Tom Petty Preferred to Work With ‘Average,’ Inexpensive Speakers

Tom Petty dedicated his life to making music at a professional level, but, somewhat surprisingly, he preferred working with inexpensive speakers. He had access to high-level equipment, but he thought it was beneficial to listen with cheap speakers. He would even listen to albums back on a rental car stereo. Petty explained that he wanted to produce high-quality music for his fans, and this helped with the process.

Tom Petty stands on stage wearing sunglasses and holding a red guitar, preparing to play music in concert.
Tom Petty | Photo by Andrew Chin/Getty Images for ABA

Tom Petty worked to make music accessible to fans

Petty always wanted to ensure his fans had access to music, even if it meant decreasing profits. When his record label wanted to raise the price of his 1981 album Hard Promises, Petty refused.

“I did it because it was going to be the first $9.98 record, and I was going to be the guy through the door who raised the whole thing, and I thought, ‘You’re not doing it to me, do it to Olivia Newton-John or somebody … but you’re not going to do it to me,'” he told Billboard in 2005. “And then it became a bigger crusade than that, and the press got interested in it and so, you know, we saw it through and got our way eventually.”

Petty wanted to make sure his music was affordable. 

“The music has to be affordable,” he said. “It’s the common man that keeps it going, and if you price it out of his realm, it becomes a thing of the elite.”

He liked to use cheap speakers when working on music

Petty explained that he liked listening to how his music sounded outside the studio and would sometimes listen in the car. This gave him a sense of how it would sound to fans.

“I think it was the Wildflowers record, we had a rental car; we wanted a kind of average sound system, not too expensive,” he told NPR in 2014. “So as we did each mix we would transfer it over — I think it was probably cassettes in those days — and take it out and listen to it in the car.”

He also liked working with cheap speakers in the studio.

“I’m trying to hear what it really sounds like,” he explained. “Studios have really good playbacks, good speakers and tuned rooms that are made for accuracy, soundwise. We tend to work most of the time with really inexpensive speakers that are probably worse than most people have.”

It also allowed him the excitement of working with inexpensive speakers and then transferring over to studio-quality ones.

“If I can get it to sound good there, when I bring it up to the big speakers it’s pretty amazing.”

Tom Petty believed music was a form of magic

Petty believed music was a form of magic. He wanted to share that with his fans.

“Music is a real magic: It affects human beings, it can heal, it can do wonderful things,” he said. “I’ve had two people contact me in my life about coming out of comas to their family playing a song to them of mine, that they had liked before they were injured. They credited the song having something to do with that. I find that fascinating. A lot of people have told me, ‘This music got me through a really hard time,’ and I can relate to that.”

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