After more than eight years and 5,000 billable hours, a West L.A. law firm has secured thousands of high-profile music clearances for a new PBS documentary that began airing last week.

In order to produce the eight-part series, “Soundbreaking: Stories From the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music,” attorneys at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp worked with major labels, publishers, and artists to secure the rights to hundreds of songs, archival interviews, and more. Each hour of the series features at least 40 songs by a who’s who of popular artists, from Adele to the Beach Boys.

Jim Guerra, 57, partner at Mitchell and an executive producer on the documentary, said his firm had never taken on a licensing project of this size.

“The whole process of deciding which stories to tell in the series and which songs to use … were decided from a creative standpoint, but also from a business standpoint by what we thought we could reasonably get,” said Guerra.

One of the biggest victories for the legal team – and the series – was securing the rights to 13 Beatles songs, Guerra said. Rights to those tracks are notoriously difficult and expensive to acquire, but “Soundbreaking” was equipped with a secret weapon; it was produced in association with legendary Beatles producer George Martin, who died earlier this year.

“The sheer range of music captured in the series is a testament to Sir George’s legacy” said Guerra, who called Martin a generous spirit and a great muse.

Licensing fees can generate millions of dollars for many prominent artists, but a large cash sum isn’t always enough to guarantee participation, he said. Prestigious musicians want to ensure their name is connected to a quality product, and Martin’s association with “Soundbreaking” provided a tremendous amount of credibility.

The series is airing in eight parts and will conclude on Nov. 23. Each episode will be available for streaming on the PBS website after it airs.

– Hayley Fox

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