Project Studio: Ryan's Place

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Matt Gallagher


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The Veteran Producer/Engineer Discusses Mixing and Mastering the CD/DVD Box Set Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology

In November 2009, Reprise Records released the CD box set Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology, a collection of selected tracks from the band’s concert performances that were recorded between 1978 and 2007. For this project, co-producers Tom Petty, Mike Campbell and Ryan Ulyate reviewed and compared hundreds of hours of archival recordings, and chose what they felt were the “best” tracks for this compilation.

The producers set about assembling, sequencing, mixing and re-mastering the selected tracks for five differently packaged configurations for The Live Anthology: a 48-track digital download version; a “Standard” set comprising 48 tracks on four CDs; a “Deluxe” set (available only from Best Buy) offering 62 tracks on five CDs, two DVDs of previously unreleased documentary and concert material, a vinyl LP of the re-mastered 1976 Official Live ’Leg bootleg album and one Blu-ray disc of all 62 tracks in both stereo and surround sound; the online-only Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Superhighway Tour, which delivers 48 tracks as MP3 and FLAC files; and, finally, a “Vinyl Deluxe Box Set” with 51 tracks mastered directly from the uncompressed 24-bit/96k files and pressed onto seven 180-gram audiophile-quality vinyl LPs.

To transfer audio from the original tapes—comprising about 245 reels—into the digital domain, engineer/producer Ulyate relied on Campbell’s 24-track Studer A 827, and Ulyate also used a 2-track Ampex ATR 100 for transferring the only “legacy” mix that was used on the Live Anthology (“Spike,” which was mixed by the late Don Smith). He also says that a Dolby MT Series SR/A-type processor with 24 cards, “a big rackmounted unit that decodes both SR- and A-type noise reduction,” was critical in working with the original analog audio for this project.

I spoke with Ulyate (pronounced “ul” as in “dull” and “yate” as in “date”) by phone from his home in Los Angeles about his work behind the scenes on Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology, which mainly took place in his project studio, Ryan’s Place, and in Petty’s home studio. Along the way, Ulyate shared his thoughts about audio quality in consumer products, the loudness wars and the promise of Blu-ray as a delivery format for audio.

Clearly, considering its size and scope, The Live Anthology was an ambitious undertaking from both creative and technical standpoints.
The story behind it was that the record company wanted a double live album and we had just done the Runnin’ Down a Dream documentary [read Blair Jackson’s December 2007 “DVD Watch” review of Runnin’ Down a Dream], which had a companion DVD of the entire concert from Gainesville [Fla.] that the band did in 2006—and that was a really good concert. So we wanted to figure out a way of giving fans something different and taking it to the next level, and the only way to do that was to see what [archival concert recordings] we had, go through all of it and see what was the very best of everything. Luckily, we had a big database of all the tapes in the vault. I’d pull out anything that looked like a live tape. We got our ovens out and started baking and transferring! [Laughs] It took months just to do that.

The second thing is, okay, how do we listen to it? We ended up using iTunes. I was basically making rough mixes as I was dumping stuff in and using batch-editing software to get it all into iTunes, labeling it properly and then coming up with systems for rating [songs]. A lot of my work [involved] getting [the project] to a point where Tom [Petty] and Mike [Campbell] could sit down and listen to it. iTunes allowed us to identify which takes we liked and to make notes. We finally decided on songs that we were going to mix completely. When they were completely mixed, I put them into iTunes and gave them to Tom, and Tom spent about three or four weeks just playing with different [song] sequences. I think being able to preview that stuff effectively made for a better album. [Petty] got really creative with it. He could have done it chronologically, but instead he thought of each CD as its own kind of mini-performance that had its own art to it.

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