Dave Grohl's Documentary about the Sound City recording studio

Live streaming on Amazon link: Amazon.com

I searched, but couldn’t find a thread on this. Dave Grohl directed this documentary as a passion project, given how central this studio was to his success as a musician. Nirvana recorded Nevermind there, but damn, SO MUCH great music was recorded there, from After the Gold Rush by Neil Young and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, to Pat Benatar, Ratt and other power pop, metal and such.

I had heard it was a big ego stroke for Grohl, and yeah, there’s a bit of that at the end when he and Krist Novoselic record with Paul McCartney, but overall, it’s fine given how the rest of documentary goes.

Grohl does a pretty great job of:

a) giving us a sense for how important Sound City was, in terms of who recorded / what was recorded there - lots of short-clip comments from a cavalcade of stars;
b) giving us a sense of what being in a grimy, stripped-down studio was like “back in the day” - how important a studio can be in the life of a band; and
c) providing a bit of “inside baseball” about what made Sound City special. His overview of the unique Neve soundboard/recording desk is fun (the bit where he listens to its creator describe the tech behind it is really funny). And his overview of the drum sound at Sound City is great because it explains how important the drum sounds are to a recording, and how SC ended up having a great drum sound somewhat randomly - really cool.

This isn’t Tom Dowd: The Language of Music, or The Ramones: End of the Century, or Les Paul: Chasing Sound (probably my three favorite music docs), but it is a solid offering and totally worth seeing.

Anyone else see it?

I had been seeing the commercials for this and watched it as soon it came out (what, last week, two weeks ago?). I thought it was really good.

The ‘drum sound’ thing is neat, but you have to remember who you’re talking to. If it was a documentary by, say, Gregg Allman, he might not have been all that interested in the drum sound (a term I’ve never heard up until that point).

I felt kinda bad for the guy at the end when they pulled the board out. I wanted to think that Dave was going through all this to revive Sound City, to show people why they should record there. He talks about why real rockers use real boards and not Pro Tools and at the end, he quite literally makes it so they can never open their doors again. Now, to be fair, I don’t know that he offered to buy it, I’m assuming that it was up for sale because the place was bankrupt. The owner did say that if he was ever really in trouble, he always knew he could sell the board (but I doubt it’s worth now what it was worth in the 70’s).

Anyways, yes, I saw it, it was very good.

Also Pat Smear. That was when someone said “Hey, it’s Nirvana”.

Studios as a way of business are falling by the wayside - Grohl setting up his own studio and installing the Neve, to me, is a Good Thing.

Here’s what I found:

I’m glad he got the board (and I’m guessing he paid like 20 grand for it), but it’s still too bad the studio (that I’d never heard of before a two weeks ago) is gone.
Do you think Stevie Nicks really meant it when she said “I’m just so happy to be recording on that board again” or do you think she’d be rather say “OMG, I didn’t think I’d ever be back in Sound City”. In fact, as someone who’s not a recording artist, it sounded a bit scripted when all those people kept talking about ‘the board’, like the interviewer was saying “Tell me how happy you are to be recording on the old Sound City board again”.

Also, the quote from Dave Grohl you posted reminds me of one of those custom car shows. They were building a car for Christopher Titus and he was saying that his car will never see the inside of a trailer. He went on to say that he doesn’t understand the point of spending $100,000 on a customer ‘classic’ car just to box it up, haul it across the country, display it at a show, put it back in it’s trailer, and take it to another show and during it’s entire life, you put 3 miles on it. He said that he’s going to drive his all over the place, from show to show to show. Of course, he’s also got the money to fix up dings and repaint it every few years if it needs it.

Recording on the Neve - to be clear: when a musician gets comfortable in a specific room, or with a specific set of studio equipment, or gear, they can be damn-near superstitious about their relationship with them. Slash rented some random, modded Marshall amp for Appetite because it had that sound, and then spent a long time trying to get the rental company to part with an amp they just saw as one of their set.

So I am not surprised at all. I haven’t recorded in any studios with a Neve, but there’s a difference between recording on something that sounds, oh, accurate, vs. something that adds its own artifacts to the sound, but does so in just the right way. Clearly, a lot of respected ears seem to feel that that Neve board fits in the latter category.

As for using tools - oh, hell yeah. There’s another thread about stuff that matters to collectors, I :rolleyes:'d in my post about Limited Edition replicas of guitars played by heroes like Clapton or EVH that cost tens of thousands of dollars. I have a few wonderful old acoustics that were un-cheap - and I play the hell out of them, thankyouverymuch :wink: What’s a great tool for if not to be used? Seeing a great tool up on a wall just drives me batshit. I’m kinda afraid to go to the RR Hall of Fame for that reason…

That makes sense, and it very much seemed to be what Dave was after.

Oh, by the way, I want to come back and comment on this. Actually, this is one of those pretty Universal Truths in Recording™ - it’s not just a drummer fanboy showing his bias. Most of a guitar’s/bass’s sound comes from the amp - an electric guitarist is, truth be told, really playing his amp, i.e., using the guitar to manipulate the overdrive and dynamics that a good tube amp produces. A great room and ambient mic’ing can frame that really well, but is more of an icing on the cake (says a complete guitarist fanboy; I am sure studio pro’s will look at their vintage mics and wink at me…)

A non-digital drum sound is really room-dependent. And if you think about it, it makes sense - you are really capturing the relationship between a percussion instrument and the space within which it…percusses :wink:

And please note: he’s not saying that the drum sound is *more *important than the other sounds, only that getting it right is more room-dependent, so target that so you don’t start off with the wrong foundation.

