Sound City is On Key


Editor in Chief


It was 10:20 at night, and my friend and I rushed into Metro 4 a couple seconds before the film started. The theater wasn’t full; there were people laying down on a couple seats, and the front section was empty. Were we in the right theater? For the movie acclaimed by Sundance Film Festival and the Los Angeles Times?

We were. And our theater set up the rest of the film perfectly.

The legendary music mecca was never glamorous; the film opens with various recording artists – Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, and Tom Petty, among others – remembering the studio for shag carpet on the walls, cigarettes thrown on the ground, spilled Jack on a couch, and the most successful albums of all time on the walls.

Sound City Studios was a recording studio established in 1969, formerly a Van Nuys showroom and recording studio of Vox, a British company. Famous for their signature analog sound, there is an accidental sweet spot for drum sounds supposedly unlike any other. The studio is credited to the recording or mixing of more than 100 certified gold and platinum albums. Nirvana is credited with saving the studio from bankruptcy with their album Nevermind, and Fleetwood Mac did the same in the 1970s. The 2010s didn’t have such an act, and it closed as a commercial studio in May 2011. Dave Grohl, former Nirvana drummer and current singer of the Foo Fighters, purchased the custom Neve 8028 Console for his private recording studio.

The film’s core concentrated on the repercussions of technology turning music into something very democratic – it is no longer a trial to make music, and people don’t have to work as hard to get others to listen to it. Halfway through the chronologically-organized film, the cast remembered the invasion of computers and programming into music production and the consequences of the concept of perfection.

“Those imperfections are ok; it makes it sound like people,” said Dave Grohl, director of the film. “The conversation became something much bigger: how do we keep music sounding like people?”

Grohl took care to mention the difference between using technology as a tool or as a crutch. Trent Reznor, a former member of Nine Inch Nails and classically trained pianist, was filmed using technology admirably as a waste-reducer, and a more efficient alternative to tape.

The film’s lifeblood is Grohl; the reason Sound City works is because of the hope that he has for the music industry. He shows the spectrum of the personalities in music, the people that are in this to make money and the folks who are in this to make art, and he was able to condemn the mixing of the two without sounding pretentious, especially as a successful rockstar.

The film emphasized how one generation of music is not necessarily better than the other, rather, they build off of one another. The reunion of Nirvana was supplemented by Paul McCartney, a hero of their late former frontman Kurt Cobain.

A belief in magic is universal among the cast in regard to this Neve soundboard. It was because Nirvana saved the studio that it was acceptable for Grohl to take the board, and he made a comment that everyone knew that he wasn’t going to let it gather dust. An album, set to launch in early March, holds the music made by the greats in Grohl’s studio, on the Neve soundboard.

It’s interesting how almost everyone in the film used the word “home.” Sound City was a destination people ran away from home to work for, a place of safety and art. When it closed, it left many without a job and more without their studio. The documentary pays homage to the classic music made then and begs our generation for some quality art – something to be proud of, music made with love and technique and intention – rather than a product that has been calculated to fit the tastes of the masses.


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