New Series 'Soundbreaking' Charts a Century of Innovation in Music

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Soundbreaking: Stories From The Cutting Edge Of Music, an upcoming eight-episode PBS series that explores the extraordinary impact of recorded music on the modern world, will make its U.S. broadcast debut on PBS this fall. Soundbreaking was the last project produced by legendary music producer Sir George Martin, who passed away on March 8. The series combines unprecedented access to some of the most celebrated artists, producers and innovators from across the music spectrum, with rare archival studio footage and an extensive soundtrack, to deliver one of the most wide-ranging series on the art of music recording. Soundbreaking will air on PBS weekdays, Nov. 14-23, at 10pm (check local listings). The first two one-hour episodes premiered at South by Southwest® (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, last spring to great acclaim.

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Charting a century’s worth of innovation and experimentation in the creation of music, Soundbreaking offers a behind-the-scenes look at the birth of new sounds. From the invention of the microphone to the Moog synthesizer, from the phonograph to digital streaming, Soundbreaking moves between past and present to tell the stories behind the sounds and reveals how innovation redefined not only what we listen to and how we listen to it, but our very sense of what music is and can be. Viewers of all ages will hear the songs they love in a whole new way.

Soundbreaking gives viewers a backstage pass with full access to some of the most ground-breaking moments in recorded music,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming at PBS. “It is a natural fit for our diverse, music-loving PBS audience. We look forward to sharing it with viewers in November, and we were excited to give the SXSW community a first glimpse.”

The series features more than 150 exclusive and original interviews with such luminaries as Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Roger Waters, Roger Daltrey, Linda Perry, Barry Gibb, Elton John, Debbie Harry, Quincy Jones, B.B. King, Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart, Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Lindsey Buckingham, Rosanne Cash, Don Was, Steven Van Zandt, Sheila E, Questlove, Ben Harper, Billy Idol, Beck, Imogen Heap, Darryl McDaniels, RZA, Bon Iver, Nile Rodgers, Nigel Godrich, Q-tip, Brian Eno, Mark Ronson, Rick Rubin, Tony Visconti and more.


“Music is the only common thread and universal language that binds us together regardless of race, nationality, age or income. And recorded music is how we experience it and what makes it accessible,” Sir George Martin said of the project prior to his passing. The six-time GRAMMY® Award winner, recipient of the Recording Academy Trustees Award and producer of more than 50 number-one hit records added, “Soundbreaking afforded me the opportunity to tell the story of the creative process of so many of the artists I have worked with throughout my life.”

Soundbreaking is presented by Higher Ground in association with the late Sir George Martin, and produced and directed by Emmy and Peabody Award®-winning filmmakers Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre of Show of Force (Half the Sky, A Path Appears, Carrier, Circus, Marina Abramovic The Artist Is Present). The television series is the centerpiece of a multi-platform project that includes an extensive educational outreach initiative in partnership with PBS, The GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE and The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation. An interactive website, soundtrack CD and companion book with stunning photographs and unique interviews will also accompany the Soundbreaking series.

“It took a wonderful team of highly seasoned producers many years to create this special and utterly unique series that we know the PBS audience will love,” said Maro Chermayeff, partner at Show of Force. “With access to rare material from the vast music archives of major and independent record labels, as well as special archival sources and collections, including some never publicly seen behind-the-scenes footage, this series breaks new ground and is frankly just incredibly fun to watch.”

“As a co-creator, Sir George Martin was the inspiration and intellectual force behind the Soundbreaking project,” said Higher Ground founder David Langstaff. “He was involved with all phases of the project and was immensely proud of the way these great stories were being told. The fact that so many extraordinary singers, songwriters, producers and other artists came together to tell their stories is a testament to the respect and love they hold for Sir George, and the widespread recognition of his impact on the evolution of recorded music.”

Organized thematically, each episode of Soundbreaking tells stories of pop music icons using their determination, ingenuity and guts to create works of art that have touched us all. Stories within the episodes include:

● George Martin and the Beatles’ groundbreaking work in the studio creates a new paradigm for pop music
● Phil Spector rises as the first “rock star producer”
● Paul Epworth collaborates with Adele on “Rolling in the Deep”
● Stevie Wonder embraces the synthesizer and makes a break with Motown
● Giorgio Moroder fuses R&B with electronica and the dance floor explodes
● The art of sampling gives rise to hip-hop
● Michael Jackson and Madonna take the art of the music video to new heights
● Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye use the long-playing record for new kinds of expression

KQED Original Content

To accompany the Bay Area broadcast of Soundbreaking, KQED Arts is publishing a series of online editorial and multimedia pieces about the Bay Area recording studios scene and its unique contributions to the modern history of recorded music. The ongoing series, Into the Mix, will explore stories behind local studios including Wally Heider Studios and the Record Plant, and newer facilities such as Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco and Greaseland Studios in San Jose. It will also document notable moments in music history, including KQED footage from a 1973 Pink Floyd performance at the Bill Graham Auditorium. Expect the first stories in late October and early November.


The local broadcast of Soundbreaking is proudly supported by Sutter Health CPMC 2020, Xfinity, Blue Bear School of Music, Berkeley Stereo and Berkeley Research Group, LLC.

KQED Soundbreaking Live Event

Join KQED on Wednesday, November 2, at The Independent in San Francisco for the KQED Soundbreaking Showcase — a sneak preview and panel discussion with the filmmaker, plus live music. For tickets and more info, visit

Broadcast Information


Soundbreaking airs at 10pm, November 14–18 and 21–23 on KQED 9. Watch all episodes back-to-back on Thursday, November 24, from noon to 8pm, on KQED Plus.