Oh, think of it this way: if you can get the drums to sound good, it’s a safe bet you can get the rest to sound good; it ain’t necessarily so vice-versa…

It’s interesting to see the world through the eyes of a drummer, we just don’t see it that often. Even Phil Collins wasn’t as prominent as Dave Grohl. I mean, Phil is more famous then Dave, but Dave does a lot more talking, he’s at award shows, he’s on TV, he does stuff with other bands, he’s got two bands of his own IIRC, we just see him more. But, even though he’ll always be a drummer at heart and a lot of us will always remember him from Nirvana, he really seems to be enjoying his new life, but you can always see his face light up when he sits behind a drum set.
Also, this.

I’m guessing he paid a lot more than that. Those old Neve boards are now considered super-desirable, even if broken down for parts. Recently, a pair of Neve mic preamp modules of similar vintage sold on eBay for $7000, which is right around the going rate (hell, high quality modern copies of these preamps sell around $3000 each).

Now, consider that the mixing board bought by Dave Grohl had, what, 40 channels? Call that $140,000 in preamps alone, and we begin to see why a cottage industry has sprung up around people claiming to make the most accurate replica of an obsolete design.

Haven’t seen Grohl’s film yet, but he did an interview with NPR a while back, and he came across well in it, I thought:

Dave Grohl Finds Music’s Human Element — In A Machine

Saw it and loved it. It was sort of a Sound City - early days of Nirvana doc, which worked for me. I’m a very average amateur musician but I love all of the gear type docs, like the Classic Albums series on VH1 from time to time. So it was enjoyable to hear how producers and bands got the sounds they did out of the studio.

As a liner note reader I grew up wondering about these places, thinking they had marble floors and fancy reception areas. It was cool to find out that SC was kind of a dump with a wonky driveway, and a staff of characters. Though I’m not a massive Grohl/Nirvana fan, I do think he’s about the right things in music, is an affable bloke, and of course I liked him as a narrator. Great first film from a talented guy who obviously is quite passionate about the recording process.

Liked it much better than Davis Guggenheim’s guitar documentary.

Agreed (on all counts); It Might Get Loud wasn’t nearly as good. If you haven’t seen Tom Dowd, you really should…

I liked this better then It Might Get Loud as well. I told husband/wife friend of mine that I didn’t care that much for It Might Get Loud (knowing what I said) and the husband said “Well, now you did it” and the wife said “but but but, it’s got Jack White and did you see the beginning with the nail and the piece of wire”…“Yes, but you know I don’t like The White Stripes” She get’s a bit rabid about them, it’s kinda funny, but I’ll also defend my opinions. On top of that, we’ve been friends (the wife and I) for 15 years so it was all in good fun.

Anyways, I watched It Might Get Loud because of Jimmy Page but as I recall it was interesting, but a bit boring. Of course, maybe it would have been different if I was a rabid Jack White fan (I’m not, I really don’t care for him that much). But then I’d have to wonder, if I was a rabid Jack White fan (as opposed to a casual White Stripes fan) would I know who Jimmy Page is or have a working knowledge of The Edge? (I’m going to call that question 50% joking).

Here’s the thread on IMGL with my comments: Guitar Documentary: It Might Get Loud - finally out this weekend in limited release... - Cafe Society - Straight Dope Message Board

I am a huge Jack White fanboy, but IMGL is still only meh.

Loved this documentary, and highly recommend Foo Fighters: Back and Forth for those interested in Dave Grohl’s career. This linked documentary also includes a lot of footage recording their most recent album on the Neve in his garage.

Not only a great documentary about the board and Nirvana, but it gave me a new respect for Rick Springfield.
Both as a human being and a guitar player. I may have to pick up the soundtrack.

I liked the documentary, but I could have used less Fleetwood Mac, and more Neil Young. :slight_smile:

Even if you aren’t crazy about the artists, if you’re interested in the process of recording music, there’s plenty to watch. Grohl did a good job at explaining what a studio is and what you do in one without it being an RTVF course, though the geek in me really would have liked to have heard Mr. Neve talk more on the tech aspects of the board. I could probably watch a documentary that was mostly just Mr. Neve talking. Grohl is wise to not pander to my tastes, he wants a popular film.

It was kind of irritating to hear people bash the current state of the art, though. Even my hero, Neil was spouting some dated nonsense about it. I’d have preferred that they would have let those sorts of embarrassments end up on the cutting room floor. Old boards and tape have their own sound that is very hard to reproduce with a digital recording - that’s why my band recorded on tape. But that sound doesn’t come from any superior fidelity that the equipment had, in fact it mostly comes from it being imperfect in just the right way. That’s why people value that old equipment. They touched on that at some points, but still left Young’s “mistake” comment about digital recording algorithms in there.

He really couldn’t have over-emphasized the importance of a good drum sound. As WordMan said, you’re recording an acoustic instrument’s interaction with a room. It’s hard to get a good one in the first place, it’s pretty much impossible to fix later if you decide you don’t like it, and a bad one really does stand out more than you’d normally think. I can’t think of too many albums that actually have bad drum sounds on them. I don’t know if people just ditch the tapes, or re-record the bad sounding drums, but bad drum sounds don’t get out much on commercial releases outside of demo versions or extra tracks. If you want to compare a bad one and a good one, compare the drum sounds on Sonic Youth’s Sister and Daydream Nation. It’s the same drummer, possibly the same drum kit. One sounds like he’s beating on cardboard boxes, and the other is glorious. As a result, one album sounds a lot more professional than the other.