Posted by Cynthia Spataro on February 2, 2013 at 11:29 am
Band practices in garage. Band plays small gigs and saves money. Band goes into the studio to record what they hope is the next big thing. This simple story is a thing of the past in so many ways with the dawn of the age of digital recording, ProTools, and personal studios. The documentary Sound City is about one studio in California which from appearances didn’t seem special, but where many classic rock albums were recorded and thus history was made.
We are taken on this journey alongside director Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) in his ordinary white van from the humble beginnings of the famous recording studio Sound City to the heyday where some of the most memorable rock albums were recorded by the likes of Tom Petty, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, and then later Nirvana.
Sound City was founded in 1969 was referred to everyone who recorded there as a no-frills, dumpy studio, but one which had something special when it came to equipment and sound. Sound City had a one of a kind Neve analog board that engineers and producers alike recognized had a sound that could not be duplicated. The studio also had a sense of family as the engineers, manager, bands and producers formed a bond as they worked in this space to create something special. “Our home away from home” was how singer Stevie Nicks referred to Sound City, and this was the general feeling of most anyone who had contact with the studio as they reminisced about the managers and recording their rise to fame.
The film is comprised mostly of interviews with scores of musicians, producers and engineers including Tom Petty, Bruce Vig, Stevie Nicks, Rick Rubin and many others. The film stays compelling however, as they are speaking of the life-changing recordings with passion and nostalgia. The jam sessions, especially those in the last 20-30 minutes of the film ,are a little drawn out but to anyone who loves the music they will appreciate the unique footage.
It initially was Grohl’s goal to document this studio’s history, but the film ends up not just exploring the history of one recording studio but the progression of the music industry as a whole, and how in such a short period of time so many standards became obsolete. In the end Grohl feels there is still room in the world of music for recording in this format, and carries on the tradition in a studio of his own making, which gives the film an upbeat quality rather than ending on a gloomy note (no pun intended).
Even though I personally worked at a recording studio with Analog equipment and Neve boards (so obviously this film was going to peak my interest) I think it has a wider appeal as a film because it captures a moment in time in the music industry which some would now consider a “golden age” of sorts. The music aficionado or anyone interested in the history of the music industry should take some time for this film as there isn’t anything like it out there. Sound City premiered at Sundance this year, but is now available on iTunes and Amazon instant video.