Sound City | Reel to reel
Sound City will change your perspective of making music forever. I was not at all excited to watch a documentary narrated, directed, and produced by Dave Grohl because, plain and simple, I don’t like Dave Grohl. Or so I thought, but five minutes into the film I was sucked in. Sound City is the kind of documentary that can, and will, ensnare the unsuspecting viewer, dragging them into a wonderful and strange world of the recording studio. The film gets its title from the prolific and yet virtually unknown Sound City Studios, located in the San Fernando Valley. This studio, founded by two inexperienced business owners, became the place to record for many famous acts including Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Queens of the Stone Age, Slipknot, and Grohl’s own band, Nirvana. Dave Grohl and the makers of Sound City have obviously attempted to make the world of the recording studio accessible to the masses. Unfortunately, such a knowledge-specific subject is hard to make understandable without losing some audience members and Sound City flirts with this danger especially at the beginning. After a brief introduction, narrated by Grohl, the documentary throws the view into the world of recording equipment.
This is not the first music based-documentary to feel dangerously close to isolating those unconnected to the realm of music. Sound City, at times, feels much like the 2008 documentary It Might Get Loud, which is, basically, a conversation about electric guitar with artists Jack White, the Edge (U2), and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin). In both cases, there is a lot of technical, gear specific talk that is perhaps hard to understand for those new to the world of music playing and recording.
Sound City does, however, redeem itself based on the human element. It is a deep, emotional connection to the development of the recording industry over the years that set it apart from a documentary like It Might Get Loud. The workers, owners, and artists who were a regular part of Sound City Studios became a tight knit family, and the documentary plays on this highly human element of the studio’s history.
The magic of Sound City Studios famous recordings was based upon their equipment—most of which remained the same since the 70’s when it was purchased—and an extremely emotionally connected recording environment. Sound City documents how this style of recording—not going digital like everyone else—slowly killed the studio. When the studio shut down in 2011, Grohl went back to purchase some of the equipment for his own studio, sparking the idea to document the studio.
Grohl does an exceptional job of looking at a curious place in the middle of nowhere—in terms of the music industry—and capturing the feeling that emanated from it. Sound City is able to capture the boom and bust of a studio and make the viewer feel the joys and pains of those who poured their lives into that place. An ode to the legacy of the studio, the film documents the creation of new music using the Sound City Studio’s equipment bought by Grohl. He assembles a team of A-list musicians including Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, and Paul McCartney to write and record an album—Sound City: Real to Reel—alongside some of the Sound City Studios engineers.
All in all, Sound City is a must-watch documentary not only for the musician or music lover, but also for those who feel no real connection to the music world. This documentary is your ticket to the contemporary history of recording, and the human element of making music: watch it.