picture credit: the former Manta Sound Studio 3, circa 1983, photo by Robert Taylor, accessed via Wikimedia Commons

The premise of a new PBS television series, Soundbreaking, is there in the title above: musicians are not the ONLY ones with interesting tales to tell. Sometimes, it’s the producers and engineers and songwriters that provide more of the amazement. Sometimes, people cross from the performing side to the one with all the tape recorders and gizmos – and sometimes, that side can even be the MORE creative one.

Music production – and I can tell you this from very personal experience – is an alchemy that truly exists somewhere between technology and magic. There have been times where I’ve accidentally stumbled onto one trick or another, and then thought to myself, this is so OBVIOUS…why couldn’t I figure this out sooner? Conversely, sometimes the opposite is true, where I’ve conjured up something wonderful-sounding, by sheer luck, and then can’t ever do it again, continuing proof that the muse will occasionally will be quite the fickle mistress.

Setting aside the technical aspects, it’s also about lighting performers up in the best and most inspirational way, so they bring their all. Don Was, a producer who’s worked with Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones and the B-52s, says this in one Soundbreaking clip: “I think the most important thing a producer can do is to create a vibe of safety in the room, like it’s okay to go out on a limb.” (It’s something similar that’s been said about Sam Phillips, the guy who discovered Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash and a host of other talents.)

It’s not just restricted to older music, either. One of the interview subjects is songwriter Linda Perry, who has written and produced hits for Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and Pink – but she’s also the woman who fronted 4 Non-Blondes.

You can see episode 1 of this series by going over here – and then I suggest watching all of the rest as they come down, because there’s good stuff here. And you may discover things about the craft of recording you didn’t know before. 🙂

Highly recommended.

Todd Berryman
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