Ever considered where the world’s largest reverb chamber is? Probably not. But Mark Ronson really wants you to know that it’s in Invergordon, Scotland. When the multiple Grammy Award-winning producer takes viewers on a tour of the subterranean diesel tank during episode three of Watch The Sound with the same wacky mad-scientist energy of Back To The Future’s Doc Brown, you realise that this new docuseries couldn’t be nerdier if it tried.
Across six episodes, Ronson and a bevvy of intensely inquisitive music heads dig into the nitty-gritty of production, traversing technological advances such as auto-tune, sampling, and drum machines through candid chats that feel more like brainstorming sessions than interviews. Collaborators from Paul McCartney to Charli XCX offer engaging and accessible deep-dives into the techniques and creative process behind some of their biggest hits; and for music fans, it’s a tasty feast of compelling anecdotes and knowledge.
Here are the best (and nerdiest) moments from Watch The Sound, which hits Apple TV+ this Friday (July 30).
Sean Ono Lennon reimagines his dad’s ‘Hold On’
Offsetting the fact-heavy vibe of the rest of the series, this tender moment from episode one sees Sean Ono Lennon team up with Ronson at his studio to rework John Lennon’s 1970 track, ‘Hold On’. When the British-American musician and multi-instrumentalist puts the original vocal take through the Harmony Engine, he is keen to emphasise how his father would’ve loved the opportunity to play around with this technology. “The Beatles and my dad, they were always on the cutting edge of what was happening,” he reasons.
Charli XCX makes a T-Pain-inspired banger
After professing her undying love for the American rapper/singer-songwriter and auto-tune aficionado (“[T-Pain] changed everything for me”, she affirms at one point), Charli engineers Ronson’s vocals into an original piece of music via the pitch-shifting software’s so-called “zero” setting. The end result is a slippery, sprawling thing that plays with a melancholy robot vibe and fidgety switches of tempo, effect and style. The song plays out in its entirety as the credits begin to roll in order to provide viewers with an understanding of the techniques discussed in that episode.
Macca unpacks the structure of ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’
Shortly after the Moog Synthesiser debuted in 1964, McCartney got his paws on the model. When it came to recording ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ for The Beatles’ seminal 1969 album ‘Abbey Road’, he tested the patience of his band members as he spent weeks crafting the jaunty track’s synth solo. It turned out to be one of the first-ever uses of the Moog on record, and he alchemised the perfect part via adopting a ribbon-slide technique, moving his finger up and down continuously.
Mark Ronson bonds with his hero, DJ Premier
Ronson’s “favourite hip-hop producer of all time”, beatmaker DJ Premier – the brains behind records from a wealth of iconic artists such as Janet Jackson, Nas, Kanye West, and Jay-Z, among others – makes an impactful appearance to discuss his three-decade-long career. But the heartwarming peak of the series arrives when Ronson recalls the “highlight of his life”: DJing at the release party for D’Angelo’s ‘Voodoo’ at the turn of the millenium, where Premier complimented Ronson’s song selection for his set.
Kevin Parker geeks out over his favourite synthesizer
It can’t be ignored that a few parts of the show will most likely only appeal to music makers (like when Ronson offers a detailed explanation of the difference between plate reverb and spring reverb). But there are moments when, even if you can’t keep up with all the technical jargon, the unreserved passion that shines through the screen is inspiring. Enter Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, who claims that there is “a whole world of expressing yourself” through his beloved Roland JUNO-60, a model that helped define one of his band’s greatest hits, the hulking ‘Elephant’.
Hank Shocklee recalls how Public Enemy made ‘Fight The Power’
“The whole sampling thing started because we wanted to take records, and prove that you can make new records,” says Hank Shocklee, founding member and endlessly innovative producer of Public Enemy. He’s talking about how the legendary hip-hop group directly sampled the drumbeat from James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’, and inflated it into a boundary-trouncing hit for 1989. It’s fascinating to hear Shocklee detail this journey of discovery, which resulted in much of his later work for Public Enemy becoming stacked with samples from music’s past.
Angel Olsen converts her bathroom into a studio
“I think of your voice as an instrument; it does so much, and it emotes so much,” Ronson says to St. Louis vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Angel Olsen when they convene in his studio. The pair go on to discuss how various open-plan spaces can impact the way that sound travels, and in turn, affects the quality of a recording. Olsen proudly describes the “reverberant” bathroom in her home, which she has used to record guitar lines, do overdubs of her own vocals – and how this DIY mentality has propelled her career.
Ronson pays tribute to the late, great Amy Winehouse
In one emotion-filled scene, Ronson details how working on Amy Winehouse’s single ‘Back To Black’ was the real catalyst for his career, stating that he “had never made anything that emotional before”. By interspersing previously unseen clips of the generation-defining singer-songwriter in the studio, viewers are provided with an intimate look into the recording process for her 2007 album of the same name. The scene is a glimpse of Winehouse’s raw talent, as it spotlights the undeniable power of her voice, which somehow sounds even more majestic when Ronson demonstrates how he overlaid the take with thick reverb.