Project Studio: Ryan's Place

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


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How did you approach mixing The Live Anthology for the different delivery formats? What were some of the challenges you faced?
The good thing about Tom is that he’s always had really good people recording his stuff. From the outset I think there’s always been an acknowledgement that making stuff sound good is important. So with that in mind, we’re always trying to push the envelope forward in terms of making stuff sound better.

One of the reasons why we wanted to do all these different formats was due to our frustration with what CDs had turned into over the last 10 years, in terms of having no dynamics. We’ve been trying to let the music breathe a little bit more and not play the loudness war game—or at least find a way out! [Laughs] It’s like, how do we get off of this crazy carousel?

Years ago I stopped doing any bus compression on my mixes because I knew that if you smashed it before it got to the mastering place, by the time they were done with it, it was just dead. So I wouldn’t put any compression on the mix. It seems like you preserve a little bit more if you let the mastering engineer do it all. My advice would be to make sure your mixes are really good and punchy so they’ll still have some dynamics left in them when they have to be made louder in mastering. We did the [2008] Mudcrutch album like that. [For more information on the Mudcrutch project, read “Mudcrutch Records Debut in Tom Petty’s Rehearsal Space.”] We found a level that wasn’t the loudest level in the world, but it still was loud enough that when you put it on iTunes, it wouldn’t just drop completely off the Radar. So it’s a competitive level, but not the loudest thing in the world. We cut the vinyl from the mixes that had no bus compression and had all the punch, and we made a special audiophile CD from the uncompressed stereo mixes.

When it came time to do The Live Anthology, it was like, “Well, what are we going to do this time around to take it further?” And I think we all just hit on the idea that you want to give people the 24-bit/96k mixes that we listen to when we’re in the studio. Neil Young was just coming out with [Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972 10-disc Blu-ray box set in 2009], and we figured that by the time >O?The Live Anthology came out, everyone would be getting Blu-ray. I want to do everything in Blu-ray because it gives people the ability to hear the same thing that [recording engineers are] hearing, and since it’s not a CD and it doesn’t really live in the same world, you don’t have to make it that loud. It’s almost like back in the good old days when CDs first started, when you didn’t hit any overs and they sounded great. And with the Bluy-ray player that’s what we did: We just mastered the stuff from the uncompressed masters, we didn’t hit any overs, and if you turn the thing up, it sounds great, like a live show should. If the drummer decides to make a real punctuation on the kick drum, it jumps out of the speakers. So I’m really happy that we’ve been able to use that format, and so far I think the reviews have been pretty good about it. People want that visceral experience of music and I think this is a way of getting that again.

Perhaps Blu-ray is the answer to the loudness wars?
I think it is. The next thing that’s going to happen is someone’s going to listen to a Blu-ray disc, and say, “Well, I can make mine louder!” [Laughs] But I don’t think we need to play that game anymore. I think that it’s self-defeating because you can’t defy physics, and that’s what you’re trying to do with the loudness wars: You’re trying to trick people into feeling that something has more dynamics than it actually does. And God knows the mastering guys are really good at that. But at some point you hit the brick wall—literally. So given the response that we’re getting from [The Live Anthology], if we can just educate people that for it to be louder you turn it up, then we’re back to making music. As long as I’ve been doing this, whenever I heard the finished product, it was always a disappointment—even when we were going straight from tape to vinyl. If you had listened to the quarter-inch or half-inch master and then you listened to the vinyl, well, it was okay, but the tape was the best, where at least in this day and age with Blu-ray, you really are getting the same thing. Maybe the converters are a little bit different, but if you’ve got a Blu-ray player with some high-end converters, you’d get something as good as what we were listening to when we were making the thing.

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