Sound City

I just watched the documentary by Dave Grohl, Sound City. The basic story is about this epic recording studio in LA where many legendary musicians recorded. Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Trent Reznor, Nirvana, and on and on and on. The heart of Sound City was the control board, designed by Rupert Neve. Everyone who ever worked at that studio exclaimed over the sound produced through that board.

But as the music industry moved into the digital age, analog recording studios fell out of favour. Along with this trend, Sound City fell into disuse, eventually going out of business. Dave Grohl, the drummer for Nirvana, which got their start at Sound City, decided to salvage the Neve sound board. He set it up in his own studio, Studio 606, also in California, where he is using it to record new music.

Several reactions to this story: 1) There is much commentary throughout about the value of making music together. Much of the music created in Sound City (and subsequently in Studio 606) happens in the moment. Musicians gather, begin sharing their ideas about a song, and it evolves. As this is caught on tape (yes, actual 2″, 24 track recording tape!!!), a recording emerges. Many of the great albums produced at Sound City were essentially recorded “live”. Very little over-dubbing, sometimes very few takes, but always resulting in exquisite recordings. Much of the music was created as it was being recorded!

2) I love this emphasis on the essence of music. It is the making of it where the “magic” occurs. Music does not need to be absolutely perfect to communicate, to touch another person’s heart.

3) It is tremendously heartening to see top-notch musicians going to great lengths to retain this integrity in the making of their music. There is a sort-of reaction to the packaged digital age we live in now. With all the technology available to anyone on their home computer, musicians no longer need to practice. They can fix any “mistakes” electronically. Musicians no longer need to play together, to create music together. They can do it in isolation. They can play many tracks themselves, to create multi-layered music all on their own. They don’t need anyone else.

4) The film does not negate the use of electronics. Trent Reznor, for example, talks about using gadgetry to create the sounds he is conceiving in his mind. But even there, he is a classically trained pianist, and is creating music together with others, using technology to enhance what’s there.

5) For myself, one of the most powerful scenes in the video was after moving the mother board to his new studio, Dave Grohl finds himself creating and recording a song together with Paul McCartney! He narrates that at one point he looks over at his fellow Nirvana musician on bass, Dave himself is playing drums, and he said it felt like being back in Nirvana. But wait a minute! That’s f_____g Paul McCartney playing with us!!! Here were two generations of musicians making music together, and everyone just having a blast doing it! It was a wonderful picture of the power of music to draw people together.

This is a really delightful and powerfully uplifting story. I encourage anyone who enjoys music, of whatever genre, to check this documentary out.