Apple TV+ review: Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson
Ivan Radford | On 01, Aug 2021
“I had never made anything that emotional before.” That’s Mark Ronson in Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson, Apple TV+’s new documentary series. He’s talking about the song Back to Black and how he used reverb to bring a loneliness and vulnerability to Amy Winehouse’s recording of that seminal track. He describes it as the moment his career as a producer really began, and it’s that personal touch that makes this series such an absorbing and interesting watch.
It’s no coincidence that Mark Ronson’s name is in the show’s title. As well as presenting the programme, the producer has assembled a who’s who of celebrity contributors that reads like a combination of his own phone’s contacts and Apple’s music connections. And where you might expect something broad and wide-ranging about musical history in general, the show’s decision to focus on a different technical aspect of production in each episode plays right into Ronson’s wheelhouse.
It also helps to set the show apart from numerous other musical documentaries on Netflix’s roster. If you want a snapshot of musical context from a decade or country, Netflix’s This Is Pop is the place to go, while Song Exploder should be your first port of call for a deep dive into a specific track. Watch the Sound is somewhere in between, which means that it’s opening episode focused on Auto-Tune lacks some of the information you can glean from This Is Pop – but it makes up for it with a more esoteric take on the pros and cons of the phenomenon. He tries to run Lady Gaga’s vocals for Shallow through it to prove how good her pitch is, and hears from John Lennon’s son and Paul McCartney about how the Beatles legend would have been a fan of experimenting with the technology were it around when he was alive.
Those kind of talking heads are the drumbeat of this series, which is packed with commentary and examples from people in the know. The Beastie Boys and Questlove talk about sampling, while Dave Grohl debates drumming machines. Ronson chips in with his own accounts of music industry experience, from the price of sampling Boney M in Ooh Wee to the sheer volume of royalties that need to be paid, leaving him practically out of pocket for every time a song is played.
Ronson is also a fun interviewer because it’s clear that he’s just excited to be talking about some of these people. Catching up with DJ Premier and hunting through record shops in Japan, he spends half the show geeking out as much as he’s educating us – and he balances his confidence and knowledge with a self-aware sense of humour. The show really comes to life, though, when it gives us a front row seat to practical demonstrations and experiments – whether it’s journeying to an underground chamber with extensive reverb, playing in a room designed to have no reverb whatsoever or Mark himself recording his voice for Charli XCX to Auto-Tune, as they end up making a song on the spot. The result is a documentary that pulsates with passion, hums with expertise and rings with experience. It’s an emotional watch as much as an educational watch – and guaranteed to delight music lovers everywhere.
Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.