 1942-; RCA Corporation; Schnee, Bill; Sound engineering; Sound--Recording and reproducing

GPS: Los Angeles (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
00:27:03 - Cleveland's role in rock music

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Partial Transcript: He'd be interesting to talk to, Dick.

Segment Synopsis: Schmitt and the interviewer discuss Cleveland's role in the music industry, including the side note that the term "rock and roll" was first coined in Cleveland.

Keywords: Akron (Ohio); Cleveland (Ohio); Freed, Alan; Glasser, Dick; Liberty Records; Rock 'n' roll; Sharell, Jerry

Subjects: Akron (Ohio); Cleveland (Ohio); Freed, Alan; Glasser, Dick; Liberty Records

GPS: Cleveland (Ohio)
Map Coordinates: 41.482222, -81.669722
00:27:52 - Equipment in the studio

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Partial Transcript: Oh, you know I wanted to--di, did you ever--um, that was another thing I wanted to ask you about.

Segment Synopsis: Schmitt explains that, in his experience, the studios did not necessarily care whether or not the engineers were using the equipment that the studios made (like RCA). He goes on to say that the equipment that RCA offered just wasn't on par with the equipment that Telefunken and Ampex made.

Keywords: Ampex Electric Corporation; Equipment; Equipment manufacturers; Hall, Ray; Microphones (models): RCA ribbon; Microphones (models): Telefunken; Microphones with pre-amplifiers; Microphones, driven; Microphones, dynamic; Microphones, ribbon; Multi-tracking; New York City (N.Y.); RCA Victor; Recorders, tape (models): Ampex 2-channel recorder; Recording; Recording studios; Telefunken; Vacuum tube

Subjects: Ampex Corporation; Microphones; New York (N.Y.); RCA Corporation; Recording industry; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Sound--Recording and reproducing--Equipment and supplies; Telefunken G.m.b.H.

GPS: New York (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.7127, -74.0059
00:30:06 - Professional societies

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Partial Transcript: Oh, I know. Two other things I wanted to ask you about.

Segment Synopsis: Schmitt explains that he doesn't have any experience with SPARS, and suggests that the interviewer should speak to Chris Stone. They switch gears for a moment, and Schmitt explains that in the United States, producers are trying to establish contracts similar to ones in Europe where producers receive a small amount of money every time a song they worked on is played on the air. They are also attempting to promote the general welfare of producers and establish industry standards. Schmitt gives his opinion that the AES is elitist and that, at times, the members of the organization are too technical and too academic to help foster the growth of non-formally trained audio engineers within the society.

Keywords: AES Show; Academia; Audio Engineering Society (AES); Contracts; Europe; Fine, Bob; Munich (Germany); New York (N.Y.); Radio broadcasting; Record Plant, the; Society of Professional Audio Recording Services (SPARS); Stone, Chris

Subjects: Audio Engineering Society; Europe; Fine, Bob; Munich (Germany); New York (N.Y.); Radio broadcasting; Stone, Chris, 1935-

GPS: New York (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 40.7127, -74.0059
00:37:44 - Walkmans, DATs, and playing in Europe

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Partial Transcript: Now, uh, cassettes are still good archiving, aren't they?

Segment Synopsis: Schmitt and the interviewer talk about the Sony Walkman, and the news of a new Walkman that is able to connect to the internet and download songs. They then discuss the quality of DAT machines, and how they're both impressed with it.

Keywords: Belfort (France); Budapest (Hungary); Cassettes; Digital Audio Tape (DAT); Downloads; Europe; France; Horn, Paul; Hungary; India; Inside (Album); Internet; Japan; Mobile recording; Recording; Sony; Sony Walkman; Switzerland; Taj Mahal; Zürich (Switzerland)

Subjects: Belfort (France); Budapest (Hungary); Digital audiotape recorders and recording; Downloading of data; Europe; France; Horn, Paul, 1930-2014; Hungary; India; Internet; Japan; Sony Corporation; Sound--Recording and reproducing; Switzerland; Taj Mahal (Agra, India); Zurich (Switzerland)