Sound City is a documentary that tells the story of the legendary Sound City studios in L.A. and the stories behind some of the greatest rock albums that were recorded there. Dave Grohl, the film’s director, chronicles the history of the studio starting with the classic rock era of Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield and Tom Petty through the 90’s with Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine; right up to the closing of the studio due to financial hardships in the 2011. This is a documentary made by a music lover for music lovers, in particular rock-n-roll music. Sound City was where some of the most iconic albums were recorded. Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, RATT’s Out Of The Cellar, and Nirvana’s watershed album Nevermind are just a few of the now famous albums that were recorded at Sound City.
While at its heart Sound City is about the studio, it is also about the end of the analogue (tape) era and Grohl does a brilliant job of weaving the studio’s history with the decline of this era so that even the non-music lover can appreciate what we’ve lost. Much like the film industry, the music industry has gone almost completely digital. Pre digital, tape was the only way to record. But with the 80s came synthesisers and then in the 90s the computer/digital age quickly took over. Studios discovered that a process that took an entire day with tape recording could now be done in half the time using computers. Many in the music industry and music fans alike believe that music recorded digitally is too clean; Analogue recordings allow the listener to hear the small imperfections; like Janis Joplin inhaling a deep breath for the next chorus, or hearing Lindsay Buckingham’s fingers run along the guitar strings. Digital recordings lose the feeling that the music you are listening to was made by people, and not by machines. But Grohl also shows how some musicians like Trent Reznor and the band TOOL use digital tools alongside traditional instruments; using them as companions, not replacements.
The film is also filled with behind the scenes stories about not only the musicians that recorded at Sound City, but the employees that worked there. We get to see the heart and soul of why the studio lasted as long as it did when most other studios would be forced to lock their doors after only a few years. It is these personal moments from the employees and how much love and adoration the musicians had for them that make Sound City a touching documentary.
Sound City is funny, enlightening and at times poignant; it explores the various facets of the creative process behind recording music while at the same time conveying the studio’s unique place in music history. At one point Tom Petty tells Grohl, “Music isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s all about the people relating to each other and doing something that really comes from the soul”. Sound City exemplifies this statement.