Audeze catches up with producer and engineer Ryan Ulyate

January 11, 2024

 Producer / Engineer Ryan Ulyate got his foot in the door of a professional recording studio in 1978. The first #1 record he worked on “Sad Eyes” came out in 1979. Ryan has worked with notable artists such as Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Chris Hillman and others. Since 2007 Ryan has been Tom Petty’s co-producer. He upgraded his studio to Dolby Atmos in 2020 and has remixed several Tom Petty albums in this new immersive format. He recently released his long-delayed solo album "Act 3" which was nominated for a Grammy.

Ryan Ulyate wearing Audeze LCD-X headphones in his studio

"Having high quality reference headphones like these are essential to make sure immersive mixes that sound good on speakers also sound good in headphones, where the majority of people today will experience them." - Ryan Ulyate
Here's our chat with Ryan:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

For George Harrison, Brainwashed and the Concert For George. For Tom Petty Wildflowers and All The Rest, and with the Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye and Live at the Fillmore 1997 .

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

For the Petty estate, as a producer and engineer, I’ve been going through the vast archive of recordings and working on box sets containing remixes, demos, live tracks and alternative takes, highlighting the amazing music Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers created over the last 50 years. It’s so rewarding unearthing these gems and bringing them to the fans. Tom's songs are timeless and bring joy to so many people.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

My dad was a professional musician. He played clarinet in the 20th Century Fox Orchestra, working with composers like Alfred Newman on film and TV scores from 1949 to 1970. He also had a big band with my uncle called the Elliott Brothers Orchestra. They were the house band at Disneyland from 1955 to 1969. He had a big mono stereo, with a McIntosh amplifier and we always were hearing all these great jazz and soundtrack albums. I discovered his Revere T70163 mono tape recorder when I was 7 years old and fell in love with tape recorders. I got a 1/4” Teac A1500 with sound on sound when I was 13, and then a Teac A-3340S 4 track when I went to college, where I set up my first studio in a trailer.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

My first hero was my dad. My introduction to rock and roll was watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. My older sisters made our family watch it. I was mesmerized and became a huge Beatles fan from then on. I discovered The Who’s Tommy in 1969, and then went on to get into Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Yes and all types of Prog Rock. One of my favorite memories was seeing Pink Floyd perform The Dark Side Of The Moon at the Hollywood Bowl in 1972. This was months before the album came out!

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I remember the first time we got a Linn Drum Machine into the studio in 1982. We got it at 6:00 pm at night and proceeded to learn how to program it. I remember leaving the studio around 6 in the morning with the song done, and a massive headache. I realized that the new era of music had begun, with MIDI, sequencing etc. Although I learned to use that technology, I was greatly relieved when I returned to recording live musicians. It’s much more fun to work with a drummer than to program one.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

Pro Tools is the most important thing I use. I’ve been using it for many years (from back when it started out as Sound Tools in 1989). In 2006 I built my own studio with Pro Tools at the center of it. I’ve been mixing “in the box” ever since. Some of my favorite plug ins are the eq and dynamic range controller from Massenburg DesignWorks. From Izotope, the RX10 Suite (the Rebalance plug in is great for cleaning up live vocal tracks) and Stratus 3D (a great 7.1.4 reverb for Atmos). My Stephen Paul modified U87s are another favorite. Back in the day Stephen would replace the capsule with a 3 micron or 1.5 micron diaphragm. The result would be much better detail and top end than a "stock” U-87. I’ve had these for nearly 30 years and they still sound amazing. My philosophy is to get it to sound as good as possible before you digitize. Use good mics, preamps, etc. and then keep it "in the box" until it’s time to master.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

It used to be, "just go to where the people are doing what you want to do and hang out with them”. That was when you could get your foot in the door at a studio as a go-fer. There are not that many studios these days, so I honestly don’t know what to tell people anymore. There is, however, an amazing amount of information and tutorials to be found online. Getting a recording setup with a laptop, some mics, some preamps an interface and some powered speakers isn’t as expensive as it used to be. One way is to get the gear and teach yourself. Find a band or singer/songwriter that you think is good, and record them! In the end all the tech doesn’t matter as much as finding and creating good music that resonates with others. Also, be someone that people want to hang out with. All the best producers and engineers I know are like that. Learn when to talk and when to be quiet. Be reliable.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

My first decent headphones were Koss Pro 4AA I got these back in the ‘80s. After that, in the ‘90s, I went to AKG K240s . Then in 2020 I moved on to the Sennheiser HD 650. I still love these headphones, but then a friend told me about Audeze...

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? What have you been working on with them recently?

I now have the LCD-X and they are amazing! I’ve never heard detail and imaging like this in headphones. For my current Atmos mixing projects I need to hear how my mixes translate into headphones for both Dolby Binaural and Apple Spatial. Having high quality reference headphones like these are essential to make sure immersive mixes that sound good on speakers also sound good in headphones, where the majority of people today will experience them.

Audeze LCD-X headphones on mixing table with *fake* spilt wine and action figure