Keeping it Reel: Sound City Film Review

sound-city-f3a03baa9c650c6338a8fa8b51331094Sound City is a 2013 documentary produced and directed by Dave Grohl of Nirvana and later The Foo Fighters.   It’s his first film, and tells the story of Sound City, a recording studio in LA that operated from 1969 to 2011.  The film is about much more than the history of the recording studio however.   As a musician and a fan of a number of the musicians and bands featured in the movie, I absolutely loved it.  Anyone that cares about how music is created and then captured, and how it is important to keep the human element at the forefront of creativity should be moved by this film.  For those of you not sure why you should trust my opinion, it was well-received by real movie critics!

The history of the recording studio is astounding, even more so if you’re a music fan.  A long list of  iconic albums were recorded there over several decades.  Located in an alley in Van Nuys, CA, the studio was dumpy and some artists stayed away because of it.  The first tracks recorded on site were by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.   A short time later, they met Mick Fleetwood at the studio who searching for a replacement guitar player, and formed a little band called Fleetwood Mac.  The list of artists that created great music at Sound City is a ‘Who’s Who” of rock and roll, including Tom Petty, Grateful Dead, Foreigner, Elton John, Neil Young, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Rick Springfield, Santana, Pat Benatar, and Johnny Cash.

What was the secret sauce of Sound City?

The movie focuses on the analog recording console at Sound City, designed by Rupert Neve from England. The Neve 8028 Console was an enormous investment, but proved well-worth it.  Rupert Neve’s design and use of specific electronic components made for a killer recording console that was a large part of the magic.  Rupert Neve is the man.  The board was considered to be especially adept at recording amazing drum sounds, something not easy to accomplish and even more difficult in 1970.   Rupert’s company is still in business, now in Texas, and he continues to make some of the finest analog recording equipment in the world.  Although his name is unknown to most, Rupert is pure genius and considered to be one of the most important people in the history of audio.  The Neve website is interesting, and I love the quote on the main page.  Click here to visit the Neve website.

Besides the recording console, the film features entertaining snippets from the staff at Sound City and interesting information about the acoustical properties of the recording studio, but this is good stuff and not technical at all for those thinking the movie is only for music and sound geeks. Interestingly, the properties of the main studio should not have have resulted in a great room for recording, but it just was and nobody really knew why.   The preferred method to record at Sound City was to put talented people together in a large room, and then capture the magic on analog tape.  Of course, many variables come together to make great records, including talented musicians, producers, and expert sound engineers.   Interestingly, there was no shortage of these things at other studios, so something really must have been special about Sound City.

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