Soundbreaking: How the Series Was Made

Christina Knight | November 4, 2016
Adele

Adele is one of more than 150 artists featured in the SOUNDBREAKING series airing on PBS starting November 14. Photo courtesy © of Sony Music Archives.

Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music is an eight-episode PBS series debuting Monday, November 14, that explores the extraordinary impact of recorded music on the modern world. We’ll hear from some of the most celebrated artists, producers and innovators from across the music spectrum, see rare archival studio footage and be treated to an extensive soundtrack. Each episode of Soundbreaking tells stories of pop music icons using their determination, ingenuity and guts to create works of art that have touched us all. You’ll find out how some of your favorite songs were made.

The series includes 150 exclusive and original interviews with such luminaries as Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Roger Waters, Roger Daltrey, Linda Perry, Barry Gibb, Elton John, Debbie Harry, Quincy Jones, B.B. King, Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart, Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Lindsey Buckingham, Rosanne Cash, Don Was, Steven Van Zandt, Sheila E, Questlove, Ben Harper, Billy Idol, Beck, Imogen Heap, Darryl McDaniels, RZA, Bon Iver, Nile Rodgers, Nigel Godrich, Q-tip, Brian Eno, Mark Ronson, Rick Rubin, Tony Visconti and more.

Higher Ground, the creator of Soundbreaking, and the documentary production company Show of Force share this “Frequently Asked Questions” guide to how the series was made. Watch clips from Soundbreaking before its November 14 premiere.

Q: What is Soundbreaking?

A: Soundbreaking is an entertainment brand focused on celebrating the stories from the cutting edge of recorded music through a variety of engaging mediums: an eight-episode television series, a DVD collection, a music CD anthology, a collectible large format book, educational initiatives, events and more. The Soundbreaking television series on PBS is the first iteration of the storytelling.

Q: Who came up with the concept?

A: The Soundbreaking series is the last legacy project of legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin who passed away on March 8. Sir George believed that the history and innovations of recorded music is one of the great stories of the 20th century that has not been told. The idea has been in the making for just over 10 years by Sir George and the founders of Higher Ground (a group of music lovers who financed the Soundbreaking project).

George Martin

George Martin was a record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer and musician who worked closely with the Beatles. Photo courtesy of © Abbey Road Studios.

Q: How did get you such access to so many legendary artists?

A: The fact that so many extraordinary singers, songwriters, producers, and other artists came together to tell their stories is a testament to the respect and love they hold for Sir George.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the series?

A: Sir George believed that the history and innovations of recorded music is one of the great stories of the 20th century that has not been told. Our mission with Soundbreaking is simple: to educate audiences on this relatively brief history of sound recording – just over one hundred years – and to celebrate and share the amazing stories of innovation in in the hope that that music, the artists and the stories will continue to inspire, delight and move people. We’ve also partnered with The Grammy Museum and Rock and Roll Forever Foundation on an extensive educational initiative to share the Soundbreaking stories in schools and colleges as a means of exploring music, cultural history, and technological innovation.

Q: The technology of music recording could be a very dry topic, how do you make it interesting to the average viewer?

A: Each Soundbreaking episode includes over 40 songs, which gives the series a fun energy and pace unlike other documentaries, along with the behind-the-scenes stories of how those iconic riffs, beats and rhythms were created – all told by the legends themselves.

Q: How did you boil down 100 years of recorded music history and decide what to include? (i.e. choose the music, artists, themes)

A: Choosing the right moments and interviews to include in this first Soundbreaking series was difficult to say the least. But, that’s where the Show of Force team’s master storytelling comes in. The series is not intended to be a comprehensive historical overview, but rather a compelling selection of personal stories of key innovations told by the artists themselves.

Q: Who is the production team behind Soundbreaking?

A: Show of Force is the award-winning New York-based production team behind Soundbreaking. Their high-caliber storytelling and exceptional production values set them apart in the field of television, film and documentaries.

Q: How long did it take to generate all the interviews?

A: The series is created from the unique archive filmed and owned by Soundbreaking of 700+ hours of original interviews with over 230 artists, producers and innovators in the music industry. These interviews were filmed during a period of just over ten years. The extraordinary participation of leading talent from all genres and eras of music was in response to Sir George’s role in the project, and unlike any other series.

Q: Were you given carte blanche or was there some pressure to keep the narrative in line with a particular direction from an artist or label?

A: The series was created by the filmmakers independent of the music labels. The stories unfolded from the recording artists and producers themselves – they guided the narrative of each episode from their real-life experiences.

Q: Why an eight-part series and not an independent film?

A: An eight-part series was necessary to share the full breadth and depth of the stories. In fact, we have used only 150 of the 230+ original interviews in our proprietary archives.

Q: Why PBS?

A: PBS understands compelling, in-depth and very human storytelling. They are the masters of bringing meaningful series that entertain, inform and inspire. We’re thrilled to be their partner in bringing Soundbreaking to the PBS audience. PBS has been a partner on the Soundbreaking project since 2008.

Q: Is PBS the only place I can view Soundbreaking?

A: Yes, PBS is the only place to watch the eight-episode Soundbreaking series in North America. The series is distributed internationally by Fremantle Media, and ARTE, the European culture channel, will create and broadcast a French language version.

Q: When will the CD and DVD be available?

A: The Soundbreaking companion DVD and CDs will be available when the series airs on PBS in November. They will include special features and new content.

Q: Who is the financing team behind Soundbreaking?

A: Higher Ground. LLC was founded by David H. Langstaff and a small group of two dozen music lovers to produce the Soundbreaking project

Q: How much did the publishing and performing rights cost?

A: That’s proprietary information.