Behind the scenes of the eight-part documentary series with Director, Jeff Dupre

Soundbreaking is the last project of legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin who passed away on March 8, 2016. Sir George believed that the history and innovation of recorded music is one of the great untold stories of the 20th century. The eight-part series, which brings you stories from the cutting edge of recorded music, combines unprecedented access to some of the most celebrated recording artists, producers and innovators with rare archival studio footage and an extensive musical soundtrack — over 40 songs per episode — to deliver the most wide-ranging series ever produced on the art of music recording.

Soundbreaking traces the ongoing sonic revolution of recording and music transformation, and explores the nexus of cutting-edge technology and human artistry that has created the soundtrack of our lives. The eight episodes feature more than 150 original interviews including: 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.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Soundbreaking Director, Jeff Dupre to discuss the many ways the series captured and delivered Sir George Martin’s message.

With the first series now complete, how do you feel Soundbreaking represented George Martin’s mission?

George Martin and the Beatles occupy a very special place in the history of recorded music. The incredible music they made in the studio deeply influenced everything that followed, and continues to reverberate. George Martin believed that the story of recorded music was one of the most important stories of the 20th century, and it had never been properly told — how technology transformed the sound of music, and that music transformed us. Over 200 interviews were filmed, and the task of organizing all of that material into a coherent narrative was tremendous.

What was the process in identifying which “soundbreaking” / recording stories you wanted to tell?

In the history of recorded music, there are so many stories to tell. In order to wrestle this vast subject into submission, we first identified themes for each episode — the evolution of multi-track recording, the evolution of the beat, etc. — then we started to look at stories that best exemplified each theme.

Interviews are a big component of the show. What was the process in solidifying who you wanted to interview for each episode and getting them on board?

George Martin is revered in the music industry. I am sure many of the artists who agreed to be interviewed said yes because of his involvement.

How did the artists involved change the series? Meaning, writing a script of the story you want to tell, I imagine it changes shape and grabs additional “moments” when you involve the artists who have lived the experience.

With documentaries, you start off with an idea, a plan, and then it changes, day to day and week to week. And yes, a lot of that has to do with the artists who agreed to be interviewed, and the stories they told us. Sometimes a single interview would transform the arc of an episode. We were lucky enough to land an interview with Lindsey Buckingham, and boom, the episode on multi-track recording suddenly had a story — the making of Tusk — that revealed so much about how that technology changed recording. It was the perfect story on so many levels, and Lindsey told it so incredibly well.

What I also found unique was that you focus on the actual creation of the sound and recording, but then there’s another side to it that emphasis the uniqueness of the artist and how revolutionary and influential they were — Public Enemy for example. From a director’s perspective, what can you say about that?

The series celebrates innovation in the recording studio- so yes, we were always looking to zero in on artists who made sounds no one had ever heard before. As a film director, of course, I’m always trying to achieve that quality in my work — creating something new and fresh that will have an impact on an audience.

I loved watching certain artists being interviewed (like Ben Harper) because it also showed their passion for music in general, aside from just speaking about their knowledge of the topic. They had this little kid spark to them.

The artists we interviewed loved to talk about the people who influenced them — much more than talking about themselves or their own work. Annie Lennox on the Supremes, Q-tip on Sly Stone, Tom Petty on the Beatles. In these interviews you could feel how deep an impression had been made on them.

I found episode three to be beyond compelling, revolving around the “voice.” To me the most powerful instrument. With all the different methods and tech of recording, the voice can be the most intimate and personal. How was creating that episode different than the others given it captured that human element?

My partner, Maro Chermayeff and our editor, Donna Shepherd created that episode. The theme is so clear: The voice is the soul of the song. It’s the element in music that we respond to more viscerally than any other. Alter the sound of the recording any way you like, as a listener, you know if a singer is telling you the truth.

The series wraps with listening to music, tying it all together and providing a take-back for the viewer. I assume that was intentional, hoping the series was watched in full and now the viewer has a different mindset when they throw on their headphones or turn on their stereo?

The evolution of distribution formats is a great theme because it enabled us to drop in on so many iconic an amazing records at different periods in our history. That show enables you to see the continuum of popular music, and to really understand and feel what a potent art form it has been in our lives. The songs we love express something deep and significant about who we are.

What’s next for Soundbreaking? Will there be more?

We hope so. It’s such a pleasure to hear the songs you love in a whole new way and there are so many more stories to tell.

Sir George Martin

Soundbreaking debuted on PBS this past November and is available now on Digital, HD, DVD and Blu-Ray.

~Director, Jeff Dupre

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