They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When it comes to Apple TV+, the streaming platform has a knack for pinching ideas from Netflix. From Earth at Night in Color (Netflix’s Night on Earth) and Becoming You (Babies) through to Tiny World (Tiny Creatures), there’s definitely a trend here of similar ideas.
The next in Apple’s docu-carousel is Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson, which takes ideas from This Is Pop and spins that into a documentary about music production. Each episode is dedicated to a different plugin or effect. From Auto-Tune and Sampling through to distortion and drum machines, there’s certainly a lot to chew through.
The Auto-Tune episode itself borrows heavily from Netflix’s “This is Pop”, with T-Pain interviewed again, along with the creator of auto-tune itself. If this episode feels like a touch of Deja vu, it most certainly is. However, the episode unashamedly strokes egos too, shrugging off any negativity and decidedly concluding that auto-tune is the future. Ironically, every artist thrown through the grinder actually sounds worse than they did before, contradicting this argument.
The problem with this (and the season as a whole) is the distinct lack of critique and critical thinking. If everyone uses auto-tune then how does one stand out in the music industry? If everyone uses drum machines to perfect their solo how does that work with a live performance? None of these questions are really explored, instead focusing on a blend of history lesson and celebratory look at music as a whole.
The history itself is actually pretty good, and each chapter dives back through time to explore the origins of these components. Understanding how distortion came to be or when synthesizers first started being used in pop music are really interesting inclusions and easily the strongest part of each episode.
Alongside this history lesson is a mixed bag of fly on the wall footage from the studio. Loops are played, effects added and random riffs sung or performed. Alongside that are face to face interviews with different artists discussing how the industry has changed for them. However, the same handful or so guests do show up multiple times.
For a show about music, this is surprisingly unengaging. Many times the camera cuts and only shows the side or back of Mark’s head while he’s talking. The way this has been spliced together gives this much more of an unengaged and passive feel than it perhaps should.
Much like Netflix’s This Is Pop, Watch the Sound fails to actually include anything about dance music or electronica. Given how heavily synthesizers and drum machines are used in that genre, along with how much pop music has borrowed from it, this feels like a disservice to omit it completely.
As a celebratory look at music production, Watch the Sound does exactly what it says on the tin. There’s not much in the way of critiquing, beyond a few tidbits in the drum machine episode, while the episodes are a real mixed bag of good and mediocre. It’s not a bad documentary per-se, but it’s not a particularly great one either, reverberating its way into mediocrity.
Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson drops on Apple TV+ 30th July 2021!