As a six-year-old, Los Angeles-based producer and engineer Ryan Ulyate discovered his father’s quarter-inch recorder. Instantly fascinated, his life’s path was chosen. After college, he connected with L.A.’s Studio Sound Recorders. Ulyate was schooled at the feet of George Tobin, a producer who’s even self-described as difficult. As the audio acolyte grew into his own, the first album he crafted was with Juan Gabriel, which proved to be a hit. He has since worked with Paul McCartney and extensively so with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Ulyate met Petty around 2004 through friend Jeff Lynne when he was tapped to mix the Concert for George at London’s Albert Hall. Soon after, they collaborated. “Tom can do anything and then not be married to it,” Ulyate observes. “He has the ability to be objective if something has what it takes and has emotional content. I’ve learned a lot from him in that regard.”
Ulyate prefers to spend most of his time in the studio and behind the board. Accordingly, he infrequently scouts talent or works with unsigned bands. “I’m more the guy in the trenches rather than the guy who picks up the phone and makes things happen,” he explains. “I’ve produced unsigned artists in the past, but they need to have someone go out and make the deal. I haven’t spent the time [to] go out and sign people. I help you figure out your song, get a great performance and a great record.”
Often in the studio, Ryan Ulyate finds that vocals can be a challenge. “Getting in the right space for that is an art,” he asserts. “Some people are good on the first few takes and then it goes downhill. Then there are people who hit their stride by the eighth take. You’ve got to be able to judge where someone is and if you think it’s going to improve. Sometimes you’re better off calling the session. A lot of times it’s best to have an artist sing the entire song on eight tracks, comp it and see what works and what doesn’t. The last thing you want is someone thinking too much about one word.”
One of Ulyate’s passions is high-resolution audio. But of course mastering for it brings its own challenges. “I’ve worked with Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering for years,” the producer says. “I bring my Pro Tools rig in. If we need more bass, I can bring it up in the mix. We’ll go through his converters and do the CD, 16-bit, 44.1 loud version and make adjustments. Then we’ll go back and do the high-res version.
There’s no conversion. It’s just D to D straight into the computer he uses for mastering. At that point, we readjust the mix because the bottom end changes and you don’t hit the digital compressors that hard. We use the full dynamic range of the digital so it’s about seven to eight dB quieter than a CD.”
Ulyate has learned from friend and fellow producer Jeff Lynne the importance of giving an artist creative latitude. “It’s important not to make too many suggestions,” Ulyate says. “Let an artist find their way and discover things on their own. There’s a tendency to be the smart guy and offer ideas. But by being dictatorial, you restrict them from growing. The most important thing is to give them space to find their own way.”
Recently Ulyate and Petty worked with L.A. band the Shelters on their first album. “It’s fun working with guys who’re just getting their careers going,” he says of recording with the young band. He works primarily from Ryan’s Place, his home studio.
For more information about Ryan Ulyate, visit ulyate.com.