Hot Docs Review: 'Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson' Demystifies Music Production Created by Morgan Neville
Starring Mark Ronson, Paul McCartney, DJ Premier, King Princess, Dave Grohl, Angel Olsen, T-Pain, Charli XCX, Tame Impala
Published May 04, 2021Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson could easily be dry. This is, after all, a music producer making a show about music production, and he talks shop on topics like autotune, drum machines, reverb and distortion. But rather than coming off as a boring-but-useful YouTube tutorial, Watch the Sound remains engaging and approachable, even when it gets technical.
From the very first moments, Watch the Sound is entertaining without shying away from the nitty gritty of music production. It begins with host Mark Ronson describing how he owns negative 25 percent of his hit "Ooh Wee"; because of having to pay for the prominent samples of Boney M's "Sunny" and Dennis Coffey's "Scopio," he actually loses money every time it's played. It's a funny story that the dry, deadpan Ronson delivers in his usual straightforward manner. He doesn't exactly ooze charisma, but he's got the knowledge and the star power to serve as an engaging host.
Throughout the show's six episodes, Ronson speaks (and even collaborates) with notable peers like Paul McCartney, DJ Premier, King Princess, Dave Grohl, Angel Olsen, T-Pain, Tame Impala and Charli XCX. They trade stories and techniques, and everyone brings a sense of mutual respect that makes these conversations feel less like interviews and more like brainstorming sessions. In particular, Ronson clearly adores DJ Premier, and it's impossible not to feel a vicarious thrill at the way the legendary beatmaker treats Ronson as an equal.
A few parts of the show will probably only appeal to music makers, like when Ronson gets into the difference between plate reverb and spring reverb. But for the most part, Watch the Sound is full of fascinating anecdotes (like a detailed account of when Amy Winehouse told Ronson she wanted to sound like the Shangri-Las, so he stayed up all night writing "Back to Black") and even some quasi-scientific investigations (like when Ronson visits the world's largest reverb chamber in a subterranean Scottish diesel tank). Every episode ends with an original piece of music, none of which are going to set the world on fire, but all of which are effective displays of the techniques discussed in that episode.
In a world where professional-level music production is becoming democratized thanks to the increasing availability of at-home gear, Watch the Sound is a fascinating glimpse into the process of the guy behind huge hits like "Shallow," "Rehab" and "Uptown Funk." Don't believe me? Just watch.
Hot Docs runs online from April 29 to May 9, 2021. Get more information at the festival's website. (Apple)