Movie ‘Sound City’ like a history of Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame Comment on this post ↓
June 11th, 2013 by Warren Swil

L. A.-area recording studio used by

biggest names in music business

The official web site of Sound City Studios. Click the image to visit the site.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, FLEETWOOD MAC, The Grateful Dead … some of rock ’n roll’s biggest stars recorded the hits that made them famous at a hitherto little known studio in Van Nuys, a suburb of Los Angeles.
“Sound City Studios, founded in 1969, … is the birthplace of many of the greatest recordings in rock and roll history,” says the first item on its web site.
“In each decade of operation, from the late 1960s until now, our vintage analog equipment has captured the sounds of some of the world’s most important and best-loved music.”
Almost by accident I discovered the documentary “Sound City” on the in-flight video menu on my recent flight from Los Angeles to London.

IT JUST SO HAPPENS, I was sitting next to Michael Nance, senior vice president for Warner Bros. Music, who was on a business trip to London.
He saw on my video screen what I was

Tom Petty talks about his experiences with Sound City where he recorded is top-selling hit, “Refugee,” released in 1973. Video capture. © SGE, Inc.

watching, seemed intrigued, so I shared some of my excitement with him. Later I noticed that he watched the video, too.
Beginning with the history of the studio, founded by Joe Gottfried in 1969, the documentary tells how Gottfried was a vocalist in the United States Army. Apparently he was financed by Tom Skeeter, who owned the studio from 1969 through 1992.
The roster of artists is so impressive: Neil Young, Lindsay Buckingham, Cheap Trick … just go check it out yourself at their web site.
The documentary features cameos by many of these artists. It is clear that they have a special love for Sound City and its owners.
Buckingham even admits it was like “a home away from home.”
The genius – and reason for its success – was Rupert Neve. He invented and built the Neve Custom-made Analog Console – a giant mixing board the likes of which had never been seen before.
Somebody is quoted in the documentary as saying: “Rupert Neve is a f**king genius.”
As a former DJ, I totally agree.

I am seen aboard the flight from Los Angeles to London on May 25 with my first British beer of the trip, London Pride. It’s not half bad. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

THE NEW SYSTEM  cost sound Sound City $76,000 – quite a princely sum in 1969! Apparently, Skeeter paid for it by borrowing $30,000 on a mortgage on his house in Toluca Lake.
The very first track recorded on the Neve in 1973 was “Crying in the night,” by what was then known as “Buckingham/Nicks” – Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
At the Laurel Canyon Country Store (which is still in operation today) these two met Mick Fleetwood. Buckingham/Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac on the first day of 1975 – and they went right to Sound City for a recording session
Talking about his 1979 major hit, “Refugee,” in the documentary, Tom Petty says: “We played [it] 150 times.”
According to the web site SongFacts, Petty said of this song: “This was a reaction to the pressures of the music business. I wound up in a huge row with the [existing] record company…”
… so perhaps that’s why he recorded “Refugee” at Sound City.

THE SECOND HALF the documentary chronicles the rise of digital music. From “click tracks” (artificial metronomic ‘beats’) to Compact Discs and drum samplers, it tracks the rise of digitized sound through the current state of the art, ProTools for Mac.
To quote one of my all-time favorite groups: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”
Sound City struggled with the transition. One commentator in the documentary described the new software as: “R – restricted to everyone everywhere!”
Anyone, even those without a scrap of talent, can now produce marketable music. Perhaps this explains both the decline in the quality and profitability of American music today.
The demise of Sound City is a tragic loss for Los Angeles, the music business, all of us music consumers … and music lovers everywhere.
Find and purchase the documentary, if you can.
It’s definitely not on YouTube.

2 Responses  
  • Steven Rosenberg writes:
    June 12th, 2013

    While I definitely recommend watching “Sound City,” and I am glad that Dave Grohl purchased the Neve console and moved it from the Van Nuys studio to his home studio in Encino (??), it’s pretty clear that the demise of Sound City represents the end of an era.

    Especially in the music industry, things change, and nothing lasts forever.

    That anybody can make a decent-sounding recording at home is a way more powerful innovation than having to book time at a Sound City-like studio and record to tape through a $70,000 console.

    There’s a similar mystique surrounding Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., where many classic jazz records were made in the 1950s-’70s.

    If what these kinds of studios deliver is important enough, people will build and run them.

    But we’re in an electronic-music era right now, and you don’t need a big studio with exotic analog equipment to capture what happens on a computer.

    Still, I know lots of people recording at home, and there’s a lot of interest in getting and using good microphones and equipment to take that signal and turn it into digital bits in increasingly better ways.

    Maybe analog processing can help make that sound better.

    But the digital era is here to stay. And hopefully the sound will get better.

  • Warren Swil writes:
    June 12th, 2013

    Gosh Steve it sounds like you’re an expert in this field! I had no idea….
    You probably had no idea that I was a DJ in the 1980s. Yes, I used to carry 300-plus vinyl 12 inch “records” (what a quaint concept) to each gig.
    That same record collection now fits on an 8 gig flash drive. (Do you want one?)
    I have never believed that digital is as good as analog. For someone with a discerning ear – as one must have to be a DJ – the difference is obvious. It is because of the compression.
    Digital has improved over time; but what makes analog so much better are the imperfections in the electronic circuitry.
    I still have my GLI 9000 (Swedish made) mixer. Seldom use it though. Why would I? The DJ that I videoed on Sunday was using a MacBookPro (you can see the video … it is the one with the GAY PRIDE PARADE story below, and the computer is clearly visible.)
    Yes the demise of Sound City is a loss for all of us. But one just cannot fight history.
    Thanks for starting this discussion.

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