Hollywood, CA (September 25, 2018)—If the new Tom Petty retrospective box set is called An American Treasure, then it’s only appropriate to think of the collection itself as a treasure chest—and that it is. Comprising 60 tracks, the set moves beyond the popular favorites to include previously unreleased tracks, alternate versions of classics, historic live recordings and deep album cuts.
Ensuring aural continuity from beginning to end, the project was mastered at Bernie Grundman Mastering by Ryan Ulyate, longtime Petty mix/recording engineer and the set’s co-producer, with Chris Bellman, award-winning Grundman mastering engineer.
“This will be the first release after Tom passed away, said Ulyate. “The family wanted to put something out that would honor him and also introduce people to some of the deeper tracks that Tom produced. I collaborated with Tom's daughter Adria, his wife Dana, and with Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, both of whom produced the collection with me. Together we came up with a list of songs that spans his entire career. There are tracks that people have heard before, some new versions of songs that have never been released, and some new songs that people haven't heard at all.”
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The set spans more than 40 years of recording, and source material was derived from multiple recording formats, so creating a sense of audio continuity was no simple matter. “The first song is from 1976, so we have material from the very first tape to the very last thing he did,” said Ulyate.
Tackling the sources was an issue. “Ryan and I spent a lot of time with that exact problem,” said Bellman. “Trying to make everything cohesive while jumping from era to era was definitely a challenge, but I think we've accomplished that, and the listener should have a very good experience hearing it chronologically.”
Ulyate adds, “Our main focus is Tom's voice, in the sense that in every one of these songs, he's talking to you. We focused on keeping the vocals at a certain level of presence, so sometimes the track gets a little more hi-fi, sometimes the track gets a little more lo-fi, depending on when it was recorded, but Tom’s voice is always right in front of you.”
The mastering process was aided by the fact that Ulyate was Petty’s mix/recording engineer for so long, and thus had an in-depth familiarity with many of the tracks that were being worked on. “One thing that's different about what we're doing here in mastering is [that] unlike the typical situation where I would come in with finished stereo masters, I brought in my Pro Tools sessions and my rig,” said Ulyate.
“Rather than just being able to adjust the overall EQ of the mix, we can get into the details and adjust any element individually. We might find that the track is sitting in the right place, but the vocal is a little low. Rather than trying to do that with the EQ, as you would in typical mastering, I can bring up the individual track. Maybe we add some brightness to the track, but it makes the vocal harsh. Chris can add brightness to the track, and I can soften the vocals, so we have a lot more moving parts here. That additional degree of control helped us cohesively finalize a collection that goes across 40 plus years.”
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